Casualties of A Normal Girl: The bi-polar rollercoaster

So here is the first chapter of my book, Caualties of A Normal Girl

The Bi-polar Roller Coaster

When you are slipping into mania it feels like the inertia of the world is pulling you forward, catapulting you into a state of blissful chaos. You feel unstoppable, filled with enough creativity and energy to fill a room. I become filled with a sense of wonderment. I wonder what Angelia Jolie is doing right now! Is Kim Kardashian’s ass real? I have written some of my best poetry and songs when manic, cranking out poetic prose like it’s nothing. My brain becomes a motor, fueled by creativity; my mind is open and the world is my vessel. I am unstoppable, unable to slow down, but then again why would I want to? The feeling of floating and simplicity of the world is fleeting at best, it is like a drug. Terri Cheney, author of Manic, a memoir says it perfectly “The perilous highs and desperate lows and extravagant flurries of mood are not always symptoms of a broken mind, but signs of a beating heart.”

One of the most frustrating things about having bipolar (notice how I say I have bipolar instead of I am bipolar. I think it is important to separate my illness from who I am as a person, because I am more than a diagnosis) is the feeling of having no control over your emotions. A mixed episode is loosely defined as when a person alternates from depression to mania in a matter of a few hours or days, this is also called rapid cycling. Like George of the jungle it’s easy to feel like you are swinging from tree branch to tree branch swooping from one extreme to the next. During these periods of rapid cycling, I feel the most “crazy”- a word I HATE to use. I feel crazy because I literally feel like prisoner to my moods. I can feel myself getting out of control, and yet I can do nothing to stop it. It’s like pumping the breaks when you start skidding, but you still end up pissing off the neighbors by slamming into their mailbox.

On a less serious note, I do have to say that having PMS and bipolar is an ugly sight- god help the man who decides to marry me! I am a train wreck personified, like sodium and water mixed together, the explosion can rattle your world,. I get very tearful at awkward times, like sometimes when I am just talking to someone and relating to them, whether we are talking about umbrellas or Britney Spears, my eyes get watery. I don’t know why that is…maybe it’s this heightened feeling of connectivity with another person that gets me all misty eyed.

However, what goes up must come down. Just like a pendulum swinging back and forth my moods seem to be perpetually changing.

People like to complain about being sad, and being in a funk once in a while, claiming to be “depressed.” Unless you have been in the down and dirty depths of despair, staring down the barrel of a gun hoping to end the pain; you don’t know what it is like to be depressed.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a spider crack in a piece of glass just waiting to shatter into 1,000,000 pieces. When I am depressed I become a shell of my former self. The once, bubbly, humorous, quick witted sassiness is erased, and painted over by numbness and detachment. The color slowly drains from my world, leaving everything grey and washed out. Everything feels flat. And stale. Yet, I remain unaffected. Numb. Bathing becomes a struggle, isolation seems like the only option, and asking for help is out of the question. So many times I have felt completely hollow and empty. I have contemplated suicide, although I have never attempted it, I considered it many times.

When depression sets in, one arduously considers suicide. I have found myself switching back and forth between the will to live and the lack of energy to continue. The world becomes pallid, a blank nothingness, and an endless chasm of despair.

I stare at walls, isolate myself and imagine a world without me. Sometimes that brings me peace. When I am in such a desperate state, it can be calming to idealize suicide. If I wasn’t alive I wouldn’t have to worry about anything: No more bills to pay and, I wouldn’t have to face the fact that I am a failure who can’t keep friends or a job. A burden would be taken out of my family’s life. I won’t be a disappointment to anyone anymore. Everything is solved.

The closest I have come to attempting was on New Year’s Eve 2009. I was home on Christmas break during my freshman year in college. After a semester of being socially ostracized by my 9 classmates, I was severely depressed. The time I spent in college could be summed up as an ever present anguish that I struggled with alone. In a diary entry written a few days before New Year’s I wrote:

“I just don’t feel like myself anymore I feel like I’m walking around in this trance.  I have moments of happiness but they don’t seem to compare or even stack up to the sadness that I feel.  I feel alone, confused, lazy, unproductive, but most of all: stuck.  I feel like a shell of my former self, walking around un-feeling. Detached. Alone.”

That night I remember locking the door in my parents’ house, and sitting on my bed with a bottle of pills. The pills rattled in my hands as I pushed them back and forth on my blue polka dotted comforter. Swish, swish. The tears flowed like a rivulet down my face and stung my eyes. My mind was blank and racing all at the same time. Kill yourself. Just do it. Do I swallow them all at once, or one at a time? What if it doesn’t work and I am left seizing on the floor, only to have my stomach pumped and tubes shoved down my throat? Quit being a pussy and just DO IT!

 My parents unknowingly sat two floors below me watching David Letterman while their youngest daughter grappled with suicide.  I recall going on a website, an anti-suicide site to seek solace for the torment I was feeling.  I didn’t want to commit suicide, but at the time, I didn’t see another way out. Peter Kramer said “Suicide is what the death certificate says when one dies of depression” and I whole heartedly agree.

Like gates of a dam breaking, visions of Hollywood versions of mental hospitals flooded my mind. White fluorescent lights, a doctor asking me “how do you feel?” People probing me, asking me why I feel the way I do. I pictured myself rocking back and forth, wide eyed and crazed, going over my life history with a stranger who will never understand me. I saw the nurse checking in on me every hour like in Girl Interrupted, to make sure that I didn’t strangle myself with my shoe laces. These are the lucid thoughts that stopped me from telling someone how I felt. In retrospect, I am sure I would have been hospitalized that night, had I come forward with my despair.

The crazy thing about being suicidal, for me anyway, is the sensation of wanting to reach out. At that moment, and other times I was suicidal, I felt this urge to purge myself and absolve my inner anguish to someone. The desire for help was receding into the distance, and each time I attempted to snatch it, it would escape, barely missing my desperate fingertips. I wondered what would happen if I did tell someone what I was feeling and thinking. On the other hand I wanted to keep quiet.

I often question, what stopped me? Why didn’t I do it? I suppose the simple answer is, I somehow found the tiny light in the inescapable darkness that assured me, someday, things would get better. Someday I will have a stable job, be in a loving relationship, and just be happy. Although that contradicted everything I felt at that moment, I still had some hope. That hope is what kept
me alive. I haven’t considered suicide since that night 5 years ago. Although I still combat the bleakness and ennui that creeps into my days, I am in a better place.

After years of struggling with mood swings resembling a seesaw from hell, it wasn’t until Friday October 12, 2012 that I was officially diagnosed with bipolar. It was a crisp October morning in Wisconsin- the sun shone through the barren trees, leaves could be heard crunching under my feet and slight breeze nipped the air. I went to see my psychiatrist, whom I haven’t seen in 3 years. I scheduled the appointment because I needed to get a script for my vyvance ( a different brand of the stimulant adderall) to manage my ADHD since it has been interfering with work and school.

We started going over other aspects of my life like depression, relationships, body image, eating and sleeping habits and so forth. After our hour long session, she gave me a script for lamictal- a mood stabilizer on the diagnosis I have a mood disorder–bipolar not otherwise specified. There are two types of bipolar, the main difference being whether mania or hypomania is present. Bipolar I is characterized by mania which may involve psychosis, which is the presence of hallucinations and delusions. Mania significantly interferes with the day-to-day life of a person. The milder form, Bipolar II, involves hypomania which may slightly interfere with daily functioning. We still are not sure what type of bipolar I have, but in my professional opinion, (hah!) I would assume I have bipolar II since I haven’t have psychosis induced by mania.

Whatever type I have, I can affirm that the day I was diagnosed was my Hiroshima. It was as if an atomic bomb was dropped in my lap and everything I thought I knew about myself was shattered. My sense of self was lost. I was now considered mentally ill, a harsh-sounding string of words with such a negative connotation.  Now people are going to think I’m crazy. They are going to lump me in with sociopaths like Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer. I guess it makes sense as to why I am so moody. I can be happy one minute and angry the next for no apparent reason. What if I really am crazy?!! Although I saw it coming, actually being diagnosed made it real. Here is some of what I wrote in my diary the day I was diagnosed:

Well, I saw this day coming. I have been writing in my diary about it since I was 16. I am not surprised about this diagnosis but I am still… I don’t know, still at malaise with it. I mean, it makes sense, the behaviors I have been exhibiting with promiscuity, stealing and alcohol use is not like me. My personality has changed greatly in the last year. I always said to my mom “I feel like things are going so well, and I keep waiting for myself to come crashing down and have it all fall apart again.” Most of my life has been bleak and depressing with peppering of feigned happiness. I have friends and for the most part I am well liked, but that never seemed enough for me. So yeah, most of my days are filled with sadness but I have gotten great at masking it. Now that I am considered mentally ill, that is a heavy burden to carry. With the stigma of mental illness I am considered “sick” and “unstable” Like, wtf. But since there is a legit CHEMICAL IMBALANCE in my brain, then I am not well. Being “mentally ill” is so much deeper than me just being sad and depressed, while that is somewhat of a comfort; it is label that I don’t enjoy.

The diagnosis is still somewhat fresh, since it is only January, 2013. Although I still don’t understand everything about my disorder, I have tried to come to terms with it. The hardest thing for me is separating my illness from who I am as a person. You may be thinking “well, your illness contributes to who you are, hence they are the one in the same.” Valid point, however, I like to see myself separate from my diagnosis. For some reason I don’t want to believe I am creative because of my bipolar, I don’t want to believe that everything about me is related to my illness. Maybe I am creative just because that is the way I was made. Maybe I am sensitive just because that who Allie is as a person. I hate to believe that the way I think, act and talk is all related to a chemical imbalance in my brain. I feel that so much of my identity could easily be attributed to my illness and I don’t like to think in such concrete terms. I struggle to piece apart the symptoms my mania and depression produce and find out who I am separate from having bipolar.

Whenever I want to quench my thirst for knowledge on any topic from dinosaurs to opera to photography, I go to the library. I frequently visit the self-help section and read about AD/HD, depression and bipolar. Shortly after being diagnosed I bought a self-help book, to help me manage my symptoms and be able to identify when hypomania and depression is setting in.

I also began to go to a dbsa (depression-bipolar support alliance) support group for those suffering from bipolar and other mental illness. However, after a few meetings I deemed it a waste of my time. I met a few girls who were my age and that made me feel less alone, but I felt that I couldn’t relate to anyone. Here you have a mix of people in their early twenties, to 70 year olds who have been battling with their illness for years. A lot of the people in the group have been hospitalized for reasons ranging from psychosis, botched suicide attempts or delusions and hallucinations induced by mania that ultimately made them a danger to themselves or others. On the spectrum of bipolar, I am on the low end because my symptoms are not severe enough to greatly affect my day-to-day life. Although my moods are affected on a daily basis, and I have been suicidal, I have not had to be hospitalized.

I still get very frustrated with myself when I swing from one extreme from the next. Since I am in a perpetual state of rapid cycling, I get mad at myself for not having any control over my emotions. I look at myself like a puppy who is being potty trained, I may be pissing all over the house right now, but eventually I will learn to manage my symptoms and find somewhat of an inner peace. I am slowly learning to accept my illness for what it is and rise up beyond the struggles that I encounter daily.

Recently I was talking to my dad on the phone and I stated “I feel like I am drowning in this ocean called life.”(Suuuper dramatic but true. When I said this it was directly ripped from a song I wrote previously about someone telling a friend to “hold on and wait it out.” It is an anti-suicide song I wrote imagining someone saying these caring words to me.) I will never forget what his reassuring response was; “yes, but you are a strong swimmer.”

Although I can’t do a back stroke to save my life, or tread water for 2 minutes, in the metaphor of life being an ocean, I am a strong swimmer- a Michael Phelps if you will. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve avoided suicide attempts, experienced heart break, had dreams crushed and all the while I have come out on top-still breathing, awakened to my potential and refusing to lie down and die. It’s the dreams in my heart that keep me going, even when nothing in the world seems right.

 

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