They say, “write what you know,” so here I am writing about my deepest, most humiliating and terrifying thoughts. My biggest insecurities and most personal struggles all wrapped up into one illness that will plague me for the rest of my life. But after years of trying to stick my head in the sand with anything related to my mental illness, I am learning to speak out about it. I am learning that even in the loneliest and darkest moments of my life, there are people out there who understand how I feel. So, I write this for the person out there right now feeling so afraid and alone, they don’t want to be here anymore.
I understand most people’s knowledge of bipolar disorder is what we see on movies and TV, or maybe your best mate’s ex-girlfriend and his reference to her as “that crazy bipolar bitch,” but I can say with 100% certainty you really don’t comprehend it until you live with it or actually know someone who does. It’s not one-size-fits-all, despite popular opinion. If there is one piece of advice I wish to impart upon the world, only one thing I could leave behind, it would be this: Don’t ever make assumptions about people. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, and the way you see them on the outside may be a very well-crafted pretense. Now, I have decided to lift the veil on my own life; maybe this will help you feel a little less alone in yours.
I understand how people saw me as a child. They will say I was the happiest kid, who woke up every morning excited for a brand new day. Aside from the obvious, I think this may be what makes my mother most upset about seeing me how I am now — she mourns for the child who saw endless possibilities in the world and greeted every day like it was a gift. And if I’m honest, I’m not sure where everything changed and at what point in my life I started to feel different. But for as long as I can remember, I have always felt “off.” Something was just never quite right. As someone who had a very privileged upbringing and was afforded every opportunity in life, I always felt guilty for the way I felt. I always felt shameful and embarrassed I couldn’t understand my own emotions. So, I did what I could to protect myself from the world and its judgment, and I became an expert at hiding everything.
I understand that growing up as the popular party girl, I was always surrounded by plenty of people. Want a good time and a drinking buddy? Look no further. I was carefree, fun and the person you wanted to spend time with to let loose. My friends saw me exactly how I wanted them to — never a hair out of place, always had the best makeup and rarely without a drink in hand. But what I masked so well was the fact I was dying on the inside. I learned early on, in high school, that no one wants to hang around with the sad girl. What I didn’t know at the time was that my illness would manifest differently as I got older, and that party girl façade would be less of an act and would actually become a distinct part of my mental health struggles.
I understand that some people don’t understand depression. The only thing I have ever been able to liken my depression to is drowning. Drowning in endlessly deep, cold, dark water, while everyone else around you can swim. Trying to take a breath, trying to scream and all the while going under even further. Many people will experience depression at some point in their life. What a lot of people still can’t understand is how debilitating this can be. Plenty of people, including my own family, have said to me “we all have bad days, you just have to suck it up.” Easier said than done, right? It’s hard to understand there are days I can’t physically move, when going to work is impossible, when answering my phone or replying to your message to let you know I’m alive is not something I am even remotely capable of. Days when taking a breath or opening my eyes in the morning is too much effort and makes me cry hysterically. Days when life is too painful to deal with anymore. And the worst part of it all, the part that makes me feel the most “crazy,” is that there can be absolutely no reason whatsoever as to why I am so sad. No logical or rational thought; just a dark feeling that completely takes you over and feels like it will never let go. And, while I know people are trying to help me get better, telling me to get out of bed and go for a walk just makes me want to slap you. But to those people who have tried, I say thank you. Some of you have saved my life on more than one occasion. Without that support, I would not still be alive today.
I understand that when we take a trip in the other direction, this one is a little more of a grey area. Manic episodes, for some, are a little harder to detect. Generally, it seems like me being my normal self, but if you look really closely, you can see the truth. The partying and drinking is really self-medication. The late nights, little sleep and poor decisions are really me losing control. The dangerous situations and bad people I find myself surrounded with is me feeling invincible and untouchable. Being manic can look a lot like a façade I spent most of my life crafting. The things that used to be seen as fun and cool when I was younger are now becoming sad and scary. I have lost too many friendships and relationships to this, but what may surprise people is the fact I have also gained some. The silver lining of the very dark cloud that hangs over me. It also comes with the little ticks that make me physically uncomfortable. The irritation, the restlessness, the constant need to pace. My mind races and screams at me. The feeling of being sped up while everything around you moves in slow motion. A feeling of being held prisoner in my own mind despite my best efforts to quiet the chaos.
Now please understand I am not writing this with the mindset I have life figured out, but rather writing in a very rare moment of calmness and self-awareness. And yes, I do have these moments. I don’t spend my life flipping between two extremes with no middle ground. They come and they go, and I prepare myself as best I can in the meantime. I am currently going through one of the hardest times of my life and having episodes more frequently than ever before. But maybe sharing my story will not only be cathartic for me but helpful for someone else who is struggling. I am simply here to say: I get it. It is easy to feel shameful and broken and to let it take you under. Despite what others on the outside may think, we get by the best we can. And while it may not seem like it, we are trying our hardest. So, to anyone out there who feels alone, judged and like no one gets it: I do.