I watched a show last night, actually I’ve been watching a lot of shows lately since my brain apparently doesn’t like to sleep until around 3:30am. This was a new show, however, just debuted on ABC, called Black Box. It’s very House, M.D.-esque. Brilliant neuroscientist who saves lives and fixes people, all the while being more than a little bit crazy and secretive…you get the picture.
I’ll go ahead and spoil the first episode for you, she’s Bipolar. Like me.
Her mind runs a million miles an hour, every second of the day, she sleeps with strange men (hypersexuality), runs down the street singing and laughing maniacally, talks a million miles an hour, stays up all night, struggles with the urge to jump off a balcony, and flushes her medication on a whim because it “slows down her mind”. (All of this in the first episode!)
Part of me hates when shows portray characters as having mental illnesses; while the exposure is great I feel like they often over dramatize things to make the show more interesting. However, all of these symptoms are typical of bipolar…they just sometimes seem to be to the extreme and dramatic. Ok, off my soapbox now…
So I was watching, and thinking about my pre-medication days.
While my mental illness is not nearly as…drastic…as the woman on the show’s is, there were definitely times where I acted and felt much like she does. I used to stay up all night, go running at 3am because I had more nervous energy in me than I thought my body could stand, drive really fast, make questionable (to say the least!) decisions regarding men and sex, talk really fast without making much sense, and literally not give a shit about the consequences of any of my actions. It was kind of fun (sometimes). However, there are 2 problems with this, one being that there actually ARE consequences for every decision; the other being that for every high, every rush, there was an opposite (and often more extreme) depression or dark place.
I spent countless nights in bed crying, wanting to die and not understanding why; endless nights without sleep writing incredibly dark and sad poems, and sitting in the bathroom with a razor blade. I got so angry that I punched anything in sight. My favorite? Concrete telephone poles. I did a number on the knuckles of my hands many times, and went to school the next day with them swollen and bruised. I found every way I could think of to hurt myself, because somehow that helped make some sense of the many emotions coursing through me. Many, many times I resisted the urge (sometimes just barely) to drive my car off the road, or to grab the nearest bottle of pills and down it…until one day I didn’t resist well enough.
I opened my computer, and googled “effects of aspirin overdose”, I read the wikipedia details. Then I locked my door, sat on my bed, and consciously counted out how many pills were in the bottle. I downed them 2 by 2, with each set I said “after this maybe I’ll stop, it’s not enough to hurt me, just make me not feel like this anymore”, yet each time down another 2 pills went. 22 in all. I don’t know why I never stopped, hell, I don’t know why I started in the first place. It was like someone else was inside my brain telling me what to do, over-riding my brain’s automatic self-preservation instincts. Like I was possessed.
As I sat in the pediatric psychiatric unit of my local hospital and cried (for what felt like an eternity…but was actually only like 2 days), I replayed that afternoon in my head over and over again. What scared me, and still scares me, was the consciousness with which I did it. I mean who sits down and researches how to kill themselves, reads and understands exactly what will happen to their body, and then goes and does it?!
I remember that time in the hospital in snap shots. Being wheeled on a stretcher to the ambulance, with my neighbors watching because there was an ambulance, a fire truck, and 2 police cars in my quiet suburb neighborhood. Staring out the back window of the ambulance at my dad following us in his car, and realizing the pain in his face. Laying in the hospital bed not understanding why the doctor kept asking me exactly how many pills I took and how many milligrams, then pulling out his calculator and looking so worried. Drinking charcoal and being sick to my stomach all night long. Listening to the doctor explain to my dad what a Baker Act is. Sitting on a couch in the psych unit for hours just crying and crying. The abandonment I felt when it was “parent visitation night”, and no one came to see me. The people I met there; a 16 year old girl who woke up one day (her 16th birthday) hearing voices telling her that her parents hated her, the 8 year old boy brought in by the police for threatening to punch another kid in the throat at school, the 12 year old girl who was pregnant, the 14 year old girl with arms covered in scars who knew exactly how many there were and the stories behind them, including the time she barricaded herself in her room with a dresser and cut herself 72 times until she passed out in a pool of blood for her parents to find later, the nice girl who had been there for 6 weeks and as she was leaving was only concerned with how she would explain to her little sister where she had been without telling her the truth and hurting/scaring her. The isolation. The fear. The feeling of being insane, and yet not belonging there with those people. The denial, the “but I’m not like THEM”. The elation I felt when I was told I could leave.
After about 2 days in the hospital, a couple of meetings with the psychiatrist, an anger management class, a music therapy class, a class that involved “drawing our feelings”, some sort of strange in-hospital school class, and a harsh talking to from a nurse to “quit my crying or they would never let me out of here”, I managed to convince the doctor that I had ZERO intention of trying that again (totally true, by the way) and she let me go home. The resulting diagnosis? Rapid cycling bipolar, of the depressive type.
(This means that a. my moods cycle very quickly, like over the course of an hour or two sometimes, verses the couple of weeks most people experience and b. that I spend the majority of my time in a depressive state, rather than a manic one)
This began my long journey to finding mental health…I say long, which was really like 3 years, but that’s a long time to feel like I felt. It took 2 psychiatrists, 2 therapists, at least 4 different mood stabilizers and antidepressants, some permanent side drug side effects, a ton of weight gain, and multiple times of stopping meds cold turkey (we all know what happens when you try that, right?) before I finally found what works for me. Luckily I am stable now, remarkably stable for someone with bipolar disorder, actually. I found a medication that works for me, and works really well. I have no side effects from it, and NO desire to stop taking it, EVER…I finally feel like I know who I am. I like my psychiatrist, he’s a nice guy; I like my therapist, the same guy I saw 2 days after being discharged from the hospital 7 years ago, who I still see for periods of time when I feel like I need a “mental health booster shot”, as he calls it. And I like my life. I can’t imagine ever wanting to end it again. I have learned to recognize, for the most part, what is “me” and what is my “crazy”…so even when I do have the occasional mood swing, or manic urge, I remind myself that it is just chemicals in my brain, and not who I am.
And yes, I do still have mood swings. Not often, and not to the extremes that I used to experience, but it happens. I still sometimes find myself with the urge to drive realllyyyy fast, with the windows down, and scream at the top of my lungs…or make really stupid decisions regarding men. I still have dark nights; I no longer hurt myself or want to die, but the darkness that invades my mind sometimes is really dark. I have days where I feel as though I am experiencing every single emotion possible, at the exact same time; as though I am being crushed by all of the emotion and the energy and the darkness all at the same time. I still get so angry I can’t contain it. But I am strong. I am no longer a lost, hurting, scared little soul begging for help. My mind is clear now, I know who I am and who I’m not; i know which thoughts are mine and which belong to the disease. I am me now.
I don’t talk about these experiences much; I am completely open with anyone about the fact that I have a mental illness, but I try really hard to block the memories of those times from my mind, most likely as an act of self-preservation. I spent days trying to form this post in my mind, and hours writing it. It’s made me rather uncomfortable to write about; I feel raw inside now, naked and vulnerable…
But in the end it’s my truth, and I am owning it.
“Bipolar robs you of that which is you. It can take from you the very core of your being and replace it with something that is completely opposite of who and what you truly are. Because my bipolar went untreated for so long, I spent many years looking in the mirror and seeing a person I did not recognize or understand. Not only did bipolar rob me of my sanity, but it robbed me of my ability to see beyond the space it dictated me to look. I no longer could tell reality from fantasy, and I walked in a world no longer my own.”
― Alyssa Reyans, Letters from a Bipolar Mother