This morning I woke up and checked facebook and saw that a friend had posted a link to a Ted talk about depression. So I watched it, succumbed to tears, and now I’m thinking about my own experience with depression. Depression, well actually, bipolar disorder, runs in my family. And along with all my allergies and asthma and poor eyesight, I apparently also inherited the bipolar gene. In case you’re not familiar with bipolarism, what it means is that you experience radical mood swings. You can go from manic highs to the most depressed lows. I grew up with two family members who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and since none of us really understood the disorder, it led to a lot of bad blood and emotional scars. I think the manic episodes can actually break down a family faster than the depression does. Family functions could go haywire at the drop of a hat and when you’re an 11 year old kid, you don’t understand why suddenly people are stomping out of the house and slamming doors and your cousin is crying and your parents are swearing “They’re never speaking to that woman again.” It was confusing and scary and as a child I turned to my parents for the right thing to do. My father is a wonderful man whom I love and respect, but in hindsight I can see he didn’t necessarily provide the best example. His own family history taught him to react with emotional lockdown, and anger. Ok I guess anger is an emotion, but I think you get the picture. So I learned to blame and shame my relatives for their behaviour without thinking twice about what they were experiencing.
So you can imagine how terrifying it was for me when I began recognizing the signs of bipolarism in myself at the age of 22. I would be unstoppable and cocky and careless of the consequences of my actions, and offend and hurt a lot of people in the process. And then I would fall all the way down the rabbit hole and I couldn’t get out of bed. I would lie there and make deals with myself to get myself to go to school. “You can drive today instead of taking the bus.” “You don’t have to make lunch or eat breakfast, you can buy something instead.” “You don’t have to get dressed up.” “You can take your time and get really dressed up.” “You don’t have to sit with anybody in class.” On and on and it would take me hours to finally get to campus. I missed a lot of classes. Shockingly this didn’t affect my grades. When I finally started seeing a therapist this surprised her too. I told her that school had always been easy for me, it was relationships with other people that were hard.
Bipolarism might be an even more cruel disorder than depression. On the one hand you have manic episodes where you become a self-centered psychopath and alienate all your friends. On the other you become small and apathetic and you desperately need a friend. In February 2009, I eventually worked up the courage to tell one of my ex-boyfriends what I was going through. I think I chose him to talk to because at the time I didn’t really believe that any of my friends would care about me enough to listen, but I had never questioned how he felt about me during our relationship. He was in an airport, I think on his way to a vacation with friends. And even though we had already been broken up for about a year, he thankfully he took the time to talk to me and make me feel less alone for just that phone call. And then he did the best thing he could have done and he emailed my mother. The next time I spoke to her she told me she was booking a flight to come stay with me for awhile. Between her support and my new roommate’s, who also struggled with depression, they convinced me to start seeing a therapist.
When I first started seeing the therapist I only ever used the word depression. I didn’t want to talk about bipolarism because I didn’t want to be like my relatives. Depression seemed like something I could be pitied for and bipolarism felt like something I could be hated for. I didn’t really click with that therapist and when she finally used the word bipolar in one of our sessions I stopped seeing her. I eventually went back to therapy, and saw a different person. I felt a lot more comfortable with her but when I graduated, I also stopped seeing her.
I don’t experience episodes of mania or depression on a regular basis now. I’m pretty sensitive to where I’m at mentally and emotionally every day and I try to take good care of myself. The most important thing I learned along the way was to be kind to myself. First I had to accept that I was bipolar. That taught me a lot about empathy because I finally had to acknowledge that my family was wrong to shame my relatives for their disorder. And I had to acknowledge that my father was wrong, and trust that he was still going to love me even if I was bipolar too.
It’s been a long time since I felt like I was truly suffering from bipolar disorder. I sometimes wonder now, did that all even happen? Was I just being dramatic? Am I so self-obsessed that I made the whole thing up for attention? This line of thought scares me a little. Like, what kind of person fakes a serious mental disorder? This is why I’m so glad that I’ve always kept a journal. It’s good for me to remember what I felt like during that time. It reminds me to renew my empathy for other people. And it reminds me to keep taking good care of myself. I would really like to share a few entries from those years.
May 20/09 – It’s taken me a few days to get here. To be able to write about it. I knew, months ago, that I needed a new journal. A fresh start. And it sat by my bed, waiting for me to figure out what I needed it for. There are a lot of things I could write about. But I can sum it up with this: I don’t really know myself anymore. I’m not sure of my goals, values, opinions, strengths, weaknesses, character traits. Am I shy? Sometimes. Am I outgoing? Sometimes. Am I confident, cocky? Sometimes. Am I unsure? Sometimes. Am I scared? Most of the time. This is what I need to figure out. Writing things down empties my head. It lets me sleep better. So this is what I know about myself tonight. I like to write. I like to sing. And I like movies and TV shows that can make me cry. And I want to recapture the feeling I had in the Fall semester of 2007. I was so happy then that I would laugh and smile the whole way home.
May 22/09 – Everything still hurts. Sometimes it feels better but it’s like this thin veneer of goodness around all this nothingness. A candy coating around a black hole. I feel like I’m waiting. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Waiting to figure it out. Find out who I am again. I just don’t know how to do that. And my temper is out of control lately. I’ve been snapping at Mum all week even though she leaves on Sunday for good. I have to smarten up. I want her to know how thankful I am that she came and how much I love her. I only have two days to do that now.
Jun 1/09 – I don’t know how much more I can take. I don’t know what I want. What to work for. Why won’t it stop hurting all the time? Why am I not ok yet? I thought about it again. It scares me so much every time. Sometimes I wish it would just happen in my sleep.
Jun 14/09 – The nurse on the phone asked me if I thought about it. Yes, I do. She asked me if I thought about how I would do it. Yes, I do. She asked me how. I told her. I felt like she was mocking me. What a terrible person. I haven’t dialled any of the numbers she gave me. I stopped taking the pills. I wonder if I don’t want to get better. I think I just want it to end. I lay on my bed today and imagined my roommate finding me there, dead. As if she hasn’t been through enough. I wonder who, besides my family, would be sad. I don’t want anybody to be sad. I just don’t want to feel so hollow anymore.
Jun 28/09 – I’ve wanted to write but I’ve been too scared to open this book because of what I wrote last time. But tonight I wanted to write that I miss my mum.
Jul 20/09 – I have noted this in my previous journal and I’m sure it will come up again and again. I love my friends. I love them more than I have ever thought possible.
Aug 2/09 – She is so hurtful. I wish she could be more than she is. I wish my heart could be big enough to take everything she dishes out and still have room to love her. And I wish someone would save me. I can only do so much. Maybe that makes me weak. Maybe a stronger person could endure without feeling any pain or loneliness. I can’t. Without a friend, without someone to love, I feel so lost. I miss my dad. I’m worried that he worries too much about me. I wish I lived close to my parents. I wish I knew what made me so unloveable.
May 14/10 – I would like to call someone. And ask them to please come over. And hold me. So I can feel like I’m not slipping away.
May 14/10 – The very worst part of sinking to the depths of depression is knowing you’re trapped down there all alone. You cannot share the overwhelming despair with anyone. Either they will think you dramatic. Or think they know how it feels, comparing it to one afternoon they felt blue. Or it will scare them away. Or it will burden them unnecessarily. Or worst of all, they will try to help and you will only push them further away.
I know this isn’t what you want to hear.
And I wish I had better news for you. I wish I could tell you to call your best friend, your lover, your new acquaintance, your family.
I wish I could tell you that it’s ok to tell them how you feel. What it’s like inside your head. But it’s not.
Ok fine, don’t believe me.
Call your friends! Call long distance! Rack up quite a phone bill!
Tell them how apathetic you feel. Tell them how you have things to do and places to be and goals to accomplish. Tell them you even made a list! Tell them you can’t do any of it because it all makes you so mad. Each task awaiting your attention fills you with rage.
So instead you do nothing. And you are filled with self-loathing. Look at you! You’re pathetic! Incompetent! Useless! What are you contributing to society? Nothing.
Tell them all how painful it is to feel that you could change your ways in a heartbeat if only you felt loved again.
But you’re unloveable.
How could anybody carve out room in their heart and hold you there when you don’t even occupy a space in your own?
It won’t change how you feel. They won’t be able to make it all better.
How disappointing to know that after all this time, you’re back here again.
Just let your loneliness cover you like a blanket. Let your self-loathing cradle you. Let the fear rock you back and forth. Wait until sleep takes you. And dream of never waking up again.
May 14/10 – The thing about dying is you can never regret it. Other people can miss you but you will never feel anything, good or bad again. So the only reason to stay alive is for the people you love.
Sep 26/10 – A letter never sent: In the time between mania and depression, I mean on the way down, I find myself. My center. Where my mind is my own. Where I’m not trapped in my head. I find truth. I know myself. This is the girl you once loved. She still belongs to you. That is not to say I am not my own person. I know my own mind these days better than ever before. Rather, you still have her heart. You held me in a perfect moment. Somewhere between being naive and jaded. Between the chapters of my downfall. You held me and let me cry.
Dec 12/10 – A poem:
I flee from those who would seek to possess me.
I want no other love until I have my own.
I’m not yet the person I want to be,
so you can’t possibly love me forever.
Yet I stay awhile and linger;
what will the story called ‘You and Me’ teach me?
I don’t want to miss the experience or
what I will learn from loving you.
It’s not fair.
I knew already
that I would hurt you.
And you had no idea.
I’m so sorry.
I may end up all by myself;
I suppose it wouldn’t be undeserved.
But I no longer fear such a life.
I want only to know myself.
And so you should go.
You deserve so much more.
How can I offer you anything when
I feel that I have nothing to give.
After that entry, I started writing mostly about what was happening with me and Hunter, which makes me realize now that maybe that’s why he was/is so difficult to get over. Our relationship happened at a time when I was finally starting to find myself again. Anyways, that became a really really long post! But thank you for reading, and for remembering with me. I hope it reminds you to be kind to yourself today and every day.