Posted 7/16/2008 by smartblackboy in Labels: bipolar disorder, counseling, depression, depressive episode, living, manic episode, mental health, smartblackboy, Success, suicide
Two years ago I wrote this to a friend:
"Sometimes you get to the point where you are just starving for hope, for something to hold onto. You realize that you are losing things at a startling speed. Your sanity slips away. Your GPA follows. Your Bestfriend goes away. Your girlfriend leaves you. You lose what you were fighting for. Suddenly you don't know who you are anymore. You barely remember your past. If you remember you don't believe it. You are sad and depressed and hurt constantly. You have felt this way for so long it is normal. Your eyes betray a dark sadness, you are afraid to talk to someone because you don't want them to deal with the abyss of your soul. It has been 3 years and you still find it hard to cry. You will believe anything, do anything, to make this stop. All you want is to find something true and beautiful. You know that if you don't soon enough, one day you will look around, and you won't be able to find a reason why, and on that day the earth will swallow you up."
I wrote this in the midst of a depressive episode. Dealing with bipolar was still new for me.
The key word is dealing because I suspected that I had the disorder as early as my Junior year in high school. A friend of mine was (mistakenly) diagnosed as bipolar and when I read the description of the illness I felt like someone was describing me.
However, I ignored this discovery. I counted it off as merely hormones and too much of an imagination. I dismissed my cycles as "teenage growing pains". Unfortunately, this only served in delaying me getting professional help and isolating myself from potential support networks of family and friends.
I remember sincerely doubting that I would make it past my teenage years - between occasionally being suicidal and routinely taking risks that put my life in danger - I was setting myself up for an early death.
This became my first lesson in living with bipolar disorder: Pretending it doesn't exist only makes it worse.
When I started college I kept in the back of my mind that something was probably wrong with me. Yet, I was very afraid of actually finding out. I didn't want it to be real. I just wanted it to be in my head. I was known, I was popular, I didn't want to deal with any stigma.
I also felt like things were going pretty "normal" for me, I hadn't really wanted to kill myself in a while and I tended to downplay manic episodes as just "youthful adventures."
What I didn't know then was that I had been living with bipolar for three years without any sort of help or support and that I didn't even have a clue what normal was.
Finally at the start of my Sophomore year I went to the Counseling Center. Ironically, I went only to get some advice about time management. By the time I was finished telling my stories of the past three years, the psychologist had to excuse herself from the room. There were tears in her eyes.
My world shattered: my idea of normal was enough to make a psychologist cry.
After that first visit I started coming back every week. I was resistant to the idea at first - I thought it was a waste of time. However, soon after I began seeing her I had a major manic-episode.
For those who don't know all episodes aren't the same. Some episodes last longer than others, some are more intense, etc and no one knows why. While minor episodes are definitely painful, inconvenient, and traumatic - A major episode can kill you.
Needless to say it was a very difficult time in my life. I was seriously considering withdrawing from college. However, as bad as it was - I can't imagine what would have happened if I was not in regular counseling at the time. In all honesty I would probably be dead or in jail.
Thus my second lesson in living with Bipolar: Getting help can save your life.
A few months later I was going through a depressive episode. It was at that time I wrote the previously quoted passage to a friend.
What I was trying to share with them was the third lesson I have learned in living with Bipolar: You have to always have a reason for the question "Why live?" - so even when you are on the edge, even when you are suicidal, you have something or someone that will keep you clinging to life.
I pulled through that episode, just as I pulled through the ones that came before it, and the ones that have come after it.
From what I can tell many people consider my life up to this point to be "successful". I have been able to lead organizations, win awards, graduate from college, get job offers, make money, etc. However, as I have wrote about previously, I consider success to be the distance from where you started to where you are now. Even without everything else, for me, simply being alive and able to write this is "success".
Unfortunately there is no known cure for Bipolar disorder - there is no "getting better".
However, perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from living with Bi-polar is this: No matter what obstacles come my way, I have the capacity to live my own life, to love, to be loved, and to embrace the present, one day at a time.
Thank you to all my friends, family, and loved ones. You ground me, you give me strength, you are my reason why.
For more information about Bipolar Disorder click here
Update 7/17/08 - great New York Times article out today on Living with Bipolar Disorder