My Open and Honest Struggle With Bipolar II

Severe DepressionIn February of this year I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.

That came after over a decade of battling depression. Bipolar came up a couple different times, but I was quick to shut it down. I was sad, but I wasn’t crazy! There was no way I was going to let someone tag me with a label like that.

It wasn’t until my third time going to the hospital that I found out there were different types of bipolar. And that one had ups that weren’t quite as up, and downs that lasted for seemingly forever.

I think by then I was finally ready to accept that bipolar wasn’t just a label either. It was a diagnosis of a real condition. And having that diagnosis could lead to finally getting the right kind of help.

Doctors had put me on antidepressants a few times over the years. Always after much resistance from me because these medications made me feel so much worse. I was on one after my third baby and I got more and more angry, until I was just so filled with rage I couldn’t stop from yelling at anyone. Turns out that is classic evidence of Bipolar, but no one told me that.

I didn’t tell anyone in the hospital that I thought I might have Bipolar II. I was still embarrassed about it. So, I did some research when I got home and let myself accept this little by little.

It wasn’t until about a month and a half later, when I started feeling really great that I firmly began to accept that what I had was not major depression. I had felt like this before. Every so often I would think I had finally overcome the depression. I would come up with an elaborate life plan for how I was going to never be depressed again. I was going to run the Boston Marathon and win. I was going to participate in the Ironman World Championship and win. I would be sponsored and my husband could retire and we’d travel the world with our kids while I raced and they’d get such an amazing real world education. I’d write a book and it would be on the best seller lists and I’d be on all of the morning talk shows (I’d probably even get to host my own morning talk show), where they’d discover what a great chef I am and I’d be putting out my own recipes. I’d tour the country as a motivational speaker, sharing how I managed to rise above the darkness. And I felt like a rockstar. I knew that I looked amazing and beautiful. And that everywhere I went, women were looking at me in awe and maybe a little jealousy. And the men pretty much all wanted me. Regardless of age or marital status.

One night I summoned all my courage and shared these thoughts with my husband. And he confirmed that these were definitely not “normal” thoughts of “normal” happy people.

So, I had to go back and convince my therapist (because I’d lied to him during those good times, so as to not be diagnosed Bipolar). I switched psychiatrists right around this time and he is who gave the official diagnosis. They had already put me on a mood stabilizer in the hospital. My new doctor added another one to it and thus began my fun journey with a new diagnosis, and new meds.

That all happened within the last year. And it’s been a hard year. Even though I’d been open about speaking out about my depression, I never actually showed it to anyone outside of my home. No one knew how bad it was. No one knew about the prior hospital stays. But this one had been an extended, partial hospitalization where I stayed at the hospital during the day and came home at night, for two weeks. So, my friends had generously watched my kids every day.

And I knew I should just feel loved by this huge act of kindness. But I didn’t. I felt lost. I felt like I no longer had control over how the world saw me. I am a perfectionist. I need control and I need people to see me doing things perfectly only. I want people to think I’m perfect. But, whenever people compliment me on the very areas I’m trying to appear perfect in, I feel like such a fraud.

So, I just felt disconnected from pretty much everyone else. I struggled to be around my friends now that I couldn’t be in control of how they perceived me. It’s so scary not knowing what people are thinking. And honestly, I felt like I’d lost my identity. I couldn’t be “perfect” now that everyone knew how flawed I was. So, I kind of withdrew.

I’m still struggling to deal with all of this. Somedays I fully accept that this is a part of who I am. I’m grateful that I am beginning to understand why I do some of the things I do. And why I have the thoughts and desires that I have. And I’m grateful that for a few days out of the year, I get to be kind of an “enhanced” me. I get to be wittier, more confident, and happier than the average human being.

But, a lot of the time I hate it. I am so angry. Some times it feels like the Bipolar II has taken over completely and there’s no me left at all. I hate what it has done to me. I can’t concentrate. I can’t remember things. I get so angry with myself for not having more control, for not being better. I can’t cope with much stress or negativity. There’s a row of scars on my side from when things have gotten overwhelming to the point that the only way I know how to keep breathing is to hurt myself. And other times, I just want it all to end so badly, all I can think of are ways to take my life. Which never leads to anything good.

I hate my bipolar for what it’s doing to my family. I hate seeing the pain in the eyes of my children when I get so angry over a mistake that any child might make. I hate all of the time they spend watching me cry and worrying that it’s their fault. I hate that they have to take on responsibility bigger than their ages should require, because Mommy can’t do it. And listening to the guilt my husband feels over not being able to help me hurts so bad. He feels responsible for so much of all this for reasons I don’t understand. For years I have begged him to divorce me, or to let me take my own life so that he and the kids could be free from me.

But, he doesn’t.

Which is of course, the sole reason I am still here. And I don’t say that lightly. I honestly cannot fathom staying with someone as miserable as myself. I don’t deserve him. He continues to carry me through all of this with his love and his patience and his kindness. Somehow, he sees past the mess I am and manages to find someone he is in love with. It’s possible I’m not the only crazy one in this marriage…

I have heard so many people talk about that person in their life with bipolar who makes things so miserable, awful, and unbearable. I don’t want to be that person. My therapists are always quick to reassure me that those people weren’t seeking treatment and I’ll be different because I am.

But how does anyone know that? They don’t.

And so, I live in fear. We haven’t found a treatment that works yet. I’ve started another kind of therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that is supposed to be very helpful. And the techniques I’m learned definitely could be. It’s just that I am so very stubborn, it’s hard to convince myself to use them when I’m feeling at my worst. I’ve been on several different mood stabilizers and atypical antipsychotics, in varying doses and combinations, and I’ve noticed far more negative side effects than positive.

I had a really bad day in late August and ended up cutting my wrist. It really wasn’t that bad of a cut, but it freaked out my doctor. When things just kept getting worse, my doctor decided it was time to try something different. So, tomorrow I start electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Basically, they’re going to induce a seizure three times a week for the next four weeks. Shock therapy. No one knows exactly why, but this is more effective at treating depression than medication. I should be feeling optimistic, I suppose. But, mostly, I’m just scared it won’t work.

Plus, it means that everyone knows again. I’m struggling to adapt this time. To learn to be open and honest around people, even though I’m not in control of how they see me. It’s scary. I have pretty bad anxiety after hanging out with people most of the time. But, I’m tired of keeping things a secret. That’s the trouble with mental illness—since it’s “all in my head”, it’s hard for anyone to understand why I can’t just snap out of it. Myself included sometimes. It’s hard to accept, let alone understand, that the wirings in my brain cause me to do things like yell at someone I love, or hurt my own body. Not to mention that that’s a very ugly truth to present yourself with. When you see someone with cancer, you don’t think, “What is wrong with them that they could possibly let that tumor keep growing on their liver?!” But, that’s how mental illness is treated a lot of the time. Which is why it is hidden so much of the time.

But, this is my honest moment. This is the first place I’ve ever included all of the messy bits in my story together. Usually, I keep some things back, so I still have some control over something. But, that control hasn’t really accomplished anything besides keeping me isolated and afraid and ashamed. The truth is, I am blessed to have so many people who love me and accept what they know of me so far, who are motivated to learn to understand bipolar II because of their love for me. Which makes me luckier than so many whom I’ve crossed paths with. And I guess that’s why I know I can be brave and be a part of breaking the silence on this issue by sharing my story. That’s what I’m going to tell myself anyway because, as one of my therapists once said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” And it is definitely time for change.

Story written by: Cheryl Roper

This story appeared first on Real Imprints.