My Story with Bipolar Disorder
I honestly can say that up until the end of college I had no discernible signs of a mental illness. It all was jump-started during finals week of my second to last quarter of college. I was 23. I had one final exam left before spring break. I was on schedule to graduate after spring quarter.
I was second in my class in civil engineering. During finals week, a classmate met me at a bar for a pitcher of green beer. I witnessed the bartender mixing the green food coloring into the beer. The rest of what happened that day is a blur. And not a blur in the sense of, “I got drunk and blacked out,” but a blur in the sense that when I got back to the apartment, my roommate said I looked like I had thirty beers. In reality, I didn’t even finish the pitcher.
I remember feeling a rush of adrenaline and like my arms were on fire. I remember my hands shaking a lot, and a lot of anxiety for the first time in my life. I struggled through the final because I physically didn’t feel right.
The feeling continued on the drive home from Athens to Canton, for spring break. The rush of adrenaline continued, the anxiety built up and I couldn’t sit still at all. My mind was racing. The drive home took what felt like an eternity. I just wanted to get home and tell my mom what was going on and possibly go to the emergency room.
I got home and couldn’t sleep or sit still at all. The anxiety multiplied. I couldn’t even sit and watch TV. My mom and her boyfriend thought maybe the green beer I drank was possibly laced. Either way we knew something was wrong and they took me to the emergency room. I vaguely remember screaming religious statements in the crowded waiting room as I waited. I was admitted into the local psychiatric ward.
For most of the time I was in isolation I wasn’t sleeping at all. I started to have paranoid delusions of grandeur. Like, maybe I was in here because of a crime I don’t remember committing? My mind started playing tricks on me. I totally lost track of time. It felt like I was in that room for months. The only people I saw for days were the nurses and my doctor. They started giving me daily medicine but for the first couple days I remember denying it. I thought, drugs got me into this mess, how can they possibly get me out? Then, for about the fifth time a nurse told me to, once again, take my medicine, and I said no. Then she said, “Don’t you want to go home?”
Home. I didn’t even remember what home was. My mind had been racing at 200 mph for like four or five days and I didn’t remember that I had a home around the corner from this hospital with my family.
It was at that point that I began taking the medicine and slowly started recovering. At that time, it was diagnosed as a drug-induced psychotic episode, probably from drinking beer laced with PCP. My doctor said it was probably a “one time thing.”
I stayed on my prescribed meds for the better part of a year. I did not make it back to college in time to graduate in Spring 2007 like I planned. I needed the quarter off to mentally recover. But I returned in Fall of 2007 for my last quarter of undergrad classes. Leading up to the time I returned, my psychiatrist claimed I was doing well enough that he gradually weaned me off my meds. It worked out to be that right around the time I returned to campus, I was once again medicine free, for better or worse.
Even still I had a successful final quarter and graduated in November 2007 with a Cum Laude Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. Before then I decided that I wanted to pursue graduate school in civil engineering as well, the following quarter in Winter 2008. I was having a great time and very thrilled to see what went into the research side of engineering. It was all new to me.
I had been off my medicine for quite a while now and started to relapse while starting grad school. I started losing sleep again. I started to have grandiose plans like designing and building my own house. I started having racing thoughts turned into religious delusions. During these periods, I begin to think many different delusional thoughts are in fact reality, and I was stupid to not think this way before. I remember talking my best friend’s ear off about religion on the phone. Sleep was lost night after night, until I eventually called my mom in a panic and said something was wrong. She drove to campus and drove me home and took me, once again, to the local psychiatric ward.
The second episode of mine was more severe. I had fantastical paranoid delusions, thinking I was the antichrist, the messiah or both. I believed the news channels were broadcasting me live on TV as the messiah/antichrist was in the local hospital for all the world to see. I figured that all the people in the hospital hated me for it, as well as all the people watching the news. I had many auditory hallucinations, from anyone from my classmates and professors to God.
I was once again put on medicine and this episode was also incorrectly diagnosed as a second psychotic episode and isolated incident. I was forced to withdraw from graduate school, never finishing one quarter.
I stayed on medicine much longer, and even was well enough to work a year and a half at an engineering firm. Then I decided to commute to grad school close to home. It went well despite being depressed and confused about my mental condition. I graduated with a Masters in civil engineering and wrote a 140-page thesis. But once again, a different doctor eventually claimed I was fine, and weaned me off my meds right around time of graduation in May 2012.
All this stress triggered my third and most severe manic episode. Life was moving too fast for me even though I had no insight. I scared my girlfriend while living with her with erratic behavior. I started losing sleep again. I got lost once driving from Cleveland to Canton, a drive that I had memorized. I was unfit to drive and got in a serious car accident. I lost the job in a week, lost my girlfriend and best friend and was admitted to the local psych ward on my 27th birthday in December 2012.
This episode was an extended mania and did not occur only when I was in the hospital. It included a fist fight with my brother, a run in with Cleveland cops, very risky behavior, grandiose ideas, shopping sprees, auditory hallucinations and even visually seeing things when I closed my eyes, like strobe lights, music visualizers and even aliens.
I was finally officially diagnosed with severe bipolar 1 disorder with psychotic effects. All three of my episodes were actually severe manic episodes with some psychosis involved. I was put on medicine again, this time for good and have been manic episode free ever since—over four years now. But at this point in my life I want more than just self-isolation at home and feeling depressed because of it. I feel like I have a lot to offer this world.
My plans for the future include volunteering part time to see if I can handle the stress of a part time job. I also will train for the mental health certified peer supporter soon—as I meet all qualifications and definitely have the lived mental health experience—which could turn into job opportunities. My overall goal is to eventually get back in the civil engineering field and continue my career. I’ve done it before so I know I can do it again with the right coping skills and supportive people around me. NAMI support groups have helped me to realize I am not alone in my recovery. I truly believe recovery is possible. My story is not over yet. I’m ready to reclaim my life.
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