This requires a TW: SUICIDE
This is also LONG.
I realized I have yet to tell my “diagnosis story” with any kind of detail. Here goes.
I think I really started showing symptoms by age 11 or 12. I can remember crying at night with my Mom for no reason. I blamed family members, I blamed school, I blamed all kinds of things, but I didn’t really know why I was sad. I just knew I was. It might have been me adjusting to the divorce I suppose, but if so, it was certainly a delayed reaction. I just wasn’t okay. Then I kind of was again. For a while. Probably until the second half of sixth grade and into that summer. At some point around then I knew that I was experiencing emotions that other kids were not. I still wasn’t aware enough to know that it was a real problem, but I knew I was “different” somehow.
That was true in a lot of ways though to be honest. I was in all of the advanced classes and they still couldn’t keep me engaged. I was first chair in band all the way through middle school. I was that kid. So my difference seemed related to those things to me. I didn’t really place my emotional state as something else that separated me since everything else seemed to already.
I started missing school for weeks at a time. At the beginning it was due to health issues, but eventually it was because I just didn’t want to go. I still got great grades, kept up with all of my work, stayed out of trouble when I was at school, so no one really complained. The guidance counselor got marginally involved by the end of seventh grade, but mostly with the health things.
By eighth grade I had a teacher who, while not engaging in actual sexual molestation, was super creepy. He would rub my back or look down my shirt. I was very uncomfortable in his class. When I reported him, the school said I made it up. My mom pushed to have me switched to another class, but it was an awkward thing. That involved more intervention by the guidance counselor. I still wasn’t attending school for weeks at a time.
Freshman year I switched schools for first semester. By this point, the depression was obvious to nearly everyone. I failed PE the first marking period and missed a great deal of school. The guidance counselor was meeting with me almost every day that I did attend and encouraged my mom to get me into therapy.
I started therapy and was diagnosed with depression at 14. I’m sure that is what it looked like. I surely did not tell people about the ideas I had that equated to psychosis. They may have been chalked up to a psychotic depression back then anyway.
Regardless, by second semester of freshman year, I was transferred back to my home school district and I continued my pattern of non-attendance. I also continued to slide.
Sophomore year and the summer before saw the rise of mania. I began to be known as “that girl who talks so fast you cannot understand her.” I didn’t sleep much at night and I was always on the go. I had a temper that would swing from nowhere.
So, in January, on Super Bowl Sunday as a matter of fact, a month or so after my 16th birthday, I overdosed. It was not planned. It was entirely impulsive. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty here, but it just kind of happened. I started taking handfuls of over the counter stuff and then moved on to prescriptions that were around our house. The toxicologist later said my report looked like a rainbow. I pretty much called a friend who called an adult friend and 911 right away. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I kind of thought I might die but then I thought I was supposed to tell someone. I really can’t tell you that I was thinking anything. I remember telling the EMT’s that I needed to go get my shoes. Then I remember hysterically crying to keep my mom away (our relationship was not very good by this point).
So two weeks of observation on the adolescent psychiatric unit, psychiatric testing, one on one therapy, family therapy, therapy with a friend that needed to happen, group therapy, etc led to my first diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I was handed a prescription for Lithium and Depakote and sent on my way when my insurance kicked me out.
I tried taking those for a couple of weeks and gave up. I didn’t like the doctor, I didn’t like the meds and I didn’t understand the diagnosis. It was 1996.
I switched doctors and got switched to a high dose of Prozac. This ensured that I flew manic for the next two years. I had dropped out of high school at the end of my sophomore year- truly a technicality at that point- and started taking a class or two at the community college.
I struggled with school, not academically, but with attendance and needing to drop classes, for several years. At 18 I went to a university 8 hours away, was fully manic, flushed all of my meds down the toilet and declared myself “cured.” I ended up withdrawing the first semester because I had only gone to the first day of classes.
I struggled some more. Went to therapy on and off. Eventually transferred to another university and never really was full time but did manage to graduate at 24. Didn’t know what to do with myself so I kept taking classes and earned another bachelor’s at 26. Decided to go to law school.
Picked a law school across country. Was manic. Spent $30k in the 2.5 months before classes started. I thought every fed ex truck I saw had a driver that was a spy for my mother. Ended up leaving law school after 2 weeks.
After a short stint with my Dad down south, I moved back in with my mom and resumed taking random classes. I began other graduate programs and had to drop them. By 28 (2008), after filing bankruptcy and dropping out of another grad program, it was obvious to me that I needed help.
I went to the counseling center on campus to get a referral to the psychiatry clinic. The doctor I met at the clinic listened to me for 15 minutes, hadn’t even heard about my experience at 16, and diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. The rest of the time was spent on educating me on what that really meant for me, the lifestyle changes I needed to make and the new meds I was going to take. I worked with that doctor for 4 years and I was very lucky to have her.
My path was not easy. It has been equally ugly since.
This blog is an attempt to share the ups and downs of what can be a life altering disorder for many people. It’s just my experience of course and I certainly don’t claim to speak for everyone. I just hope to shed some light in some dark corner of the Internet where someone might see this who needs to.