I am like any other college student. I stress about midterms, hardly get enough sleep, consume way too much caffeine, and binge watch Netflix instead of doing homework. But what most people do not know is that I have bipolar disorder.
I was diagnosed with the disorder during the summer of 2014 but my struggle with the illness started much earlier. From the time I was fifteen, I could tell that something was not right with me. I was often erratic, hyper, depressed, and empty. I thought that this was what it meant to be a “teenager” but the more I looked around, the more I felt alone. My behavior became so erratic that I was the school’s crazy-psycho girl. You could often find me hiding in the bathroom stalls alone, because I had no where I fit in, I often thought about death and dying, I would cry at the drop of a hat, and I was always irritable and angry. On the other side of it, I was spastic, hyper, and uncontrollably neurotic.
Now that I am a junior in college and learning more about the disorder and myself, I have found a fantastic therapist, and am currently on medication to dull the ups and downs of bipolar disorder. Even with the strides I have made towards living a healthy life, I am no where near perfect. Bipolar disorder is still something that I battle with on a daily basis. After five months, I am still struggling to find a medication that works for me and I am working through past traumas with the help of my therapist. Though I still have a long way to go, I have improved so much. My coworkers and friends often tell me that I am not the same person I was a year ago. And trust me, you would not have wanted to know me a year ago. I was cold and angry and not at all fun to be around. Even though I am still living with the disorder, I can finally say I have hope that I will get healthier. I would not be where I am today, or alive for that matter, without the help of my loving friends and family whom I will never be able to repay for all that they have done for me.
If I could describe bipolar disorder in one simple analogy it would be this: Imagine you are climbing a mountain with fifty pound weights tied to your ankles. As soon as you begin to see the top and start to feel accomplished and invincible, you crash back down and have to start all over.
When I am on my “highs” or hypo-manic, I feel like I can do anything. I feel as though I am untouchable and nothing can get in my way. I sign up for way more than I can handle, I am extra sociable, confident. But with this “high” comes irresponsibility and recklessness that has devastating consequences later on.
When I am on my “lows” or depressed, it is more than sadness. It is emptiness and coldness. It physically feels as though my heart is not beating and there is no use in living anymore.
And the cycle continues. About a week depressed and four days manic. Ask any person with bipolar disorder what they would wish for and it will most likely be “stability” and “consistency”. If I could choose to be either depressed all the time, or manic all the time, I would. Being tossed around from the two is exhausting, confusing, and effects every aspect of your life.
Now, I am not writing this essay to in any way get pity. Please do not feel sorry for me, that is the last thing I want. The reason I am writing this is to break the silence of mental illness. Most of the people who I am close to, know that I have the disorder but this is the first time I have completely “spoke” publicly about it.
The majority of the pain that comes with mental illness comes from the feeling that you are crazy and alone in a seemingly normal world. The reason there is so many misconceptions of people with mental illness is because no one talks about it. You would be surprised how many people that you know are suffering and have never said anything to you. Most people, when they think of a person with mental illness, they picture a man on the freeway off-ramp stumbling around and talking to himself. Though that is one case of mental illness, there are so many more. We are your sisters, brothers, daughters, friends, students, and neighbors. We are masters of disguise. We know exactly how to “appear” normal and healthy all while we go back to our homes at night and feel as though we are alone and wearing a mask and that no one truly knows who we are.
It is time to speak up about mental illness and stop misconstruing what it means to have a mental disorder. A mental illness should be seen and treated as any other physical illness. The more we talk about it, the more we can come together with compassion and understanding.
Just as one would not say “I am diabetes” or “I am cancer”, I am not bipolar. I have bipolar disorder. I refuse to live in a closet of lies that forces me to hide who I am. I have seen so many friends and loved ones suffering and being too ashamed to ask for help. In this society, we are taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness but I believe in the opposite. I believe that sometimes, asking for help is the strongest and most courageous decision one can make.
I have been asked that if there was a cure for bipolar disorder if I would take it. The answer is no. I am not bipolar disorder but bipolar disorder is a part of me and it follows me everywhere. Because of this illness I have experienced immense joy, seen such beauty, and felt so much love. Some days, the sky is bluer than it would ever be otherwise. I see every detail in every flower and I hear every flutter of a butterflies wings. There is a certain beauty that comes with this illness that has allowed me to view people differently. I see people for the kind of soul they have. I have compassion for all and when I see a person who is suffering, I will do anything in my power to help them because I too know what it is like to suffer. I am in no way glamorizing mental illness because just as it has its beauty, it is also often dark, cold, and deadly.
I believe that as a society, we have made great strides in the way we view mental illness but we must keep moving forward. We cannot stop and I will not stop advocating for ending the stigma and broadening the understanding of the world of mental illness.