In approximately 2003, I suffered what I refer to as a nuclear meltdown the size of Chernobyl. Others in the past have called it a nervous breakdown. I knew it was not my normal state of feeling slightly blue or down a good portion of the time. I have suffered from mood disorders and anxiety disorders since I was too small to identify them as such. This was not “ordinary” depression; I knew what that felt like. This was different. I called in sick to work for 11 days in a row. I could not make myself get out of bed. I could not bathe or groom properly. I wasn’t eating; I had no food, but I could not have cared less. After about four days, I became very concerned about what was happening to me and I emailed a list of psychologists to my primary care doctor. He came back with one person he thought I would work well with. This was the first time I had sought treatment on my own. My parents had tried, but I was very resistant. My first appointment with the woman who would become my therapist, my rabbi/priest/minister, my confidante and ultimately my savior was on September 3, 2003.
Initially, she thought I had major depression, but after a few months of listening to me and observing my behavior and having me take a few tests, she became more and more certain that I was suffering from bipolar disorder type II. I had no full blown manic episodes; they were always more like a double shot of espresso. A lot of energy, no sleep, high productivity, but they always went away after a few days. So did my depressive episodes. Then, out of nowhere, I have a full blown manic episode. I was awake for what seemed like weeks, I had more energy than I knew what to do with and that expressed itself in inappropriate ways. I graduated. I was re-diagnosed as a bipolar type I with psychotic features. Apparently, somewhere in the mania, I became psychotic. I was ultimately let go from a position that I had worked hard to get, and thoroughly enjoyed because my behavior had become so erratic.
I checked myself into the hospital for the first time and I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Everything that is seen in the media about mental illness is frightening and made to seem abnormal on a level that isn’t just “weird.” It was at this point that the psychiatrists began to try to stabilize me medically. I might point out that by now, I was about 32 years old, and the general consensus was that I had been actively bipolar since my late teens. I was treatment resistant which does not mean that I declined treatment. I would try anything they gave me to see if it could stop the journey down the rabbit hole. The problem lay in that bipolar, as well as others, is a chronic and progressive illness, and I was well into the progression. Life went on like this for several years. I was not stable. I was given to suicide attempts to try to make the pain stop; note the word attempts. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted the pain to go away. And, on some level, I wanted to disappear. Oddly, I was always medication compliant. Anything to bring the roller coaster ride to an end.
Due to the numerous hospitalizations and suicide attempts (the last of which almost succeeded), I lost the respect of my family and friends. My mother stopped interacting with me for nearly a year and a half. She told me not to call her, not to come to her house, and a bunch of other stuff. I was crushed and I do mean crushed. She was my only friend at that point, and she was withdrawing her support. That was a very bleak and dark time in my life which I care not to remember. There are still members of my family that will not associate with me due to my mental health problems. I do not think words can describe how much that hurts. These are people who used to babysit me, and now they want nothing to do with me. I am mentally ill. It doesn’t make sense to me for the simple fact that I have been relatively stable for the better part of eight years.
What never seems to go away is a feeling that I did not live up to my “potential” as people are so fond of saying, the feeling that I am not a productive member of society and there is always a pervasive sense of sadness about me that you only see if you know me well. Otherwise, I am bubbly, personable and appear completely “normal.” There’s just always this sadness and feeling of failure that nothing I have tried will make go away. I feel that I have deeply disappointed my family and my friends. This is a mental issue that kills relationships. I’d like to know why. I think I feel too much and then try to use my intellect to understand what cannot be understood by the mind. I will probably forever feel that I have been betrayed by my own mind.
I have a great psychologist, I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for about nine years and I have a fantastic psychiatrist who happened to be the ward psychiatrist at one point when I was in the hospital. Although, I have never achieved full remission of symptoms, through proper medication, exercise, sleep, more than a good deal of faith, I have been able to live on my own with my little cat for the last 23 years. I am not going to sit here and say I have always been successful at it, but I have made it through. I continue to be active in my Buddhist community, I sit on a committee to help coordinate mental and behavioral health services in my community, and I live. Sometimes I live only by a shoestring, but now I know it will pass, and if it doesn’t, I talk to my psychiatrist about tweaking my medication a little bit. I never add anything new to the four I have narrowed it down too, but I am willing to try different doses of what I am on. I manage this and several other issues that I will not get into quite well, but I will never say I have it under control. I now also understand that the pain does not go away; it becomes manageable, some times more than others.
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