This is something I've been afraid to talk about openly for over a year. I was afraid to admit it because I didn't want any excuses. I didn't want people to think it was the reason my friendships failed, or the reason I've never been in a relationship. I didn't want people to look at me weirdly or act extra cautious of me.
I don't want people to avoid me. I'm still me. But, that's exactly the point. I am me, and this is a major part of my life. So, here it is: I have bipolar II disorder.
This is not a “woe is me” tale. This is a PSA against social stigmas because people with mental illness have been through enough. We don't need to combat ignorance as well as our illness.
Bipolar disorder is defined by its manic and depressive phases. The phases last different amounts of time, and they are at different intensities. Bipolar II just basically means I have a lot more depressive phases, but I do have a few spurts of productive mania mixed in for good measure.
For those who know me, the depressive side shouldn't be much of a shock. I have been the living embodiment of Eeyore for most of my life. It's normal for me.
Sophomore year of college is when I first started to notice a problem. Insomnia spells occurred, and I would sob through the night. I was unable to connect with reality. I would text my mom at all hours, asking her what was wrong with me.
But those texts only served to upset and worry her. I decided to keep most of my feelings in after that point.
I started seeing a therapist because I thought this was being caused by repressed childhood trauma. While it did help resolve some issues, the overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness continued to consume me.
So, I visited a psychiatrist. Almost immediately, I was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. I was given a cocktail of medication to help sort me out.
But, it didn't help all that much. I still spent nights with pent up energy. I kept rocking back and forth, wondering when – if ever – I'd finally fall asleep. I still had moments where I'd look around the room and suddenly, everything would become a viable weapon with which to harm myself.
I still had racing thoughts that went so fast, I could barely keep up. I still felt disconnected from the world, as though I was watching my life on a TV screen. But I was unable to interact with the other characters. I still wasn't normal.
This went on for over a year, until my parents went away for the first time. I had already been away at college for a few years, so it wasn't the sense of freedom. It was just coincidental timing.
But, I went on a manic spree. For me, manic phases have two surefire indications: a spending spree and art. When I get manic, I'm on top of the world. The creativity that is usually blocked by medication and apathy comes flowing forth like a river.
I'll usually buy a crap ton of art supplies and go crazy. I also get more productive. I'm able to get out of bed and accomplish everyday tasks, and so much more. When I'm manic, it feels like I'm cured. It's like the depression was a figment of my imagination the whole time.
But, it's not. Before I know it, it hits me like a truck. At this point, the mania becomes a distant memory. But, it's a memory I get nostalgic for. I know it existed. It had to.
When I think about it, I get this warm glow on the surface of my skin. A faint smile appears. I think it's possible to get back there. But alas, it isn't.
A few psychiatrists later, and there it was: "bipolar disorder." They were such dreaded words.
I returned home, where my parents were setting up for my family birthday party. I held in the news and kept a face full of giggles and smiles. I played it cool.
This was something I had mastered by this point. When everyone left and we were breaking down tables, I broke down too. I told my parents.
I could see their looks of disbelief. How was this possible? I was always the perfect, smiling, girl-next-door type of kid. How could I have a bonafide mental illness?
Appearances are just that: They're all on the surface. Your appearance is a way of projecting yourself to others. It's a way to hide all the imperfections and oddities.
Everyone does it. Some just have more to hide than others. But, I'm done keeping up appearances. This is the real me, whether you like it or not.
Even though I've been on the same medication for months and am stable, that doesn't mean I'm fixed. If anything, it just means I have different problems. My medication makes it impossible for me to eat most of the time. Yet, it also makes me gain weight.
It controls my fluctuating mood, but it also makes me apathetic for most of my life. I still have a regular state of dissociation. It seems there's nothing that can be done about that.
I try really hard to participate in group events, but I just burn out so quickly now. I'll be the life of the party. But two hours later, I'm slumped in a chair, spaced out and wishing it would all stop.
When you meet someone with mental illness, realize that he or she is still a normal person. The person just has a lot more going on under the surface than you could possibly imagine. You just need a bit more patience and understanding.
So, don't give up on us before you give us a chance. People with mental illness have a unique gift: their perspective. We see things in different ways. We understand different parts of what it means to be human. If you have someone in your life with mental illness, consider yourself lucky. You'll see the world in a whole new way.