I’m quick to reflect on high school glory days. It’s pretty silly, seeing as how I’ve not even reached the 10-year reunion mark. Flipping through my old yearbook, I noticed one of my favorite teachers wrote “Dear Beth, calling you a delicate flower would not give justice to your violently cheerful exuberance. It’s been amazing to watch your shifts from scarily giddy to sleepy to gloomy then back again.” I didn’t learn until later that this was a much abbreviated but also decent description of someone with type two Bipolar Disorder. Even with the intensity of my demeanor back then, no one would have pegged that onto a cheerleading prom queen.
I had a hodgepodge of symptoms that I never wanted to complain about but always knew were a problem. It took me a while before I confided in my doctor. Individually, the ailments were nothing to be alarmed about but experiencing them all at the same time (nearly all the time) became too much. The fatigue was easier to notice because of the way it affected my academic performance. I could sleep twelve hours at night and still feel the need for a three hour nap later that day. I began having nightmares every night and eventually experienced recurring sleep paralysis. I was always underweight, prone to infections with poor circulation and constant ice pick headaches, etc. And an even stranger development was a tick-chronic hiccups. These symptoms concerned my doctor and after exploring several possibilities to no avail, he eventually gave me an MRI to rule out cancer. Because he knew me as that charismatic girl from high school, he didn’t even consider that these were all physical manifestations of depression/anxiety.
Starting college, I knew I had been depressed on and off. My closest friends began to avoid me. They admitted that they ran out of ways to be there for me. I was exhausting the friends who poured so much love into me. I can’t place a finger on a watershed moment in time that broke me, but I vividly remember the signs. Having to cross a busy highway every day to get to class, I would dare myself to stand dangerously close to the road. I always entertained the thought of taking a swift step in front of the 18-wheelers that barreled by. Driving my car gave me ideas of swerving into oncoming traffic. I spent so much time fantasizing about dying. After sabotaging some of my strongest relationships, I was determined not to burden anyone else so I stayed quiet. Many nights I can swear my heart would break though and not in a way that typical teenage hearts do but in a way that was excruciating, and I would end up begging God to please take my life away. The sadness was palpable, but I wouldn’t impose on my friends.
I used to think if a person was medicated for their mental health their condition must be outrageous. I especially thought of bipolar disorder as a series of violent mood swings. In addition to this stigma, I also thought too many people are given medicine they don’t need. I figured the world was full of hypochondriacs and theatric people who manipulate doctors into prescribing pills. I dodged this avenue for the longest time. Then there was one night when my only reservation of jumping from the top floor window of my dorm was the possibility of a failed attempt. I couldn’t tell if the fall would be enough or if I would end up paralyzed. I even went outside to judge it from the ground up. By some stroke of horror I had at my own actions, I called NC State’s on-call counselor who stayed with me until 2 a.m. I could no longer ignore the need to seek help.
When I went to see someone, the suggestion that I might have bipolar disorder seemed nonsensical. That was ignorance on my part. The assessment was that I have severe bouts of depression, but I had never considered the other times, the euphoria and the mountain top experiences. Most people were only familiar with my contagious joy and perpetual need to spread it. My teacher’s words come back to mind.
After finding the courage to seek help, I’m now equipped with the right combination of medicine and therapy. I have help that doesn’t take away from who I am. I am still dynamic. I am still exuberant. It shines.