“Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it, an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.”
~ Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
When a person hears the word “bipolar,” his or her mind usually immediately jumps to the depiction of roller-coaster mood swings and lashing out.
Yet, this is not always the case with bipolar disorder. Bipolar can also affect your thoughts. Some people — like myself — experience a different version of the mental illness where many of your symptoms are internalized.
My illness varies from depressive apathy to euphoric mania which can be accompanied by a delusion or hallucination. I have not had the more severe experiences in about five years, thanks to therapy and medication. Though my journey to recovery was a difficult one, it is not an impossible feat.
It was two days after my fifteenth birthday that I had a full-on episode. I can remember it as clear as day.
First there was the fever, then a slow numbing to the core with sounds around me heightening, and nonexistent pain causing me such unbearable agony. Light burned, sounds screamed, and the depression was unbearable — it left me nearly incapacitated. My mood was so flat that people who hadn’t seen me prior had quickly judged it as something more severe.
Prior to this episode I was living at a boarding school for high school students. My behavior was erratic for several weeks prior to my episode, and had also instigated feelings of neglect from other students, who either felt sympathy or who bullied and harassed me.
I could not be talked down from the mania. Eventually I had climbed so high that I crashed into a severe depressive episode. My dad consulted a doctor, who immediately jumped the gun by telling me I might be smelling things that weren’t there or tasting or sensing things that weren’t real. That didn’t happen, though.
What did happen was I listened to Sarah McLaughlin on repeat for hours on end, trying to divine any emotional contact from her words. Nothing I did was bringing me back to myself. I was trying, in my own way, but it was painful.
Then came the hospitalization — I had been betrayed by my parents. I was put on Risperdal, and thus began the catatonia and shortly thereafter a suicide attempt after missing a dose: I walked into a field of icy water and nearly froze to death.
The second hospital, which my dad had to fight the insurance to pay for, was a disaster. After the psychiatrist there finally told my parents that they could not keep me any longer for fear of making me worse — and several abuses which I reported in writing — I had post-traumatic stress disorder. At age 16, I left a meeting with my psychiatrist to find “paranoid schizophrenia” circled on a sheet of yellow paper.
This label continued to define me for several years, and caused me a very confusing internal dilemma. I began to mimic the behaviors of schizophrenics on forums, and applied the label to myself to understand what was wrong. My dad was utterly convinced of it, as it was something to explain the catastrophe.
But, I really do have bipolar disorder, which my doctor realized when I was 17. Trauma caused my condition to worsen. This was clear only after fighting with doctors who too quickly labeled my behavior as erratic, not eccentric. I actually began to hear voices for the first time when I was 17, inside a hospital before they sent me home.
So does it matter what you call it? Yeah, it does. If I had actually had someone to talk to those times in the hospital, instead of being ridiculed for my behavior from staff more than patients, I would have recovered more quickly. I’d not been so plagued if they hadn’t tried to diagnose what they saw, not the actual chemistry behind it.
At 24, I am still the same as ever, but there is definitely a wound. I endured severe trauma in an understaffed hospital. I wonder exactly what was going through their minds when they verbally harassed me. Did they not understand that I had just attempted suicide and was traumatized?
If it weren’t for my voice — the same one which spoke out against treatment in the beginning — I wouldn’t have recovered. The same stubbornness that told me to say I didn’t want a certain medication was the same stubbornness that said I wanted to heal and recover. You don’t break someone to get them to comply, you try to put yourself in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from. If you’re trying to break people who are sick, you are coercing them, not helping them. I feel that this point needs to be heard.
I am on medication now, and have been on just one for about six or seven years. It works to help with depression and mania. I would not be better had it not been for my family, though stubborn themselves, who have loved me unconditionally and were always there for me when they could be. We have all learned from this mental illness, so implore people everywhere to learn what they can about bipolar and other disorders. If people were more open to reaching out to those who need help, more people will recover. Insight is the key.