2015 was a really rocky year for me. Mainly because I experienced my first round of hypomania (and had absolutely no idea that I was). I was impulsive, reckless, careless, irritable and harsh for no reason. I bounced back and forth between heightened confidence and crippling self-loathing. I drank a lot. I smoked cigarettes. I spent money I didn’t really have. I bleached all of my hair blonde and then chopped it all off a month later. I wore more revealing clothing (which isn’t normal for me) and even got a tattoo “just because” that I literally thought of on the drive to the tattoo shop. And I thought all of this was normal!
It was a time in my life where I was already questioning, “Who am I? What do I want in life?” I wrote off my recklessness as being young. I thought my rude comments and standoffish attitude made me appear stronger and more independent. I saw my vices as grown-up displays of how deeply wounded I was from the cruel, cruel world.
Hey, I promised humiliating honesty, didn’t I?
I have so many regrets from that year, so many embarrassing, cringe-worthy stories, but my biggest regret is how I treated other people. My hair is growing back, I’ve changed my wardrobe, and I guess, technically, I could get the tattoo removed. But I can’t take back harsh words and I can’t take back careless actions that hurt other people.
And I will always, always be sorry for that.
I still get mad at myself over it. And while I know that technically bipolar was the root of the problem, I still don’t feel I deserve any less blame. I’m trying to forgive myself, and trying to embrace that when we make mistakes, we can learn and change accordingly.
One night, early-November I found myself standing in the kitchen with my mom. I was hysterically crying that I had to change. It wasn’t any circumstance making me so miserable, it was just me. I couldn’t keep being angry all the time. And I was. I was so, so angry and it was rooted in this self hatred that I had for myself. I didn’t know who I was. I was so up and down and back and forth that I was just emotionally exhausted. I had panic attacks constantly. I knew that I couldn’t keep arguing with, yelling at, and treating the people that I loved in a way that was so hurtful.
I sat in a psychiatrist office not too many weeks later. Looking back now, I’m not sure why it took an entire year to realize I needed help. An hour later, she told me that all of my “symptoms” were caused by type II bipolar disorder and she prescribed medication before requesting I come back in a few weeks.
The diagnosis was weird. It was like this huge weight off my shoulders. There was a reason I was being so terrible, feeling so terrible. I suddenly felt this huge sense of possibility of who I could be. I stopped thinking it was a flaw in character, but instead saw it as an illness to treat. My outlook changed, my attitude changed. Thank you, medication.
On the other hand, I felt embarrassed. There’s this huge stigma around mental health and no matter how hard I tried not to, and told myself I was being ridiculous, I felt a little ashamed. The first time I went to work, I felt like I had a flashing sign hanging over me blinking “bipolar, bipolar, bipolar.” I totally freaked myself out, and for no good reason.
And in the back of my head, I just kept thinking Damn, I’m going to have to deal with this my whole life.
It was a weird combination of relief, possibility, embarrassment and dread.
But little by little, it became my new normal.
Now, in hindsight, as 2016 comes to an end, I have a little over a year of my bipolar diagnosis in the rearview. Believe it or not, I see having bipolar as this weird blessing.
Sure, that sounds a little crazy… but hear me out.
It has forced me to really listen to myself. Really, really listen to myself. I’ve realized that medication alone isn’t the fix-all, cure-all. I can now identify little cues that say, “Hey, you’re getting a little more on the depressed side of the spectrum!” And same goes for hypomania. Checking in on myself and my feelings is a skill, and one I am still perfecting.
I haven’t had a panic attack in… hmm.. How long has it been? About half a year? Longer? I’m not specifically on anxiety medication either. I’ve learned how to watch out for triggers. I’ve learned ways to channel my anxiety.
It’s made me realize it’s okay to need other people.
My mother is a huge part of my support system. Words can’t capture everything she has done for me.
And I’ve been lucky enough to find someone who’s patient with me and loves me unconditionally. He has put in just as much effort as I have in understanding how to best live with bipolar disorder. I don’t know how I got so incredibly lucky.
It’s also made me examine my flaws. Because, oh my god, I’m so far from perfect. But since I’m constantly on the lookout for symptoms resurfacing, I think a lot (maybe too much) about my actions and words. It’s made me notice ways to improve my behavior, my attitude, my relationships and in result, my life. It’s made me realize that I will always have things to improve, and that I am capable of making these changes.
And last, it has given me the opportunity to relate to and understand others. I am able to reach out to and hopefully help people who might be experiencing something similar. If I am able to make someone feel less alone in their mental health journey, that makes it all worth it. Please, know that who you and your illness are not the same thing. A year ago, I was so far from my true self. I was so lost. I felt so alone. Who I am, the person that I know I am now, is so far from who bipolar had convinced me I was. I am not bipolar. I have bipolar. It does not define me and your mental illness does not define you.
My List of Mental Health Tips:
- Get on a regular sleep schedule. Get enough sleep. Go to bed earlier, get up earlier.
- Accomplish something every day. Be proud of yourself everyday. Small things count.
- Take B vitamins for more energy, try to cut the caffeine addiction in half, then in half again. (Try.)
- Find an exercise you love and stick to it. I never thought I’d love running. It’s like therapy to me now. It lifts my spirits, eases my anxiety, makes me proud of myself, and makes me feel confident in myself.
- Stop focusing on yourself and obsessing over your problems. Take time to think, how can I help someone else this week? Take time to remember to check in on people. Take time to show people you were thinking about them. Remind people that you care. Go out of your way to be kind. So much of anxiety is me, me, me. This is my biggest tip for obsessive worriers. It’s a shift in focus and it works wonders.
- Set reasonable goals. Give yourself something to look forward to. Start thinking about ways to improve yourself and your life.
- Read articles focused on self care and self improvement. If one really resonates with you, save it in your phone and reread it when you need to. I have one about trust I read every few months when my brain goes wonky. When my negative, irrational thoughts are too loud, it’s nice to replace them with someone else’s rational words.
- Find a hobby. Occupy your brain. Don’t just watch TV. You’re never too old to start something new. I can crochet a scarf and absolutely nothing else, but it’s relaxing! I write, I play the ukulele (not very well), I create art. It’s so important to work towards improvement, even at things that don’t seem very important. It’s so important to feel proud of yourself. I can’t stress that enough. (Maybe one day I’ll be able to crochet a hat!)
- Talk about it. Talk it out. But even more so, remember to listen.
Alright, that’s it for my rambling about my continuing Bipolar Disorder journey. Remember, we are all works in progress!
Please feel free to share your story in the comments, submit questions, or reach out for support.
Don’t Quit Your Daydream.