I was well on my way to madness; it was my Junior year of high school, and I was seventeen years old. Within three months I was maniac beyond recognition and just beginning a long, costly personal war against medications that I would, in a few years’ time, be strongly reassuring others to take.. I was might I say, a human guinea pig trying to pinpoint which medication would in somehow benefit my well-being because I knew I wasn’t right, my mind wasn’t right.
My illness, and my struggles against the drug that ultimately saved my life and restored my sanity, had been years in the making. For as long as I can recall I was beholden to moods. Intensely emotional as a child, unsure as a young girl, first severely depressed as an adolescent, and then unrelentingly caught up in the cycles of bipolar maniac-depressive illness by the time I was an adolescent..
I became, both by necessity and intellectual increase, a student of moods. It has been the only way I know to attempt and try to make a difference in the lives of others who also suffer from mood disorders. The disease that has, on numerous occasions, nearly killed me does kill thousands of people every year; most are young, most die unexpectedly, and many are among the most imaginative and gifted that we as a society have. I feel that society lacks the awareness, which is why I’m here to speak. Everyone’s voice is worthy.
I’ve always believed that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful. In some odd way, I have tried to do that with bipolar maniac-depressive illness. It has been a unimaginative, deadly, enemy and companion; I have found it to be overly complicated. In order to cope with it, I first had to know it all of its moods and infinite disguises, understand it’s real and imagined “powers.” Because my illness seemed at first simply to be another version of myself-that is to say, my changeable moods, energies, and enthusiasms. And because I thought I ought to be able to handle my increasingly mood swings by myself, for the first few months I did not seek any kind of treatment.
My manias, at least in their early and mild forms were intoxicating states that gave uncontrollable flow of thoughts, and a ceaseless energy that would flow through me. Medications not only cut into these fast-flowing, high-flying times, they also brought with them intolerable side affects.
It took me far too long to realize that years and relationships that have been lost cannot be removed, that damage done to oneself and others cannot always be put right again.
The war that I waged against myself is not an uncommon one. The clinical problem in treating bipolar maniac-depressive illness is not that there are not effective medications- there are- but that patients so often refuse to take them. Worse yet, because of a lack of information and knowledge, poor medical advice, stigma, or fear of personal reprisals, they do not seek treatment at all.
Bipolar maniac-depression distorts moods and thoughts, invites absurd behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often eroded the desire and will to live.
I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends and family that I do. My therapist saved my life. Because of this, I have in turn tried, as best I could, to use my own personal experiences of the disease to inform research, teach, and through advocacy work. I hope to persuade others of the core of this quicksilver illness that can both kill and create; and along with many others, have tried to change public attitudes about illnesses in general and maniac-depressive illness in particular.
It has been difficult at times to weave my experiences but more powerful by using it. From this raw emotion I feel that I have obtained the freedom to live the kind of life I want, and the human experiences necessary to try to make a big difference in public awareness. People who are facing these painful dark experiences need support as facing it alone is much more difficult.. we all need a helping hand sometimes even more so in these particular situations. I was a junior in High school when I had my first attack of maniac-depressive illness; once the siege began, I lost my mind rather rapidly. Nothing made sense.
I could not begin to follow the material presented in my classes, and I would find myself staring out the window with no idea of what was going on around me. It was frightening. I was used to my mind being my best friend; of carrying endless conversations within my head. My mind turned on me, it mocked me for my vapid enthusiasms, it laughed at all of my foolish plans, it no longer found anything interesting or enjoyable or worthwhile.
Why live I felt? I felt weightless like I had no control over my body. My teachers soon began to confront me about the change in my moods and the way I presented myself as a student. I was irritable because I could not wrap my head around nor comprehend what was happening to me… unlike the very severe maniac episodes that came a few years later and escalated wildly and psychologically out of control. Tiresome to my friends, perhaps; exhausting and exhilarating to me, definitely; but not disturbingly over the top.
Then bottom began to fall out of my life and mind. My thinking, far from being clearer than a crystal, was tortuous. I would read the same passage over and over again only to realize that I had no memory of what I just read. Each book or poem I picked up was the same way, incomprehensible. Nothing made sense really. It was very difficult.. each day I awoke deeply tired.. I thought maybe that everything was born to die, best to die now and save the pain while waiting. I dragged my exhausted mind and body through each day.
For several weeks, I would sleep and drag myself to school, and I thought obsessively about killing my self. I tried to put on a brave face and certainly no one in my family noticed right away. Friends were concerned, but I swore them to secrecy when they asked to talk to my parents. I have no clue how I managed to pass as normal in school, except that other people are generally caught up in their own lives and seldom notice pain in others if those despairing make an effort to disguise the pain.
I made not just an effort, but a big effort not to be noticed. I knew something was dreadfully wrong, but I had no idea what. The school psychologist pulled me aside one day into her office and explained to me that I was harmful to myself and others, that I could not attend school until I seek treatment.. she made it sound so simple and easy.
So I was out of school for a couple months, trying to seek treatment, and that’s when things really got ugly. I would think consistently about killing my self and I began to cut myself to somehow relieve the painful thoughts that were taking over my body.
I remember the one night I had ran away for hours, I went to these apartments that were nearby to my neighborhood, found a broken glass bottle and used the pieces to self-harm myself several times until I saw blood and felt some sort of relief.. but I looked down and cried and knew I had to go back, I needed my family but I laid there, helpless until I wanted to go home.
I recall my parents looking at me, hysterical, cleaning the blood off my arms saying “why would you do this to yourself, why!?” I couldn’t explain it but that’s the night that really showed my family that I need serious help and without it, I may not be able to handle this, that maybe suicide was the only alternative.
I’m surprised I’ve got into such detail but I did this to show individuals that illnesses aren’t a joke, they aren’t to be taken lightly and shouldn’t be. It is difficult to know what goes on inside the mind of someone who’s suffering from an illness. Being bullied about having a mental illness isn’t okay and still to this day I will never forget the moments people used my illness and made it like a joke, posting horrific things about me, about my personal life and what I was going through. People who are unsure of themselves bwill always put down others put that’s their problem not yours..
Every moment that I was alone, feeling alone and helpless I would then start to harm myself again but then looking down saying and repeating why would I do this and I would call a family member. But it was too late when they arrived, because I already did it. I couldn’t be alone.
I just couldn’t.. each time it would get worse and I turned to using a knife attempting to stick it through my chest but I put that knife down that night, I knew I couldn’t do this. I knew this wasn’t the way to handle such a painful situation so that’s when I knew, truly deep in my heart, that I had to seek treatment. What was wrong with me you might ask?
I wasn’t sure at this point what was the real trigger to my “madness” but in time I was diagnosed with bipolar manic-depressive disorder. Mental illness is not a personal failure, to the people out in the world struggling with this … you are NOT alone. Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.