Looking back, I first started experiencing symptoms of both bipolar and anxiety when I was a young kid. I think that my anxiety really started to manifest before I was even 10. I remember the social anxiety, the anxiety over seemingly insignificant things, the pressure from my family to always do better than my best, etc.
The mood swings started when I was around 12. I remember feeling totally out of control of myself. My emotions swung wild and wide seemingly at random. Rage was a common companion. The littlest things would set me off and I’d just seethe. I could feel the fire inside of me, the anger. And then came the depression. Crippling. I felt like I was moving through molasses. I didn’t care about anything.
In my late teens I went through some things that just exacerbated all of this. It wasn’t a pretty time. But in my good Italian Catholic family we didn’t do therapy. It was a sign of weakness. So my parents found a therapist that went to our church for me to talk to. I had known her since I was a young kid, and I absolutely did not trust her. I didn’t trust her to not run back to my family to tell them everything I said. And most of her solutions involved prayer or invocations. Not helpful, especially when you’re 17 and on the cusp of realizing that the church that you grew up in is full of shit and that you’re already flirting with the idea of atheism. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a nice woman, and a good friend to my family, but I didn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. I was definitely not opening up to her about anything.
My parents tried again with a psychiatrist after a teacher called with his concerns. Again, didn’t trust her. Didn’t like her. Without taking a detailed history of me, from me (she got it from my parents), she prescribed Zoloft. That didn’t go well. I was manic as hell within 10 days. But my family saw it as an improvement so we continued on with it. Despite being almost 18 I had no autonomy in terms of my mental health. My protests that I didn’t like the doc or the meds fell on deaf ears. They were doing what they thought was best, and I don’t fault them for it, but no one in my family had ever dealt with a mental health crisis as severe as the one I was in. And they didn’t know what to do.
Luckily I was only a few months shy of 18 and when I hit that birthday I told that shrink to go to hell, flushed the pills, and staunchly refused treatment for the better part of three years.
When I was 21 I voluntarily sought treatment. They took a detailed history (finally!) and quickly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t just plain old depression – it was bipolar. Their solution? Drug me into oblivion. I went through the next two months in a drugged fog. I was barely scraping by in my classes, my social life was garbage, and I felt like a zombie.
And then Mike came along. And I realized that I didn’t want to live my life like that. So I did the stupid thing – flushed my meds and never went back. Luckily in the short term it turned out ok.
I flirted with treatment a few times after that, but after a major depression I got serious about the whole thing. I lucked out and got matched with a great doctor that I saw for the next four years. We did therapy when he or I felt like I needed it. We monitored my meds closely. He didn’t force me into meds that I didn’t want. He listened to me about what I needed and what I was feeling. And when he moved to do solely research, I was lucky enough to find another great doctor.
Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.Fred Rogers
And now, here we are. 38, stable, married, good job. All of those things that one doctor told me that I’d never have. So to that doctor – fuck you.
I think it’s important to talk about our mental health. Not only with a doctors and therapists, but also our families and friends. Mike and I typically have a “State of the Union” meeting before I see my doc to make sure that he agrees that what I’m feeling and what he’s seeing jive and that there aren’t things that I’m not noticing that are worth mentioning.
My family, I reassure my mother that I’m okay, but that’s about it. My friends, I have a few that I’m very open with about this as they struggle with the same kinds of things. I used to be very open about it when I was in school. At one or two jobs I was open about it, but now I’m really not. I don’t even think my current immediate boss even knows. I’ve had conversations with people that alluded to things, especially anxiety, but I’ve never had the “hey, I have bipolar” conversation with anyone.
And I don’t feel the need to have that conversation anymore, unless necessary. In all reality, I probably should. When I was in college I felt like I was a kind of mental health ambassador. Proof that people with mental illness weren’t all of the things that the media makes us out to be. But in all reality – aren’t I kind of living that right now?
Currently listening to: The Killers new album – Imploding the Mirage