Before I share today’s post with you all, written by another amazing fellow blogger, I would like to preface this by saying I know for some topics like this can be difficult to hear about, so if this is you please go ahead and exit out of this post, don’t worry, I won’t be offended, do what is best for YOU. I would also like to thank Jen for sharing her story with us. I know topics such as this can be hard to talk about, so kudos to her for being able to open up, even to strangers!
Why Didn’t I See it Sooner?
I have bipolar disorder. Notice, I did not say, “I am bipolar.” That is a wording choice I make when I tell people about my mental illness. It is something I talk freely about to anyone who asks, but I want to make it clear that I do not allow my illness to define me. I am so many things. I am a mom of two amazing kids. I am a wife to my love of 14 years. I am a blogger. But I am not bipolar.
In 2007, I entered my last year of college. It was my second year living away from home (my first two years of college were spent going to a local community college). I was taking a full course load (18 credit hours), and I was also in a sorority that took up a fair amount of my time. Every other weekend I went home to see my then boyfriend, now husband. As you can imagine, I had a lot on my plate.
During this time I wrote two full length novels.
They were never published, and they were NOT good by any stretch of the imagination. But I wrote 250 pages of words strung together into sentences. Twice. While passing- nay, excelling at- 18 credit hours worth of classes. Granted, I did not have a busy social life there outside of my activities with the sorority. But still – Two. Complete. Novels.
In 2008, I graduated college. My parents, grandma, boyfriend, and I believe his parents were there. To be completely honest, the entire day was a bit of a blur. I never ended up walking the stage.
As I sat in my seat, listening to what felt like speaker after speaker, I could feel it coming on. Something I hadn’t felt to a real degree since middle school almost 10 years previously. All the blood was rushing to my head, and I could feel my heart racing so fast that I thought I was going to jump out of my chest. I couldn’t breathe.
So I left. I got out of my chair and I walked out of the auditorium. I remember someone outside asking me if I was okay. My boyfriend must have seen me walking out, because he found me outside. I don’t remember what happened after that.
I don’t like to talk about the way I was in 2009. Blogging on a public forum leaves you with relatively little anonymity. Suffice it to say, I acted in ways in my early twenties that to this day, if I allow it, leave me feeling ashamed. I wish I could get that time back. I damaged so many relationships with people I cared about.
I was petty.
I was angry.
I was jealous.
I was mildly delusional.
It was a horrible time in my life, but I am very, very fortunate that today all the people I had those experiences with 10 years ago, except for two, have chosen to forgive me. We now have positive relationships. I will never stop being grateful for that.
I was fired from my job. Well, I was asked to resign. I really, really, REALLY made some mistakes there (bad interpersonal relationships, dereliction of duty, etc.), and my boss was kind enough to suggest that I resign. Today, I am very grateful for that. Then, I harbored so much resentment after this that I spiraled into possibly one of the darkest places I have ever been. This is the first time I ever remember being suicidal.
In July or so of that year, I saw a new psychiatrist. He asked me something I have never been asked before. I have had chronic depression since the death of my cousin when I was nine years old, and this question changed my life irrevocably.
He asked me if I had ever been treated for bipolar disorder.
I knew a little about it, but no, I said. I was blown away. My head spun with about a billion different thoughts. It was almost as if I could see my thoughts as puzzle pieces, and they were all swimming around trying to connect to form a larger picture.
The dramatic return of anxiety.
The sabotaging personal relationships.
(Oh, and I didn’t write about this, but I would also stay up late organizing stuff like I was Marie Kondo.)
I almost cried with happiness.
Not that anyone wants to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is a debilitating illness that took years of my life from me. It sounds cliche, sorry, but I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I really wouldn’t. Anyway, before I start pity-partying in my head, back to my story.
I started taking a mood stabilizer along with my anti depressant. I don’t know if you are aware of this, reader, but sometimes medication has neat little side effects. I have always had relatively low self-esteem. To compound that issue, this new mood stabilizer made me so ravenously hungry that I gained almost 30 pounds. Whether or not that made me more or less depressed is your guess.
I remained relatively suicidal over the next couple months but it came to a head in October. This is something I don’t think I have ever talked about before. I don’t know if even my husband knows this, but I think it is an important part of my story to share. October 2010 was the first time I made “a plan.”
I was going to kill myself at the end of October or beginning of November 2010. I didn’t want to do it sooner and ruin my sister’s wedding or honeymoon. Looking back, that should have been a clue to me that enough of my desire to live remained, the fact that I truly cared enough about another person to put off my wish to die.
Obviously, I am writing this, so it never ended up happening. Now, I want to fast forward a bit. In 2015, my first child was born. Olivia was the sweetest, most perfect baby. I cannot describe my love for her. To this day (she just turned 4), I call her my best bud. She is pure sweetness and truly wonderful.
I hated breast-feeding. It made me feel isolated and lonely. It was uncomfortable and it made me feel more depressed than I already was.
It was a horrible feeling. I was fortunate enough to be married to a wonderful man (that boy who chased me out of the auditorium when I couldn’t sit through my graduation), and I was able to spend every day holding the tiny love of my life in my arms. She was healthy. She slept through the night. She barely ever cried. I was a seriously lucky mom.
When Olivia was 6 months old, I made another plan. I wasn’t taking medication at this point. I had been doing better for a while, and I thought I was “cured.” (This can be common with people with mood disorders, taking themselves off their medication.) I allowed myself to spiral to an incredibly dark place, despite all the things I had to be thankful for.
I think this should say a lot about the insidious nature of mental illness. It blows into your life like a silent tumbleweed and takes root in the deepest places of your heart. It destroys your happiness so completely that you feel as if you can never be happy again. And worst of all, it does not discriminate. I was married to my best friend, I had a wonderful baby. I had close family on both sides. YET I WAS DEPRESSED. This is so important to remember for anyone who reads this that does not suffer from mental illness. It does not matter how “blessed”, “lucky,” “happy” a person appears. Never make that assumption. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year. That is 20% of the population.
Since my story is a bit of a downer, I want to fast forward to my life today. I am still married to my best friend. We have been together for 14 years now. We have two beautiful children (ages 4 and 2.5). They make us laugh and smile every day. I am on a relatively good regimen with medicine right now.
I work out a few days a week (sometimes five days).
I stopped drinking pop. (Yes, I’m from the Midwest and call it “pop.”)
I take my meds like a good girl.
I admin a Facebook group for other sufferers of mental illness.
I speak about my story everyday.
I am stable.
That is the ultimate message I wanted to convey by sharing my journey here. In the course of my battle with bipolar disorder, I went to some of the darkest places imaginable. I am lucky to be alive. But I am. Not only am I alive, but I am able to find happiness and contentment in my children, and in my spouse, and in the world around me. I may have bipolar disorder, but I do not let it define me.
About the author
Jen is the blogger behind Diffusing the Tension. She is 33 and lives in Northwest Indiana. She is a mom of two wonderful kids, happily married, a dog mom, a cat mom, a fitness nut, a bookworm, a TV addict, and she also happens to have bipolar disorder.