So I sat there, in the counselor’s office, (that did not have the stereotypical leather couch I’d anticipated) with my mouth hanging open in disbelief thinking; “What the hell is going on? A diagnosis?” Before that day when I received my diagnosis of bipolar disorder I thought I probably just needed to stop drinking and partying so much and start making wiser choices.
I had never heard of bipolar disorder.
I was acting out, a nineteen-year-old rebelling against her parents and drinking an absurd amount of alcohol. I felt dead on the inside, but at the same time, I was overwhelmed with feelings of depression. Looking back, life was full of mixed episodes consisting of impulsive spending, grandiose thoughts as well as depression with suicidal thoughts that were mentally and emotionally crippling. Several times I thought about [a supposed] relief that I thought could find by driving my car off the road, into a ditch or into a wall. I shudder at that memory now. Even with all those feelings, at that time, I was still uneducated about bipolar disorder and unable to identify what was going on with myself. Education was, AND IS still so critical. For patients, for family members, for everyone. Just everyone. With education of the ins and outs and the specifics of the illness, as a bipolar patient, I came to recognize my feelings and identify them for what they were. I knew when I was depressed, I knew when I was manic and I came to know what was everything in between. When that is possible, you can work with your doctor and therapist so much deeper and further in treatment. Again, I say, if the statistics are true and it’s possible that every family is affected by some form of mental illness, then I say EVERYONE needs to get educated to some extent or another. Enough education to know that a) mental illness is REAL and b) there IS help out there.
Learning typical aspects or symptoms of bipolar disorder also made me feel so much better. It gave me such relief and it helped me know someone else, somewhere, had felt like this too and it was encouraging to know I wasn’t the only one. I attended bipolar support groups occasionally, but every now and then I found myself caring too much about other people’s problems when I needed to focus on my own. But, more often than not, it was encouraging to know we were in this battle together.
It was probably the hardest time in my life. Therapy sessions with my counselor, psychiatric appointments, group therapy and hospitalizations made for an incredibly intense and exhausting couple of years. Not only was I dealing with the disorder itself, but working so hard to “fix myself”. The order of events of my life from age eighteen to about twenty-three (give or take) is very hazy and sometimes I have trouble recalling things in chronological order. Recently, I told my psychiatrist this and he said it’s very common. I didn’t know it was common, so I asked him what causes that, and he kind of snorted and said “repression, probably.” I didn’t ask him to elaborate. I get it. The memories of that period of life are sad, literally depressing and I have a lot of embarrassment over it. There are some things I won’t share, but to some extent it’s because I can’t. Because I don’t remember, and it’s such a blessing.