I spent my 23rd birthday in the psychiatric ward at Beaumont hospital.

I don’t remember much from my almost two-week stay in the hospital. I remember words like, bi-polar, lithium, haldol and out-patient care.

I remember the shame of having to move back in with my mom after being discharged. I remember getting the letter from the public relations firm where I worked telling me I was being let go for exceeding my sick days.

The doctors warned me that the depression after the mania would be the worst I’d ever experienced.

It was worse, and it was debilitating. It took everything to put one foot in front of the other. I remember my foggy brain training to memorize the menu from a fancy restaurant in Royal Oak where I took a waitressing job to get back on my feet.

I had my first depression when I was in eighth grade. We chalked up it to normal teenage angst. I had one more major episode the spring of my senior year of high school.

I finally got medicated for depression in my freshman year of college. I had no desire or ability even to get out of bed. I dropped a class, and barely made it to the others. I forced myself to talk to all of my professors though I felt ashamed and alone even with a supportive family and great friends.

Even after medication I went on to have more significant depressive episodes, but each time, thankfully, the fog lifted and I persevered until the major manic episode. The right medication and the right diagnosis changed my life.

Here’s the thing about being bi-polar: It’s complicated. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. It’s a scary disease. But I have come to appreciate it. I don’t appreciate the depressions or even the major manic episode separately, but I appreciate that the sum of these experiences, the entire disease, has made me who I am today.

I am now 34. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am proud of who I am. I am proud that I got my masters degree and had a successful career touching students’ lives. I am not afraid of this illness or what people might think of me because I have it. I am happy and excited about my life. I take 600 milligrams of lithium every night before I go to bed. I try to go to bed every night before midnight. I try to exercise at least three times a week. As my psychiatrist and former social workers would say, I am compliant.

Bi-polar. Compliant. Happy. And not ashamed anymore.

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