Mental Health

I swear I’m not a drug addict.

Even though I was unaware of it, I experienced hypomania throughout my childhood. Now that I am more educated on the disease and I understand what hypomania is, I can look back and say, yes, I was the textbook-definition of early bipolar disease. But it wasn’t until my senior year of high school (maybe even earlier but I honestly don’t recall… thanks to my flawed memory) that I began experiencing severe manic episodes.

“Episode” is such a misleading term, though. My mania was not short bouts of racing thoughts and psychosis for a couple hours a day. My mania often lasted for weeks or even months and only would stop for a short intermissions of severe depression.

I remember my entire senior year being filled with mania. I would stay up all night working on art or studying. I graduated with a 4.2 GPA because I had insanity tied to my work ethic. I indulged in risky behavior and wouldn’t come down from the ledge. I could go on for hours about all the strange things I did that year. If only I had known what mania was back then.

The first signature manic episode that stands out to me is when I ran away from college after being on campus for two days. My parents had moved from Arkansas to Maryland shortly after I graduated high school and I moved from Arkansas to Illinois for college. I think about how much effort and money my parents put into getting me out there and I am ashamed to this day about throwing it all away.

My boyfriend was a good for nothing man-child back in Arkansas (in mania I indulged in bad taste), and only two days after arriving on campus, I began obsessing over booking a flight to visit him for my birthday in October. My parents kept telling me to wait and enjoy my new college experience and that we could discuss booking the ticket later.

One thing my parents should be recognized for is how when I was very sick, they were still supportive though I always saw them as the bad guys. My parents were always the ones standing by me and talking me off the ledge. And for that, I always treated them as the enemy. I hated them. They were horrible people. I had no idea why they didn’t want me to jump off that cliff. Now that I am more sane, I am so grateful for all they endured with me. I am so lucky for how much of my insane behavior they have forgiven. But most of all, I owe my life to them for recognizing that I was so ill.

After my parents talked on the phone with me for long hours and attempted to convince me to just enjoy my first few days as a college student, I decided they were evil and I had to leave. Why I wasn’t interested at all in my new life as a college kid, I will never understand. But I packed up all my things and went to the Dean’s office and withdrew from school. With all my dorm-mates and advisors begging me to stay, I hopped on an airplane and flew to Arkansas.

I think I stayed at my dead-beat boyfriend’s drug dealer’s house for about a week, maybe even less than that. And I honestly do not remember a single thing from those days. I was so deep into psychosis, my memory is gone.

I ended up calling my parents and begging them to save me. I don’t remember what I said or what I did. I just know they got me on a plane to Maryland and that’s where I would be for the next five years.

In my first few years in Maryland, I frequently got mistaken for being a drug addict. A few months after I had arrived there, I got a retail job at a store at the mall. I worked the 5am stock shift most days and all my coworkers were women—mean, catty women. I had heard several passing rumors that I must be on drugs. I never found out what drug people thought I was on, but I had heard rumors so far down the line that my 13 year old sister told me one of her classmate’s mom worked at my store and said I was doped up all the time.

I don’t blame people for assuming I was on drugs. Although, you shouldn’t really spread rumors about people whether they are on drugs or not. If you don’t know what bipolar disorder is, you might not understand why someone was behaving a certain way. There were some days I was so hyped up in mania, I would be talking a mile a minute. I frequently would get stuck on certain topics and talk about them nonstop. I remember thinking to myself, “I feel so giddy,” as I felt my heart beat in my fingertips. On impulse, I once spent $300 on clip-in hair extensions that I wore once. ONCE. Also, if any of you know me, I never do my hair so why would I ever buy hair extensions in the first place.

Then there was my sleep disorder that I developed around 19 years old (I probably had mild symptoms of it in high school too because I was always falling asleep in class). I didn’t get an actual diagnosis until I was probably 21 or 22. I had several sleep studies done on me, where I would go sleep in the hospital for two days and the nurse would attach all these wires and sensors to my head and all over my body.

It’s called a “non-specific sleep disorder”. The sleep doctor explained to me that at night I was not entering the REM phase of sleep. So I essentially could sleep for 20 hours a day and still feel like I had not slept at all. This plays into my drug addict image because I would literally fall asleep standing up, mid-conversation. I totaled my first car because I fell asleep driving. (No worries, I don’t drive anymore). I’ve lost two jobs because I fell asleep on the clock. I can’t describe how awfully, painful it is to feel so tired, you literally can’t function.

There is no treatment for this disorder because the cause is unidentifiable, hence the name “non-specific.” So I continued my symptom management with a ton of Adderall. When my sleep disorder was really prevalent (it is less severe these days), I would take one instant-release Adderall immediately when I woke up. Then I would take an extended-release Adderall a few hours later, and around 5 or 6pm when I would start to feel exhausted again, I would take another instant-release. I have also always been a coffee drinker and that wasn’t always enough.

Even with all the Adderall and coffee, I was still so drowsy that people assumed it had to do with my drug addiction. Then on top of the drowsiness, add in my depression. In contrast to my manic times, I would be so dark and heavy some days. I remember sometimes, when I got a minute alone stocking the floors, I would just silently cry to myself. I don’t actually know if anyone ever noticed, but if they did they probably thought it was weird.

When people ask me why I haven’t gone to college yet, I have learned to say I had to withdraw because of health issues. I find a lot of safety in saying that. It allows me to truthfully identify why I have struggled so much. I am ill. I am sick. I have a disease. I had to withdraw from college because of my health condition. I got called a drug addict because of my health condition. I will always be battling and treating my disease, but every day I am one step closer to mental health.

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out What Depression Teaches You

by Swee.nlow

People always say your illness doesn’t define who you are, but honestly I completely disagree. I am my disorder. I am bipolar disease. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. And at several points in my life it controlled me, but I am happy to say today it does not have as much power over me. I don’t think defining myself by my disease is a bad thing. I think it gives power to how much I have overcome.

Hi, I’m Christi Anne and I’m bipolar. It’s a part of me. It’s my friend and it’s my foe. On my bad days, I am insane and psychotic. On my sad days, I am depressed and bed-ridden. On my good days, I am unstoppable.

Mental illness has never been unfamiliar to me. I started seeing a psychiatrist when I was 7. My mom always says I was her easiest child until I started going to school. So 7. I started going crazy at 7. ADHD was the first diagnoses. I remember certain days in 5th grade when I was bouncing off the walls and just would not shut up, my teacher would pull me aside and whisper, “Did you take your medicine today?”

Of course, I didn’t.

I’m 10 and I want to be bouncing off the walls.

Little did I know, these were the earliest days of mania. But I actually don’t remember much about my childhood. Another lovely side effect of my beautiful disease, memory inhibition. And what I do remember, I only think of negatively. I remember the anxiety so high that my heart would be beating out of my chest and my muscles would feel stiff. I remember depression so low that the floor of my bedroom was the only place I could be, wailing until my tears turned dry. I remember rage. Oh how I remember rage. I remember kicking a hole in that wall. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs. I remember my vision being blurred with red.
I wasn’t even diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was 18. It took me moving to Chicago, spending a total of 2 days on my new college campus, then running away to get the diagnose. I don’t blame my doctors though. I’ve had very good doctors. I’m just a really complicated patient. Plus, I didn’t ever understand myself enough to express to the doctors what I needed help with. I didn’t think the anger and rage was unusual. I just thought the anxiety and mania was normal because I didn’t know otherwise. So in those therapy sessions, I only talked about the depression. I only discussed the intense sadness that overcame me and the times I felt like killing myself.

It wasn’t until my “brief college experience” did I open my eyes to the intense high followed by crashing so low. Even then, it wasn’t that clear to me. All I knew was my mind was racing and I felt totally and completely insane. I called up my parents begging for someone to save me and give me a break from my mind. I couldn’t handle being with my thoughts anymore. So they flew me out to their house and signed me up for psychiatry again. It was then when the doctor said, “It’s called mania. You’re a manic depressive.”

And oh I wish it was a quick fix then and there with the diagnosis. It would’ve prevented a whole lot of broken relationships and damaged souls. But again, I’m not that simple. It’s been 6 years and I’m still battling this disease. But now I can confidentially say I am surviving.

I take six different medications on a daily basis. Yes, six. And I wouldn’t hesitate to add more if needed. I dedicate my life to my medications. They have saved me from my mind. I have found a mental illness cocktail that works for me. And after 6 years and 6 medications, I finally feel hope. I see a bright and successful future down the path. And I am excited. And I am happy. Yes, happy.

If there is one thing I would want people to understand about me, it would be that every day I have to make the decision to get up and be stronger than my illness. That rolling out of bed and getting started with the day takes immense amount of energy. Because every day could have the potential for mania. Honestly, there is not a night that goes by that I don’t wish I could close my eyes and stop my mind forever. But the morning always comes and I always decide to wake up.


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