The following post was written by my daughter, Sara who has Bipolar 2 disorder. The first time I had to say out loud that my beautiful, smart, funny, daughter has a mental illness, I struggled to get the words out — far more than I would have if I were sharing news of a physical ailment. I don’t struggle anymore, because I know that mental illness, in its various forms, is a heartbreaking disorder that affects one in five American adults — that’s 43 million people. And that number doesn’t include the families and friends who love them, and also feel the impact. I asked Sara’s permission to post this, because it might bring a little hope and comfort to those who need it.
Today is World Bipolar Day, I’m waiting for the world’s longest iUpdate to download, and as such I felt like I wanted to write a little something about my ongoing journey having the diagnosis of Bipolar 2 Disorder.
It’s been a little over 2 years since I was formally diagnosed, though looking back on my life I can say that I’ve probably had this illness for a lot longer than that. I think that no one really knew what to look for, and being naturally free-spirited I think that a lot of my more “adventurous” choices were chalked up to my “airy-fairy Aquarius” tendencies.
That being said, while I certainly wouldn’t wish for a replay of the series of events that ultimately led me to seek out psychiatric help, and I definitely could do without all the credit card debt I incurred during that time, I’m glad that it happened. Because finally I knew why I was feeling the way I did, and I was able to gain some sense of control in my (at that time) chaotic life.
At first, the notion that I had this mental disorder that I’d only read about in psychology classes was really, well, daunting. After all, how does one, buried in the shambles they’ve made of their life, get a shocking diagnosis (I do have a tendency for the dramatic, but I was somewhat shocked to learn that I did indeed have Bipolar 2), and then try to pick up and move forward?
I will say that in the initial phases, I felt extremely betrayed by those I was close to. I mean, the bare bones of some really bad choices had been exposed to the people I was doing my best to keep it from (my parents, who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging), and now I was being confronted with the reality of what those choices could lead to. And it was my parents who were the most involved. I desperately didn’t want them involved in any aspect of what was going on at the time. And yet there they were, ambushing me after a late shift at my former job, and giving me a huge dose of reality, and laying out the next steps I needed to take to start getting myself back on track. The worst and first of which was calling the mental health clinic and saying I needed help. Fast.
It’s worth mentioning here that even with insurance, I was only able to get in quickly because, by a small miracle, the person who picked up my call was someone I knew. He got me in right away, but that’s not what usually happens. It often takes a suicide attempt before you can get past the 6-8 week waiting list. And that’s a strong statement on the failings of the healthcare system here in the US. Every day I’m thankful that I was one of the lucky ones — I had the insurance to give me access to the care I needed, and I had the friend who got me an immediate appointment. But getting mental health care when you need it shouldn’t be a matter of luck.
Anyway. I’ve been thinking about my life now, and how different it is from two years ago, and all I feel is a profound sense of gratitude. I’m thankful for the lessons this illness has taught me. I’m thankful for this vast safety net/support network I have around me; that’s been the really crazy/great thing: people I’ve never met have reached out to offer support, to thank me for being so open and willing to talk about my experiences, or even to tell me that somehow I’ve helped them.
Somehow, in my darkest times, I’ve helped someone who has helped me. That still blows my mind, but I’m glad I could. I’m thankful that despite the early period of time when I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, I’ve come around and realized that keeping people at arm’s length doesn’t really help anything, and it certainly doesn’t help them help you when you need it.
I think the biggest difference in my life now, versus how it was then, is that despite a few bouts of depression, I’ve never felt better. I used to think it was so weird to not feel super emotionally about things, but now I know that it’s just my new normal. Taking medication every day has been my new normal for the past two years.
*Sidenote on medication: I don’t know what I’d do without my meds. Well, I know what I’d do, and I don’t want to go down that path again. That said, if you ever find yourself in a position where you’re being advised to take meds to help you get through depression, anxiety, or whatever, TAKE THE MEDS. Seriously. Sometimes we all need a little help. No shame in that.*
The main change, however, has been that I am fully committed to listening to my heart and my mind and doing what I need to do to take care of myself. Granted, this has led to a fairly nonexistent social life (except for little bursts of activity every now and then), but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being in my home, in my space, doing yoga (or not), exercising (or not), meditating, reading, playing with my cats, napping, writing, enjoying silence…all of it. Being on medication has definitely helped curb that restless energy I used to have, and while I used to miss all my nonstop creativity, I find that I’m more apt to actually follow through and finish my creative endeavors now, which is extremely satisfying.
I think I’ll bring this to a close by saying this: I have Bipolar 2 Disorder, but I am not defined by my disease. In ways that I think only I understand sometimes, I’m thankful to be on this journey, because I’ve learned more about myself and life in the past two years than I have most of my life. As Patty Duke, a fellow person who was living with Bipolar Disorder and who died of unrelated causes, said, “My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle.”
I feel the same way. Exactly.