October 10 was World Mental Health Day. This year, I felt compelled to share a small portion of my story, which involves Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and suicide.
I’ve always known something was different about me, that the way I saw and interacted with the world around me was different. Around 2003, my senior year of high school, I took Psychology and started doing just the simplest of research into mental health. I read about depression and manic depression (now Bipolar Disorder.)
In 2004 I started exhibiting symptoms. I was 19, my freshman year of college. I was angry at myself a lot. I felt worthless and hopeless, like I couldn’t do anything right. But I was a successful student. I didn’t sleep all day, normal eating habits, I socialized, so I thought – there’s no way I’m depressed. But just in case, I went to my first counseling appointment at the end of the year. I cried for the entire session. I was completely open and honest. Her response was I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and needed some direction. She walked me, puffy eyed from crying, to the testing center next door for career testing. Career testing. So not only did I not get help for my budding Bipolar Disorder, depression, anxiety and BPD, I felt like I was crazy. I felt like my symptoms, the awful way I was feeling inside, the dread, anger, worry, frustration – it all just must be normal. I would not seek help again for four years.
Near the beginning of 2008, a close friend said I was angry all the time. As in, when I got upset, I got extremely upset, and it took a long time to come down from it. They encouraged me to go to counseling and I did. I learned some good things about emotional regulation and some simple breathing techniques. It helped a lot but I stopped going.
Later, in the fall of 2008, 23 years old, I had what I consider to be my first hypomanic episode. It was my first semester as a grad student and my first year teaching. I started a huge video blogging project that was never completed. I somehow had friends. I finally came all the way out. I drank, smoked, spent money, was reckless. I became vegetarian. Stopped eating sugar for a few months. Cut off all my hair. When people didn’t want to spend time with me I panicked. One night I walked home from a bar, just left my friends and walked three miles through town in the middle of the night drunk because something upset me.
A couple years later, after I broke up with my first serious girlfriend, I finally went to the doctor and told them, again, that something was wrong. The feelings I’m feeling, they can’t be normal. They can’t be right. I was officially diagnosed with depression all those years later and put on medication. It’s fall of 2011 now and hypomania ensues. I get into a bad relationship which lasts way too long. For years it’s complicated and difficult to navigate my feelings and thoughts. I become forgetful. Start having worse anxiety. I drive to places then sit in the car, can’t go in, drive back home. I chart my moods. My foods. I make lists every day. I blog. I take my medicine. I stop taking my medicine. Go to counseling, quit counseling, go to support groups, have my first panic attack which causes my fingers to cramp which is terrifying and no one ever told me a panic attack isn’t always breathing into a bag. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know what’s a symptom and what’s me. I am unemployed for much of this time. I’m called lazy by my significant other when I can’t get out of bed or clean the house or shower. When I struggle she says it’s because I’m not trying hard enough, not going to counseling, not taking my medicine properly. It’s kinda true but also kinda devastating. I’m hospitalized after a suicide attempt in 2015. Diagnosed as Bipolar NOS by a psychiatrist around that time. Six months later I admit myself into the hospital again because I think I’m a risk to myself.
Finally that bad relationship ends. It’s fall 2016 and I slide comfortably into hypomania again. I am finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and everything makes more sense. I hate being alone but I also kinda hate people too. To cope I get drunk every day. I stop taking my bipolar medication because I know I will be losing my health insurance soon. But I get a little better, day by day. I stop drinking so much and start filling my time with better things.
Fast forward two years later to present day. I take as needed medication for anxiety. I am acutely aware of my feelings and thoughts and I am ready to ask for help if I need it. It’s hard and I struggle constantly. Sometimes I regulate my emotions to the point where I just don’t have emotions anymore, which is the worst. I have trouble being empathetic and attentive toward other people because I’m so in my own head and feelings. I still get worked up and angry. Occasionally I dissociate for a few minutes. I still hate being alone, but I also struggle to be around people. My brain still tells me no one likes me and I’m bad at everything. My current doctor thinks I might also have ADHD.
This has been a long road so far, and it never ends. That’s okay. It’s hard not to wonder how my health could have been improved if, after that first counselor thought my concerns were just a freshman in college needing career advice, I had pushed back harder and asked for help again sooner. I knew all along how and where to get help but most of the time I didn’t. Through all of it, all fifteen years of struggling, one thing always kept me from getting help – I never thought it was bad enough. I had jobs, graduated college twice, socialized. I started an online business. Made videoblogs. I was high functioning. And I didn’t even hide how I felt, it was always in the open. I talked about my feelings constantly to anyone who would listen. And still, I thought it wasn’t bad enough. Until it was. But what I know now, and what I hope everyone knows, is there is no ‘bad enough.’ If something feels wrong, that is enough. In the early 2000s, when I was first learning about mental health, it didn’t seem like there were nuances. Even later when I was diagnosed with Bipolar I wasn’t sure how it fit because it just seemed didn’t seem to match what I was feeling. Borderline is the same – I am constantly met with pushback that I don’t seem like someone with BPD. But to me, with what I know about my thoughts and feelings, I meet the criteria perfectly. And it’s not just about criteria and a diagnosis either. Mental health is not just being treated for a mental illness. If something feels wrong, that’s enough. Ask for help, then ask for help again. Keep asking until someone listens. And if a friend tells you something feels wrong, don’t ever make them feel like it’s not.