I went to the mental hospital the first time in July, 2013. As I sat in a chair waiting to be taken to my room, I felt my world implode. Until that moment, I was “quietly crazy”. I knew something was not right, but I believed I hid it well. I’ve never been shy about talking about depression or anxiety, but this was different. I was twitching, stuttering, and I could no longer discern what was my brain “being noisy” (intrusive thoughts) and my own thoughts. I remember lying in my bed and thinking, “Everyone knows now…”
I had been told before that I “do too much, push myself too far, it’s not healthy.” My ex has said so many times, “I don’t know who I am coming home to after work.” All I truly understood was, “this is how I am!” I AM a perfectionist, I DO like being the best, and I CAN do anything! Mood swings were constant and normal. Suicidality and depression were normal. The term mania describes my life/to do list. All of it was to not be discussed, because it is dirty laundry. In the mental hospital, my dirty laundry became public discourse by everyone I knew. Everything I fought to hide was flung out for all to see. People began suggesting to my ex that I was bipolar.
I left the mental hospital on a massive cocktail of drugs, but I had not reconnected with reality. My diagnosis was schizo-affective disorder. The day after discharge, I ran away to the man I fell in love with in the hospital, and initiated the countdown to the end of my marriage. This became public knowledge and further discourse. “I never knew she was so sick…”, “Wow, she must have been really struggling…”, “She always seemed like she could do anything…”, and the worst, “I feel so bad for her….”
As well intentioned as these sentiments could have been, they were devastating for me. At that time, I did not talk about my issues. It felt, to me, like I have been walking through life naked thinking I was rocking haute couture, only to be informed that my lady bits are hanging out. Well-meaning friends began diagnosing me to my face and I became hostile and shut down. I felt like I was dead. Everything I loved about myself was gone, and I was left with guilt, personal intrusion, no privacy, and a sense of failure and shame.
People who do not struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar, etc. do not seem to understand that it is like discussing the beauty of a blue sky with people who thought the sky was pink their whole life. I hear so much about the benefits of talking, but the reality is that you must be very careful who you speak to, depending on where you are at in terms of healing, recovery, or even education. If you are interacting with anyone who is diagnosing you (not a psychologist/psychiatrist), you need to set a boundary and end that communication. Boundaries are difficult when people mean well. Also, your mental health is not covered by Megan’s Law, you are under no obligation to disclose anything about yourself or explain yourself. My subsequent hospitalizations has been kept to a need to know. Privacy is your right, and that is not being ashamed. That is protecting yourself, because there are a lot of ignorant people in this world.
There is a huge difference between empathy and unsolicited advice. The latter, though, happens a lot. I have had far too many people recall signs and symptoms of my past that “they realized were bipolar”. Do people go up to cancer patients or diabetes patients and say, “hmm, well, if you hadn’t smoked, maybe you wouldn’t be sick?” or “I knew when I saw you eating cake, you were not right in the head.”
Until July, 2013, I was what I was. Afterwards, I felt broken and different. Loved ones and friends accentuated the divide. I became determined to “figure out what was wrong with me.”. At first, I thought medicine was the answer. I took combos for ever changing diagnoses to feel like a robot and stop taking them. I got to listen to lectures when I complained the meds were killing my brain. One psychiatrist overturned everything, took me off meds, and I was fine for 2 years. “Fine” while constantly evaluating myself for signs and symptoms of all prior diagnoses, diagnosing every human reaction as a potential problem, and being paranoid that “I am crazy…”
I was convinced if I had the right diagnoses, I would be fixed. I listened to everyone with an opinion and let it affect my life. I had been working on PTSD and handling my repressed memories/emotions. Then, I stopped being able to sleep due to nightmares, and I went into psychosis. According to my stellar mental health team, “Well, depression can make you psychotic, as can mania.” So, I have a bipolar that goes to both poles simultaneously and goes psychotic. My nightmares are irrelevant, and all therapeutic focus has left PTSD.
I was wrong about diagnoses helping me because doctors/loved ones seem to think “Oh she’s bipolar, pop meds in her and she’ll be fine!” I told my psychologist, “I’ve reconnected with yoga and meditation, and I feel so much better!” she asked me if it’s actually my meds helping. Thankfully, the yoga and meditation give me the new tools of tuning everyone (including my mind) out.
After the last psychosis, my new psychiatrist snapped at me (after meeting me once prior) and said “Look, you are a bipolar and you just need to take meds and deal with it.” I believed diagnoses would fix everything. She slapped diagnoses after one 20 minute session, but I have learned to fight/advocate for myself, thankfully. This is the second time I’ve been clinically diagnosed bipolar (the first time being by me…). I went through a pretty severe depression after being diagnosed, but then I realized that (as my psychologist said) I have more coping skills than most, because I’ve been determinedly “fixing myself” for 4 years now. I was so obsessed with labels; the solutions remain the same.
I never realized how lost I had gotten in my search for answers. I had the answer the whole damn time. I am what I am. No diagnosis changes that, no doctor changes that, no medication changes that. I am certainly not broken. If they say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” what do you call people who survive a mind that plays intrusive suicidal thoughts all the time? Game Changers?
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