Carrie Fisher clogged up my news feed today and initially, I didn’t think much about it. Maybe too many celebrities have died this year and I’ve lost my ability to be shocked. And the fact that I haven’t seen an entire Star Wars movie didn’t help either. So I was looking for something beyond news of Princess Leia when I stumbled on a quote that made me look further.
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” ~ Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking
In that moment, I mourned Carrie Fisher. I realized how brave she had been in the face of an invisible illness and how much we needed people like her to remind us that it’s ok to be not ok.
The night my brother died, I basically threw up my emotions on Facebook. I put it all out there to see and I didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it. I spent the next 5 1/2 years writing about every little painful thing I could think of and I felt free. I was living my truth and was, for the most part, minus the pain, loving my life.
That all changed about a year and half ago when, what I now refer to as a “chemical event” occurred. My mind started to change.
I had noticed a pattern in the last few years during the fall of increased stress and difficulty managing everything. I legitimately had a lot of things that happened in the fall, so I just assumed that the solution was to step back and figure out what my priorities were. Unfortunately, that didn’t help.
I look back now and realize that it started in late summer, increased in September and spun out of control by late October. I was experiencing a prolonged episode of hypomania, although I didn’t know that at the time. According to Wikipedia, hypomania (literally “under mania” or “less than mania”) is a mood state characterized by persistent disinhibition and pervasive elevated (euphoric) with or without irritable mood but generally less severe than full mania.
Ok. I said it…..In case anyone is wondering, I have Bipolar II. Bipolar II is different that Bipolar I in that you never reach a full manic state, but your mood cycles nonetheless.
My hypomania, while at times euphoric, was largely irritable. The longer this episode went on, the more out of control my life became. I was agitated all of the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I was testing boundaries and pushing people to their limit.
I didn’t know I had Bipolar until my life started falling apart and I became desperate for help. I ended up in a psychiatric nurse’s office on a Sunday afternoon and she broke the news.
I was devastated. I felt damaged; like my life would never be the same. And it hasn’t.
I started a psychotropic cocktail of meds that included mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics. (Side note….why the fuck can’t they call it something other than anti-psychotic?) The next day my mind was so quiet that it was frightening. For the first time it occurred to me that maybe I had always had this problem. I didn’t know that people actually live without noise in their heads. I didn’t know what to do.
I responded quickly and positively to the cocktail, which the nurse was pleased with. At one of my first med checks, she looked at me very seriously and asked, “How did you function? You’ve been able to get a Masters, hold down a job, teach and see clients. That’s amazing.” My response: “I did what I had to do. I didn’t know I had a choice.”
Several months later, I had put on a large amount of weight, which is common with certain psychotropics. I was at greater risk for high blood sugar and the nurse and I together, decided to make a change to my regimen. It’s been a very long road.
Summer came and went and I was faced with another fall. As expected, I noticed I was more agitated but hoped that we would continue to tweak the meds and I could avoid a relapse. I didn’t.
This fall is a blur of cycling hypomania and depression. Things were happening so quickly, I’m not even sure if I was hypomanic or depressed. Best I can tell, I was both. I was frightened. I was alone.
I’ve had a LOT of shitty things happened. I watched my dad die when I was 11. I endured the loss of a sibling. I had to say goodbye to my mother. All of those things felt overwhelming and were life changing. None of them were anything like this.
My body and mind betrayed me. I’ve never felt so helpless or so alone. I got up everyday and lived my life because the world doesn’t recognize psychological illness without an incredible amount of stigma. It takes so much to trust people with this secret. And even more energy to hide it.
Am I better? The answer is no. I’m close but then again, we are all just one chemical away from disaster. But it dawned on me that this illness seems to have taken my ability to write. That, coupled with the intense fear that people would find out pushed me to write this today.
As Carrie Fisher pointed out, I need to stop being ashamed. As my nurse pointed out, it’s pretty amazing that I’ve been able to do all of the things I have. I should be proud. I shouldn’t be hiding.
So this is Bipolar.