I was hesitant to share my story at first, but as some genuinely brave and amazing people have been posting their own stories, I have become inspired to share mine.
I have been clinically depressed since I was about 11. My parents never knew what to do with me, so I was sent from therapist to therapist and I hadn't found one that was a good fit until I was about 16. Imagine being 13 and having to make up some excuse as to why you had to leave your friend's house early or why you couldn't go do some activity because you had to drive 40 minutes away to go see your therapist — it was embarrassing and I thought my problems would never be fixed. It took me years to accept that I had a chemical imbalance that made me mentally ill. I experimented with all kinds of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications and had to mask the side effects in high school and throughout college. Expensive makeup to cover up the notorious Lamictal rash, downing an excessive amount of water daily to relieve dry mouth, unimaginable migraines, not going to class because the meds made me so jittery and shaky that I legitimately could not sit in a desk all day — you name it, and I've probably been there.
And then there was the back-and-forth between trying to find the right dosages of the handful of different medications I had been prescribed over the years — too much of this and I became suicidal, and too much of that and I didn't sleep for days. Trying to find the perfect combination of medications and therapists was something I struggled with for so long that to this day, I am terrified of changing the dosage I am currently on in the event that my body will negatively react.
It was exactly a year ago around this time that I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. As somebody who is in the mental health field and who has heard horror stories of people diagnosed with Bipolar, I was in shock, but at the same time, everything that had been going on in my life in recent years had made complete sense. I had blown hundreds, maybe even close to over one thousand dollars on trying to start up a clothing company (while being a full-time student) with a friend who was a very bad influence on me. I would have weeks where I wouldn't sleep and would feel so overly-productive that I would get major assignments done with before the professor even brought them up in class. I'd drive hours to go meet up with random guys I met on Tinder just so I could feel wanted for a short amount of time through reckless sexual behavior. And then things would change. I'd wake up and not be able to get out of my bed. I'd go to class but couldn't retain one ounce of information. I was highly irritable and genuinely could not stand spending a second of my time with my friends without getting aggravated or dissociating into a state in which I was physically present but mentally on another planet. After class I'd go to my dorm and just sleep until my alarm went off the next morning to do it all over again.
I learned from my psychiatrist at the time that since my medications throughout high school were always fluctuating, the end result was a chemical imbalance that overcompensated for my depression, which in turn made me manic. After learning this, I became obsessed with trying to turn my life around, but I experienced a similar manic episode a few months later in the spring. My family thought I was insane and I was cut off from everything I had — no money, no car, no support. I was convinced my friends hated me, and I actually wanted to be dead. I remember sitting on my kitchen floor for hours in the dark holding various pill bottles in my hand trying to mentally figure out what would kill me, what would just harm me, and what would make me numb. Imagine being at the absolute worst point in your life and consciously knowing that nobody was there to support you and knowing that you had just ruined absolutely every good connection you had because of a manic episode that was beyond your control. Now that I have graduated college and am living in my own apartment hours and hours away from my family and friends, I live everyday in fear that I may experience a manic episode like that again. However, now I have bills to pay, a job to attend, and a landlord I cannot piss off. It'll take just one minor slip up for me to ruin everything I have busted my ass for these past four years in college.
I decided to share my story because the skeletons in your closet never go away, but you can decide when to open and close the closet door. I will always be forced to think back to that manic episode where I lost everything as a result, and even a year later I am still trying to rebuild the bridges I burned during that time. I take my past experiences with Bipolar II disorder and treat them as a lesson that I am still trying to figure out, but know that I've made enough progress where I can learn from my mistakes and know how to prevent making new ones. I know that when I am manic I need to occupy myself with chores and tasks that I need to get done so that I don't go off and put myself in the danger I've put myself in before. No more driving hours away to sketchy neighborhoods I've never even heard of to have sex with guys whose names I don't even know. No more spending hundreds of dollars without knowing that I will get it back or that what I'm spending it on will be put to good use. When I feel depressed, I bust my damn ass to get through the work week so I can have a day during the weekend where I watch Netflix and get all my emotions out in a way that is healthy and not at all harmful to my body. Bipolar Disorder, whether it's I or II, is a serious condition that absolutely needs to be treated properly, and I advocate for mental health education everyday at my job.
Thank you for providing me with a safe space to finally tell the world what I have been dealing with for a great portion of my life.
Written by Jess Sandler