It was spring 2019 when I began feeling not myself. My mood was up and down and my thoughts and actions were a bit erratic. I felt stressed out. I began feeling paranoid. I wasn’t myself. I experienced something like this one other time in my life, several years prior.
A couple different diagnoses have been slapped on it, but my current psychiatrist took the time to uncover what was really going on. I say it was handled carelessly because when you are hospitalized for a mental health condition they solely diagnose what they want to see or what they assume, in my experience. In my experiences with mental health hospitalizations, which is over 10, I had two really amazing experiences where they made me feel like a human being. The rest were impersonal where staff didn’t seem to care that much; I felt like a number to them. And one experience was completely inappropriate and abusive. Last year’s experience wasn’t terrible. They did their best, but there were definitely things that could have been handled better. In fact, I ended up being treated in a drug and alcohol facility because there were no other beds in other facilities. Compared to the abusive one, last year’s experience was ok. I was in a lot of distress, of course, but I was mostly treated with respect — that matters a lot to me. When you’re not feeling well and can’t take care of yourself, you want to be treated well.
I was put on medications in the treatment facility my psychiatrist thought I shouldn’t have been put on. In fact, it felt like the medications exacerbated my symptoms. It was a really upsetting time. I’ve felt completely out of control twice in my life. It’s a really strange feeling. Nothing matters besides what you’re thinking and feeling. That can become problematic of course because you can become obsessed with those things. Everything feels amplified.
The manic episodes had ended before I was discharged but I didn’t start feeling like myself again until my psychiatrist found the right medications.
It was actually such a relief when my psychiatrist listened to the story and the symptoms and began to piece together what happened. Before she did, it felt so muddled and chaotic. I felt blindsided by the episodes because the past year I had not been on any medications and ok. It’s confusing though because I say I was “ok” but I felt like my self esteem was low and I felt like my mood was up and down at times. I stayed just below the radar though, I believe, to get a bipolar diagnosis. I felt I had more good days than bad, but something still felt off, but I didn’t know what it was. It didn’t feel like depression, which is what I was treated for prior. While I regret not prioritizing my mental health and finding a new psychiatrist sooner, I am in a way glad I was off medications for some time because being treated for depression or anxiety could no longer mask some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
The out of control feeling is very painful, and embarrassing to look back on, because when you aren’t yourself, how you interact with others is going to reflect illness not wellness, and I was unwell, but wasn’t aware of it yet. I felt like people who normally support me were somehow against me and were my enemy. I was also talking in circles at times. I often have to check in with myself and bring myself back to the present and give myself the “it’s not your fault” and “you were sick” talks because I feel guilty for how I behaved during the manic episodes. That’s honestly a big part of the reason I had kept this struggle to myself for a year. I was still working on telling myself it wasn’t my fault. I’ve come to a place where I’ve made peace with how I acted because how could you not forgive someone who truly wasn’t able to access their best self and who was ill and struggling?
When I struggle, I’m my own worst critic. I really get down on myself and blame myself. I believe that you’re not at fault for the things you do and say when you are mentally unwell — in many cases. You don’t have the tools or ability to be healthy or your usual self. Sometimes I have to treat myself like I would a best friend and really remind myself of this when I’m looking back with ashamed or judgmental eyes.
After the first few weeks of being on the right medications to treat the right diagnosis, I felt like myself. I felt like myself in my best moments, but not at a high or extreme like I may have experienced in the past, like something that would eventually come down. It’s really unbelievable to compare then to now. I’m the same person with the same beliefs and values, but my demeanor is different. I’m more confident. I’m not stuck in ups and downs. My mood is stable. I’d honestly say 90% of my days are good. I have very few times I struggle or feel negative emotions. I feel sad or frustrated in moments I feel that, but it doesn’t linger, and I certainly don’t have the low lows and high highs anymore. I almost feel like I’m cured in a sense. I’m careful when I talk to myself about it that way though because it didn’t mean I was deficient or worthless before. All it means is that I have an illness that hindered my growth and I needed medication and therapy to stabilize it.
While I greatly struggled with suicidal ideation as a teenager, I do wonder if it was bipolar disorder and not depression. I also wonder if I’m trying to get rid of a diagnosis because I can feel ashamed – I feel like I have too many diagnoses! When I feel this way, I try to remind myself that diagnoses are there so you can treat a problem. A mental health diagnosis is not a badge of shame. In today’s day and age there is still so much stigma around mental illness. While I have positioned myself as a mental health advocate, I realize I also align myself as the “recovery girl” or in some negative ways “the depressed girl” or “the mentally ill girl”, or now, “the bipolar girl”. I realize this all too well. And I realize at the same time while negative connotations and associations come with the territory, I want to share my story. I’m proud of where I am now. I also want to contribute to ending the stigma, shed some light on mental illness, highlight the importance of mental health, and be a story of hope for those struggling.
A year later after the bipolar episodes, I am happy. I have a job I enjoy and love the people I work with. I’m going to school and getting good marks. I feel loved by friends and family. I feel balanced. This time last year I felt I had to start all over with treatment. I felt overwhelmed by the stressors I was facing in life. I felt like an outsider in some aspects of my life. I wouldn’t say the medications changed everything; they were a factor in healing. Last summer I also did extensive trauma work for PTSD. I opened up and fell apart and my therapist helped put me back together all in session. I found the strength to comfort my inner child and present self and bridge the gap between them. The medications helped keep me stable so I could then do the much-needed hard work in therapy. I don’t feel completely healed from my past traumas and struggles, but I feel like I re-wrote braver endings to them, endings that involve me finding my voice and knowing I’m a fighter and survivor, and no longer a victim. I am healing, and that’s so important to me. For a while I felt like I was standing still in life, unsure what the next move was, and not ready to move forward. My high highs seemed to mask that I was depressed or struggling, and the low lows I dealt with on my own because I wouldn’t let anyone in.
It’s so unbelievably sad to me that I had to go through what I went through to get here. But at the same time, thank God I did because I wouldn’t have met my psychiatrist or therapist. I feel so loved and supported by my team. And I don’t know if I would have ultimately felt better now had I not gone through it.
I was listening to music on my phone and Mary Lambert’s “Secrets” came on a bit ago…
“I’ve got bipolar disorder
My shit’s not in order
I’m overweight, I’m always late
I’ve got too many things to say
I rock mom jeans, cat earrings
Extrapolate my feelings
My family is dysfunctional
But we have a good time killing each other
They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
I know I’m not the only one
Who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well, I’m over it
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are”
I’ve jammed out to this song for years but who knew I’d end up relating to it so much more than I already did! The lightheartedness of the song inspired me to write this today. There’s a lot of pain and struggle and sadness in my story, but right now in my life, I don’t mind saying, “hey, I’ve got bipolar disorder” and just going on about my life. I have friends who have it, too. I never once thought they were crazy or horrible or unworthy. We’re all human beings. Some of us just need more support and help than others. And I think that’s ok.
As I move on from this place of needing help, I’m so excited to one day be helping others more hands-on as an art therapist. For now, I’ll be continuing to help people in the mental health spaces as an advocate and fellow warrior. Because it’s absolutely where I belong and I’m just so passionate about spreading hopeful and encouraging messages. Today was the day I open up about this past chapter, as well as close it and send some love and healing energy to my past self.
You’re not crazy or unlovable or unworthy if you have a mental illness or mental illnesses. You are human. You are worthy and loved and lovable and bright. You are more than what you struggle with.
I can be the advocate or activist or writer or “bipolar girl” or “recovery girl”. I’m Lexie first.