Bipolar Confessions in Hiding
I have been writing this in my head for many months and until today none of these thoughts have managed to hit paper yet. But I feel this message is imperative. I wanted to finally write it down because I think it might be able to help other people. I am going to remain anonymous so that I can tell the entire truth of how I feel, incriminating facts and all. I have Bipolar II disorder and have been this way since around 18 or 19 years old. I have always known that something was wrong with me, but the root cause eluded me. I started seeing therapists off and on when I was about 20 years old. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders and put on anti-depressants, but that diagnosis never felt right. The medication made me feel like a zombie-shell of myself and I couldn’t take more than a few months of being on it. My biggest symptoms were varying levels of anger and anxiety; sometimes it felt like those were the only 2 emotions I ever experienced or would ever experience.
I went from one “episode” to another. My episodes would include: a ton of built up stress and emotion, a small trigger (that may not even have anything to do with why I’m stressed), rapid fire thoughts and the feeling like my body was on speed or something, a very quickly evolving argument (peaking in a violent explosion), a downward spiral of negativity and self-loathing, and always ending in hiding away somewhere wrapped completely in shame and depression. These episodes last from 3 or 4 hours to days. When things were bad I would have an episode multiple times a week. When things were good I would only have them once every other week (maybe longer even). They were so scary and intense. When they happen I feel so out of control- not in the fact that I’m not controlling what I’m saying/doing. But out of control in the sense that I feel like I HAVE to say and do these things or else I will never get relief from them. When I feel things speed up in my head, it’s like being on a roller coaster going through a black tunnel. I have to keep moving forward and acting out these impulses because the thoughts push me forward faster and faster. And I know if I can just keep going and ride it out that eventually I’ll make it out the other side.
When I wasn’t having an episode, I was pretty much wasting away. I would go to work and school and other things (though just getting out my front door was a major effort). I would lie on the couch and barely move. I always complained of not feeling good. I never wanted to do anything because my thoughts were so… heavy. Literally, I felt like my thoughts weighed me down. All I could think about was death and stress and self-loathing thoughts. They were there when I left the house too, but I covered them with a fake smile and pretended like everything was okay. It was hard for me to have friends because they thought I was a downer or they always wondered why I’d cancel plans or not ever call or want to hang out. I was kind-of unpredictable in a friend relationship- one week I’d be an amazing friend who was always there and did whatever the other person needed. Then the next week, I’d be in hiding, or just a complete buzz-kill with complaining and negativity. I just didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I hid a lot. I still do. I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to “make a fuss.” I am afraid of what people think of me. So I keep things inside and live in my head. I think that’s my anxiety disorder coming out. I worry constantly about what other people think of me. It’s exhausting and a total waste of time and energy, but it’s instinctual now and hard to even recognize when I’m doing it anymore. I apologize way too much and people think I’m completely insecure (which may not be far from the truth, but I’m not as insecure as I sound at times).
I began volunteering constantly to try and feel better about myself. It would work at first, but I I’m a constant project starter, meaning I love to come up with ideas and start big projects and then something inexplicable happens halfway through and I never see them to fruition. This was my life from age 19-26, up and down, up and down. There were stable periods, I’m sure. But they are not as vivid in my mind as the times that were not stable. The times I punched holes in walls, cut myself, laid in bed for over a week, etc are the memories that flood back when I think about the past. But I hid it so well, that only 2 or possibly 3 people very close to me even saw what was going on. I was lucky to have a flexible schedule; and I used the “I’m sick” excuse a lot. I credit a lot of my stability to my self-medicating with cannabis. Doing that was sometimes the only thing that got me through the day. People would be shocked to find that out about me. I live in a small town where that is not acceptable behavior and I know this. But back before I knew what was wrong with me, self-medicating was the only way I could stop the obsessive thoughts for a few hours. It was a relief to not live in my chaotic brain for a little bit. But I was killing myself. My Grandma died of lung cancer and I was quickly following in her footsteps.
Like I said before I knew something was wrong with me, I thought it was my fault. I thought I was just a bad person. I thought I had an anger problem and that I was just too weak to control it. I assumed that I was just too lazy to work on myself and that I had developed into a monster. That’s why I began going to therapists, I couldn’t live with myself. This is where my advice comes in; I strongly encourage you to always take care of yourself first. If you are not happy, please do something about it. If you are scared or lonely or anything, go talk to someone. I found that no matter what therapist I went to (even if I didn’t like them) it still always helped and made me feel better to talk about things. I never felt judged or criticized. If I did, I would’ve just gone to someone else.
Money was a major factor, I went to so many different therapists because I’d get the bill from one and realize we couldn’t afford it, so I’d stop going. Then things would get bad again and months later I’d find myself searching for a therapist again. There are options out there that you can utilize. I found a hospital that has interns that I can see for free. Actually I have had 100 percent more success in talking with my intern therapist than I did with all the other therapists I saw put together. Do research. Find local resources and services that are designed to help you.
It took me about 10 years to finally be diagnosed by a hospital psychiatrist with Bipolar Disorder. It was actually a relief to hear, to be honest. All my issues weren’t just in my head. It wasn’t just me being an awful, uncontrollable human being. There was a reason. There was a reason I couldn’t sleep at night. There was a reason that I couldn’t control my emotions at times. There was a reason that I couldn’t function properly without self medicating with drugs. I remember thinking that maybe I can finally get rid of all the negative stuff and just be me again. That’s all I have ever wanted to be, just me.
And now I am in hiding. I have immersed myself in research; I’m getting my life together and putting pieces in their place. But I still feel like I have to hide. I have only told 2 people in my family that I have Bipolar II disorder. Mainly because I know the rest wouldn’t believe me. They don’t see it (because I keep it from them). I started telling friends, a couple coworkers, and a few people who I knew had experience dealing with mental illness. I told the people who I knew loved me and wouldn’t stop loving me because of this. Altogether maybe 10 people know I have this. Sometimes I would tell people just because it was bursting out of me. I want to scream it from the rooftops. “I have Bipolar Disorder and it doesn’t change one single thing about who I am!” I am still the same person I always was, the label doesn’t affect who I am as a person. I have always been this way, now it just has a name. But I feel like other people, uninformed people, will look at me differently. I hate feeling like this. For example, 3 of the people I told didn’t believe me, and I could tell. They asked questions and I tried to explain to them what Bipolar meant and looked like for me. When I’d explain a feeling they’d respond, “Yea, but that’s normal. Everyone feels that way sometimes.” What’s funny is that all 3 said that same thing to me. It made me feel like I was over-exaggerating. Saying that to me makes me feel like it really is all in my head. I know they only mean the best, but it hurt to hear because it was like they didn’t trust what I was telling them.
I feel like people think that if I’m not completely incapable of functioning, then there isn’t a problem. If a person’s feelings are not validated and if that person does not feel they are being heard or understood, it is an overwhelmingly lonely and desperate feeling. It is a hopeless feeling that demoralizes a person’s sense of self-worth. If you (or someone you know) are feeling like you are alone, un-heard, or misunderstood and you have that hopeless feeling in the center of your chest, please tell someone who can help you to get up out of that hole. It is a hole, and if you stay in it too long it’ll only get deeper and deeper. There are so many people that can help you up out of that hole. You just need to find someone with a ladder, not a shovel. Ladder people are friends, family, doctors, and therapists. Shovel people are angry, closed-minded, and judgmental. Let them dig their own holes, you don’t need help with yours.
I hope that this letter reached at least one person out there. I want you to know that you are not alone in how you feel. Talk to someone, even if it’s strangers on the internet. I am hoping that one day I will be brave and confident enough to come out of hiding and announce to the world that I have Bipolar Disorder and I am proud of who I am. I’m getting there. This letter has taken me one step further. Now it’s time to go out and write your letter.