I am 28 years old and at 19 I was diagnosed with OCD & Bipolar Disorder, I want to share my personal experience with mental illness as a way to break some of the stigma that surrounds the issue.
I share this today because looking through my archives, I have realized that my work always represented that duality and that dissociative state in which I lived for about 8 years. For the first time in a long time, I wake up each day and I’m thankful to be alive and feel blessed that at the darkest of times, I had my family and friends undying support.
I was diagnosed OCD and Bipolar when I was 19, but the signs where there long before that… I suffered from intrusive thoughts from as early as I can remember, I’d be doing the most mundane thing and like a flash I would see or feel something happening that wasn’t real…. Imagine going through that as a child, not understanding why your mind conjures up this gruesome scenarios that pop up at even the most random of times, those thoughts and their effect created a level of anxiety in me, that I starred pulling out my hair obsessively, I’d bite my nails all down to flesh (still struggle with that) and as I got older, the images started to become worse, the most mundane task became hard to do, I’d be cutting a tomato and suddenly in a flash I’d see myself cutting my own finger, I’d feel the pain and in a split second it would all go back to normal…after years of reading and trying to educate myself about what OCD really is, I have learned to cope better with those intrusive thoughts and have even found a way to make it work for my advantage in my creative productivity.
The bipolar disorder aspects are a bit harder to talk about, I’ve spent 8 years (19-27) trapped in a constant emotional roller-coaster inside my own self, I became so good at hiding my emotions and pain, that now after I’m on the other side of the spectrum and I tell my friends how I felt, I can see their shocked expressions, because even THEY didn’t know it was that bad. But it all started before 19….. I started having suicidal thoughts and begging the universe to strike me and end my pain since I was 13. I felt this constant black hole in the middle of my chest, waking up was hard, I just wanted to fade away and disappear. I was 15 the first time I asked my Mother for help, I felt hopeless and was staring down the cliff in a metaphorical sense. I went to her frantic and begging to be taken to a psychiatrist but it didn’t happen then…. I think at that time she thought it was just teenage angst, she realized something bigger was happening when I was 19 and stole from her. I had stolen money as a way to try and run away, disappear and kill myself…. I thought that if no one knew what happened, it would be easier for them to keep hoping that I was somewhere out there…. still alive.
My mother found out about the money, she slapped me and screamed at me, during my altered mind state I felt that her reaction justified my intended actions even further, I actually thought I’d be doing everyone else a favor by disappearing. My mother left that morning for her work, I was convinced that I was doing the right thing… and suddenly she called me and even though she was angry, she told me the words that saved my life… ‘I’m angry at you right know, but I LOVE YOU’.
My mother confessed not that long ago that when she left that day she realized that a lot of my actions were a cry for help, she said something inside her told her that she needed to call and say she loved me, she realized that I was thinking about committing suicide.
Now to end on a positive note… throughout this whole ordeal, one thing has been a constant light and positive influence… Art. Thanks to finding photography and being able to live and breathe art, I am here today to write this. The only thing that never seemed to falter even when I felt I could barely breath, was my ability to keep on working and creating, It became a sort of coping mechanism, for when I worked the constant black hole in my chest would seem to disappear and now I can honestly say that at least for now it’s gone for good.
I have a mental illness, but I am not mentally ill. I know that sentence is an oxymoron, but it’s the way I feel about myself and my reality, I will forever have to be on the lookout for the signs of that which is lurking inside my messed up brain chemistry, I will fight my hardest to educate myself and others about what mental illnesses are about and to break the stigma that 25% of the world lives and struggles with every day.