The Four Pillars of My Struggle
If I had followed the plans given to me, I would be a Charted Accountant and probably married to a man I didn’t really love. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with Accounting; and men in the audit work are great but not for me. I can say in some ways my mental illness saved me from a word I never belonged to.
However I am still lost. I am in this constant state of limbo lately, and I think many can see it on my face. People keep asking me if something is wrong or if I am ill, even though I think I look okay. I suppose they can sense that my spirit is off centre. Or maybe my disappearance from social media and most forms of contact has raised red flags. Whatever it maybe, I am trying to explore it. I recently read an article on Psych Central which talks about the barriers faced by those with bipolar disorder. These barriers, which include uncontrollability and medication, are very true for my battle with the illness. Below is my non-scientific take on how these barriers affect me.
Do you know what it feels like waking up in fear of your own thoughts? I wake up not knowing if the sight of my nephew, who I love, will make me happy or extremely sad. Then there are the sudden bursts of energy that have me committing to a hundred and one different things that I could not possibly finish. However the worst for me remain the days when death plagues my mind and the will to live becomes an uphill battle.
My psychologist has told me to look out for triggers: what brings on mania or depression. A good idea that has only left me feeling scared of doing anything. I feel like I now live in constant fear of myself. Afraid that I will send myself in a downward spiral that will leave me in the dark abyss I spent years crawling out of. But I know isolating myself only makes it worse because it makes me grow more fearful of human contact. I get scared of texting, calling or seeing anyone outside those that live in my house. This fear soon transforms into a crippling anxiety (discussed below).
Waking up every hour to see if it’s time to go to work or feeling the need to starve myself for a few days are some of the signs that I am slipping. I have no control over them and perhaps that is a good thing because it gives me time to seek help. But, as stated above, the need to get help is overshadowed by the fear of being rejected. Or more specifically, the fear or being seen as an attention-seeking individual.
I remember the first antidepressant I was put on: citalopram. I was put in a permanent haze. I couldn’t think straight and I could hardly sleep. I remember leaving my bed at 5 o’clock in the morning and taking long walks around campus in hopes to fall asleep. I failed to attend class because making my brain focus on any given thing was a draining processes that left me in a zombie-like state for several days.
This was the first time I went off my medication. The immediate effects were amazing: I could think and the world no longer moved in slow motion. This high was short lived. I soon found myself in a depression that lasted about two years (the reason why I began this blog). I did not want to admit to myself that I might need help to feel somewhat “normal”. Honestly I felt weak and embarrassed. It was, and sometimes continues to be, difficult to talk about being on medication and having to take it for an indefinite period.
Today I understand why my psychiatrist initially told me that I would be on medication for two years (instead of my entire life). Bipolar leaves one feeling vulnerable and , in my case, dependent. The reality that medication coupled with other forms of therapy will be a constant throughout ones life is a scary fact; a fact that can contribute to mood instability. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why many people with mental illnesses, me included, are in a constant battle with whether to take their meds or not.
Bipolar disorder is taxing on both those suffering from it and from those who love them. The illness is taxing on relationships and can leave both parties feeling isolated. I know that I have become more of a recluse over the years. I hate experiencing mood swings, so I can only imagine how those around me may feel. However what I hate most is that I now find it hard to distinguish who I am from the illness. I do not know if I am a quiet person or if it is the anxiety that come with the depression. Whenever I am sociable and reckless, I always wonder if it is mania at play.
The impact of bipolar on my friendships is explored more in my previous post.
Two weeks ago I found myself in a hospital bed with valium coursing through my veins. My body felt limp and heavy. I could not stop myself from drifting in and out of sleep; always aware of the people around me but unable to engage my brain. I felt vulnerable, but at least my brain had stopped racing. Apart from vulnerable, being in that hospital bed made me feel safe. I was safe from my own thoughts and actions, protected from exercising until my legs hurt, guarded from the pity in the eyes of those I love, and shielded from any more anxiety.
“You are a work in progress” I am always told, and days like today I realise that. I might be scared of leaving my house or logging onto Facebook, but I am still breathing. Every breathe a reminder of the strength to live another day.