When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
This wasn’t a surprise diagnosis; I had known things weren’t right in my head for quite a while. I had fallen into a cycle of madness that only now, standing on the outside looking in, can I know what was truly happening.
Some days I felt like someone had struck a match against my skin. I was on fire, couldn’t everyone see? Flames shot out of my mouth, I would wave my arms and embers fell, blinding the eyes of those who stood too close to me. I felt so out of control. I was impulsive and rash; I did and said things I shouldn’t have.
And then other days it was as if someone dunked my head into the ocean. It was as if I was waterboarded, my head shoved under, my lungs filling with water, completely unable to come up for air. The worst part was, I didn’t want to. I settled on the ocean floor; I liked the quiet company of the waves. I had weights on my ankles, keeping me grounded. No one could pull me up. It wasn’t until I started medication that I was handed a key to unlock my chains and rise again.
It was hard, so hard; both being on fire and drowning. How can you put that into simple terms with someone? How do you tell your friends or parents, who you love and care about you so much, that you thought about killing yourself yesterday? How do you explain that you don’t know why you feel a certain way, you just do? The only reason that existed was my brain chemistry.
There is an enormous stigma surrounding mental illness. It is something that is either romanticized or kept in the dark. I have had people tell me, “What a wonderful mind you must have,” when I reveal my illness. I have heard, “Oh, but you’ll get over it. You don’t actually feel that way. It’s all in your head.”
That’s the thing, they’re right: it is all in my head. My brain chemistry is different from someone without bipolar disorder. I have a disorder, an illness, a disease of my mind. I never asked for this. My illness is not a gift; it is a disability. I have spent countless hours crying into my pillow, to my psychiatrist and my parents, begging them please, “Why can’t I just be normal?” Why do I need extra focus and time to get work done? Why do I feel things twice as deeply as everyone else? Why do I fall into nights of listless and dark depression only to rise into days of a crushing and exhausting euphoria?
Some days I will talk about my mental illness very flippantly and other times I keep it very close to my chest like it’s a poisonous secret. I am nothing more than a puppet master manipulating a shell of a person who is excellent at pretending to be okay. I don’t like myself, the master or the plaything.
But I am my illness, and I’ve managed to find a balance in both the light and the darkness. I share this with you to spread awareness. I need no sympathy, just understanding. Think before you judge mental illness, take a second to realize that the weather is not bipolar. I am.
My road to proper treatment and learning how to cope has been a long and arduous one. There have been some pit stops along the way, some turnarounds. The most important thing to me, in my own opinion, when it comes to coping with a mental illness, is to seek professional help and treatment. Your parents are meant to parent, not treat mental illness. Your friends are friends, not doctors. By making the choice to see a counselor, a therapist, and eventually, a psychiatrist, my moods and managing my illness has been changed so much for the better. Because of my medication, I am able to be highly functioning. I can wake up in the morning and complete my day, and when I go to bed at night, I am looking forward to another morning. It is nothing to be ashamed of, to take medicine. If you have the flu, you take medicine, no? This is the same thing. Instead of treating a stomach bug, you are treating the demons in your head. Taking the step to seek help is hard, but it is a crucial step when seeking treatment.
So okay, you’ve talked to a professional, you take medicine, now what? Try to find something that will provide some stability to your life. The best thing I ever did was adopt a puppy. He has given me something to be held accountable for. He has incorporated more structure into my life, and so, so much happiness. I also encourage regular exercise. It has been proven that exercise boosts moods and decreases stress. Aside from my regular workouts, I also make sure to just take walks, to be outside and get fresh air, and absorb the beauty of my surroundings. Focus on something outside of myself. I’ve also found that letting those close to you know about what triggers you, or how to help you in a crisis is so important to keep yourself feeling safe. Never feel like you are asking too much of someone to look out for you. That’s what true friends are for.
If you suffer from a mental illness like me, whether it be the manic-depression that is bipolar disorder, anxiety, or an eating disorder, it is important to know that you are not alone. There is an entire community out there with open arms just waiting for you to step into them. Help and change are possible. You have the strength to make it this far, you can have the strength to find help too. There are resources available that you can teach you the art of demon taming, the benefits of medication, and the power of just talking about it and letting it all out. It sure helped me here.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or need immediate help coping, please call emergency services or a suicide hotline such as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-237-8255.
Do you suffer from bipolar disorder or another mental illness? How do you cope? If you feel comfortable, please share with us in the comments.