The first step to recovery is discovering that no one can make you want to get better or get better for you. You have to do it for yourself. You have to choose to get better. You have to want to get help. I will admit, choosing to get better can be terrifying because you are stepping into the unknown. For many people with mental illness “normal” is something we cannot remember ever feeling. We know what it’s like to feel depressed, manic, suicidal, or anxious, but what does “normal” feel like? While we hate with a passion the anxiety, we hate the depression, and most of all we hate feeling alone, we don’t know anything different and we are terrified of what life could hold for us.
As I sit here on my couch writing I wonder what a “normal life”, without depression, anxiety, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, mania and all of the other emotions that come with it, would feel like. I am terrified that without the highs of mania life will not be as exciting. I am terrified I will never feel the rush that comes along with the mania, the invincibility, the courage, and the confidence. I am terrified that without depression holding me back I will be thrust into new, different, and terrifying situations and again without the mania to give me confidence, how will I handle these situations? I am terrified that without anxiety and my constant worrying, something bad will happen because I won’t be as vigilant. But most of all I am terrified that I won’t be myself without my mental illness because it has made me who I am today.
However, becoming normal brings with it more pros than cons. Normal means not feeling depressed, not wanting to die. I means feelings of joy and happiness. For me, I hope it means no more of the regrets that mania brings along with it. I hope it means that I will live long enough to see my future godchildren grow up. I hope it means that I will live long enough to have my own children and to find the love of my life. I hope it means I will be able to find joy in the little things and that I will have the opportunity to grow old.
So, do it for you. Get better because it means a brighter future, less regret, and more time with loved ones. Because experiencing one more laugh, one more hug, one more anything is worth it.
One of the many common symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and the mania that comes with it is regret. Mania has a way of making you feel invincible, it has a way of lowering inhibitions and making decisions for you. Many times regret follows these manic times because the experiences you have while manic stray from the person you are while stable. I wasn’t diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder until the age of 19, but I had been showing symptoms of the disorder for about a year or two maybe more before my diagnosis. However, at 19 is when it peeked. This is when I attempted suicide and also when I began to become unrecognizable to family and friends as I began to engage in destructive behavior uncharacteristic of my previous self. Remembering my past is at times difficult for me. As look back on the times I broke the strict rules I had for myself and became someone I wasn’t I get a pit in my stomach; I become nauseous at the reality that at one point in my life I did these things and became that person. However they say that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, so it’s not that I want to forget my past, it’s that I need to learn to embrace my mistakes and short coming and turn it into something constructive. Breaking the “rules” is something that has been frowned upon since we were little. In school we were taught to listen to the teacher, raise our hand to be called on, and to use our words. So, it’s only natural that breaking the “rules” or expectations we have for ourselves would be disturbing to our character, but what I have learned is that breaking the rules teaches us about who we want to be. We learn more about ourselves when we make mistakes than when we live a perfect life. And for the record no one lives a perfect life.
Mania is one of those things that is hard to explain to someone who has never felt it, and while it can be one of the most amazing feelings in the world it can also be one of the most terrifying emotions to look back on. Mania can be unique and different for anyone who experiences it, and one of the symptoms of my mania that I’m not sure is shared with everyone who experiences mania is the gap, or rather the gaps. Gaps is the word I use to describe my experience with memory loss during manic episodes. For me, looking back on manic episodes is like looking through fogged up glass. It’s hard to know what I was thinking in the moment, it’s hard to know why I did what I did, but probably most concerning it’s hard to decipher what actually happened. As I look back on my college years I have realized that I honestly can’t remember much. There are bits and pieces, but between the extreme highs and lows that I was experiencing due to my undiagnosed disease, not much of my memory is left. The most terrifying feeling is when someone brings up an event that happened in college, one that was significant, one that I should remember, and I have no recollection of the event.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be devastating just as being diagnosed with any number of other more “physical” illnesses can be and many times there is a grieving process. The five stages of grief, according to psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance and they follow in this order. When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and also OCD my first instinct was to deny the reality of my illness. My mind would not easily accept my diagnosis and my thoughts went something like this, “There is nothing wrong with you, you’re probably just going through a ruff spot, you’ll get over it.” Thoughts along the lines of, “Why don’t you just snap out of it and stop acting like you’re sick, you’re just faking it, you can stop whenever you want, you probably just want attention,” haunted me and fed my denial. Then came anger and it came with a vengeance. I was angry and I was blaming everyone around me; God, my friends, and my family were all targets. I wanted to know why I had to be the one with Bipolar Disorder, why did I have to be the one to live with OCD for a lifetime. I was mad at the universe for handing me down these diagnoses. For what reason, I had dreams and hopes for the future and at this point in my life these dreams and hopes were being crushed by my debilitating diseases and I was beyond mad or angry. I was furious. While the anger has since passed for the most part that doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where it rears its ugly head again. After anger comes bargaining and this may be the shortest stage that I had to encounter. I bargained with God. I asked him to please cure me. I promised him I would be a better person if he just took away my disease. I thought to myself, “If you had just been a better person this wouldn’t have happened to you.” While of course this isn’t true; in the moment it felt possible. And then, the worst stage of them all, depression. Depression hit and it hit hard. There were days I could barely pull myself out of bed to work. There were days I barely eat and there were days I slept for over half the day. I was more than sad about my diagnosis I was crushed. I was completely and utterly dismayed. I was despondent. I have since moved on to the last stage of grief, acceptance, however this does not mean that I don’t visit the other stages from time to time as it’s impossible to completely accept something so permanent. Acceptance is the ultimate goal of course and it is of course the most peaceful of the stages. Once you can finally accept your mental illness, this is when you can begin to move on. You can begin the healing process, but this is when the real work begins. This is when you have to take your life back.
Sometimes it is necessary to live for something other than yourself because living for yourself isn’t enough. It’s not enough to keep you alive. Sometimes living for a moment or for a person or for an event is necessary to keep afloat and this is something many people who aren’t bipolar and who don’t have a mental illness don’t understand. So, what do you do when you are living for a moment or an event and that moment or event passes and is gone? What do you do when you’re living for a person and that person either dies or becomes someone not worth living for? As I sit here the wedding day of my best friend approaching I sit and I wonder. I wonder what I will do when I don’t have this event, this moment to look forward to anymore. I wonder if I will be enough to live for and I wonder how much longer it will be until another person or moment comes along that is amazing enough to want to live for. But, there is a problem with picking people to live for. While I would easily choose any member of my family or any of my closest friends choosing a person to live for is much harder than it sounds because you see when you choose a person, you live and die with each interaction you have with them. By this I mean that if you and this person have a fight and you’re angry with them they may become less of a person to live for and your life therefore is threatened. The thing with living for people is that it’s very dangerous to live for something that is merely human and can make mistakes. What’s easier is to live for a moment something that you can make up in you’re mind bright and shinny, so that you can imagine the moment perfectly and think of it often.
When you’re bipolar and you have OCD you tend to overthink things. And then I say things I mean everything. Every action, every word, every facial expression anyone around you makes is over analyzed and broken down. It’s twisted and contorted until what they meant and the meaning behind it is gone and it represents only what the illness tells you it means. So, an ignored text message sent to a friend in your mind means that: they hate you, they never want to speak to you again, or that you’re annoying them. In reality an ignored text probably just means that they’re busy or they merely just forgot to respond. The bipolar mind, the OCD mind, twists each action, word, and facial expression by putting them on repeat in your brain until your brain comes up with the worst case scenario and tells you that that’s the only scenario that makes logical sense.
When you’re manic music is more electric, food tastes better, people are more interesting, and you feel everything more! This is how many people would describe being in love, but in reality this doesn’t happen when you’re in love, but it does when you’re manic. As I lay awake at night unable to sleep and put my brain to rest I notice these things. The music I’m listening to is more infectious and it’s as if I am living and breathing with the beat of the music. The more I think about it, everything is just that much more everything when you’re manic! Every emotion is punctuated! Everything you come in contact with people, music, food, TV shows, everything is better when you’re manic. This is why it feels so good! It’s as if you’re living in an extra saturated world funny becomes hilarious and good becomes great! Depression is the polar opposite of mania. Depression is like living in a world where the volume has been turned down or even muted. It’s like living in a black and white movie. All the joy, all the happiness is sucked out of you and what are you left with except fear, self-doubt, pain and anguish, anger, self loathing, and hopelessness. When you’re depressed you can be in a room filled with the people closest you and feel completely and utterly alone. That’s what depression is. It’s lonely. Depression is one of those emotions or maybe rather states of mind that you can’t share with anyone unlike joy which is infectious. Depression is like you’re own personal hell; each torture device shaped and conjured up to target your specific weaknesses.