GUEST BLOG – One of the wonderful things I’ve discovered since starting my blog is that you become part of a community. My guest blogger this week is Allie, is a 23 year old Dental Assistant who lives in Illinois. At the age of just 17, Allie was diagnosed with bipolar 2. Here follows Allie’s courageous and candid account of her journey so far…
Bipolar disorder has been a long journey so far, and it’s challenging sometimes to be aware that it’s an illness that will be a continuous obstacle for the rest of my days.
When I was younger (17-ish) I lived with a long term boyfriend and his parents, because quality of living had been a little better and a stable environment felt comfortable. I enjoyed having a stereotypical family to come home to each night, although my own was a little challenged. As time went on, I found myself in an abusive relationship mentally and emotionally. He dragged me into the black hole of despair he had created for himself, which is when my anxiety and depression started coming about more frequently. I talked my parents into taking me to a therapist, because I was still convinced that maybe I wasn’t in a bad relationship, it was just me. I needed someone to talk to.
Needless to say, she was quick to usher me to a psychiatrist after a few meetings. After reviewing my chart, he slapped the initial bipolar (2) label on my forehead with instructions to go to the hospital for an EKG and other testing, along with a prescription for Trileptal.
Being that I was never a sick person, the idea of being tested every 6 months while on a medication at 17 was scary. I struggled to cope with the fact I could no longer get by day to day without these tiny pills, yet I tried taking them religiously. I continued to doubt the diagnosis, because I didn’t fully understand why they felt it fitted me, and I was just ignorant to the characteristics and tell tale signs. The drug made me feel empty inside. I no longer felt anything.
Years later, near the end of my next long term relationship (at 21), I felt like I was losing my mind. I was no longer on meds (hadn’t been for awhile), my car had been totalled, I was trying to run a business full of unreliable employees, and my best friend in life passed away. 2016 was a hard year. I decided to take steps to better my mental health and see a therapist, who is still one of the biggest people to have an affect on my illness. She helped me truly open up, did NOT take my self destructive shit, and helped me learn why that was diagnosed prior. Over months she observed and was able to pin point specific behaviors to help me see myself more clearly.
Upon following up with a new psychiatrist and receiving the same diagnosis, I felt determined. This wasn’t going to slow me down. I had never let it before so why should I start? Naturally, these were feelings that would be gone within a week or so. This time, I was given Lexapro for my anxiety, depression, and OCD, and Lamictal for my mood stabilizer. Within time, I found a nice smooth rhythm to fall into and life felt okay. I wasn’t numb but I didn’t feel as lifeless and dull as Trileptal had left me.
Mania: An episode of Mania to me is only a little intimidating when I’m alone. The most memorable time for me was when I had woken up at 3am (went to bed at a normal time) and proceeded to feel it super necessary to take a shower, clean, bake cookies, and start a roast in the crockpot. Eventually my eyes started hurting so I laid down, just for a minute, and found myself an hour late for work when I awoke. But hey, at least I brought cookies.
Mania affects my life in the sense that it feels like bipolar and OCD grab hands as they snort a line of coke and fuck my life up together. I get really anxious and paranoid, high strung would probably be an ideal phrase to describe me. It’s incredible the amount of stuff I’m able to accomplish, but it’s too much when it’s 12 hours and I can’t get my mind to quit. If I’m going to organize the cabinets, then you have to organize the spices alphabetically. But if I’m gonna do that, I should wipe down the counters and stove. Guess I should probably clean the fridge out too, and then it just never stops. Add caffeine and suddenly I’m the worlds best employee. I notice while I’m more social, I get into worse situations while manic.
As previously mentioned, I struggled most with mania as it affected my work life. It had been affecting my social life as well, as I was always up wonky hours, talking to strangers because hey, why not. New experiences couldn’t possibly hurt me, I was just there for a good time. I never thought things through before moving forward.
Depressive: A depressive episode on the other hand is the most foul, hopeless feeling I could ever have imagined. I can’t find the willingness to shower, eat, or any other basic functions. Work is quite the challenge during these times, especially being in customer service. I don’t have the energy to even act like I care.
I wasn’t so aware of how bad these behaviors were until WAY later on, when I made the connection that every ex of mine had said “Don’t you remember how bad you used to get? I couldn’t get you out of bed, or to eat.” I had been letting it take charge of my life and hadn’t even noticed.
I usually start noticing symptoms of hopelessness and anxiety, and just feel “off” in general. This tends to lead my mind to overthinking the subject, which drags me deeper into the quick sand that is a depressive episode. I made really scary, reckless decisions during these times. I would leave public places with people I didn’t know, had called the suicide hotline more times than I’d like to admit (and after many failed attempts), and had been blowing money excessively to try hiding the pain that came with the dull, empty life I had been living.
Life is challenging for those who struggle with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts at a young age. People would always ask me what I wanted to go to school for, and I didn’t think I’d make it that far. I didn’t have a game plan set up, I figured I’d off myself after snapping some day in the not so distant future. I just kept job hopping in hopes that I’d make more money or find happiness. With each one, I realized it didn’t matter unless I could pay my bills AND be happy, and yet I still fumbled through the same mistakes. Honestly, I’m still struggling today, but I have found my passion in a field and nothing could make me happier than knowing I have a reason to live. A desire to keep going and to make a difference.
For me, the lows always hit harder. They render me useless and challenge me on day to day activities. It might start with small signs like sleeping more, eating less, and showering less. It later evolves into self depreciating comments, and cutting myself off from social contact. Panic attacks breaking me down at work because I can’t keep up, I’m not doing good enough. I’ll break down crying, and then hurt more because every time a partner is made aware of my condition, they’ve left. Who wants someone without some aspect of mentally stability? Not a lot of people, apparently. After each person continues to leave, it makes you wonder if you’ll ever be capable of having a healthy relationship, or have to be medicinally stabilized to not freak anyone out that you meet.
Stability and support play a key part in your success of day to day life, and it’s hard to make progress without someone to keep you in check. I find the swings hit me a little less forcefully when I have someone making sure I’m eating (and healthy), showering, and taken care of. I will always be thankful for those who have been there for me regardless of my mental state. That’s what I consider unconditional love.
I find there’s a great amount of stigma around bipolar disorder and I don’t think anything could frustrate me more. I’ve had enough internal conflict that now that I’m comfortable with who I am, I dislike others thinking bipolar means I’m “a bitch” or my moods will change with the minute. Bipolar does not define me as a woman and it will not stand in the way of my success. People are so quick to self diagnose that it tends to be fairly insulting for those who have had countless nights feeling like there’s no point in waking up. That you’ll never be able to maintain a healthy relationship if you can’t get your shit together. Jobs become challenging because your performance varies week by week, and anxiety hits when you feel shitty enough before your boss mentions that your work hasn’t been what they need from you.
Because of the stigma, I don’t keep the label plastered on my forehead. While I accept who I am, I don’t mention it unless it’s needed. I feel comfortable though to talk openly about it when it comes up, although I don’t make it a point to be a topic. Maybe some day I’ll be able to share more experiences and hardships that help others realize it’s not just them. That things can improve, and healthy relationships are possible with the right partner.
I often wonder if graduating college for Dental will become a reality, or if I’ll flake like I had with everything else committal in my life. If I’ll be able to be in a healthy, successful marriage and have my own children. If I should even have my own children because I wouldn’t want my babies suffering through anything I went through.
Until you realize the signs and behaviors, and understand the reasoning behind it, you’ll feel trapped with a life that’s constantly changing. It’s frustrating, believe me. It’s a very self destructive and risky path, and I’m surprised I’ve gotten by semi safely until now. But it’s not something to be scared of, and it’s not worth letting it control your life.
YOU can take charge, and YOU can take on more positive behaviors to not let it dictate your life as much. Exercising was incredible for my mental health, as is my poetry. Make the effort to help yourself, because it’s unlikely anyone else will on your path towards mental clarity.
Written by guest blogger, Allie from Illinois.