Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
I’ve talked a little bit about my mental illness on here, but I think I’ll take this opportunity to go into more details about it. I started off as Bipolar I (with psychotic features) and then was “upgraded” to Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Type.
For those of you who might not know what that means, it means that I have previously exhibited some elements of schizophrenia; paranoia, “loose organizations”, delusions, hallucinations, flat affect, etc. but don’t fit the criteria for straight up schizophrenia. Also, the “bipolar type” at the end indicates that in addition to my schizophrenia-like symptoms I have a co-existing mood disorder, in this case “bipolar.”
The word bipolar, can be broken into bi, which means it “can be divided into two parts”, and polar which is the root word in polarity. Basically it just means that my mood is prone to cycling between two “poles” or extremes. The first is mania, which, may be characterized by abnormally high energy levels, decreased need for sleep, exaggerated self-esteem, pressured speech, hypersexuality and in some cases bouts of rage or irritability. The second polarity is depression, which may be characterized (as many know) by hopelessness, apathy, sluggish or impaired movement, hyposomnia or hypersomnia (changes in sleep patterns), sadness, lack of interest in things once enjoyed, and suicidal ideations.
I was first diagnosed with a mental illness almost eight years ago. My first manic “episode” happened a few months after the death of my brother, but I’m not sure if that was a factor in the bipolar onset. I had already had mental struggles- mostly depression- but the mania was a new animal entirely. I barely slept at all, and became obssessed with trying to become a musical star. I was paranoid and thought people were watching me. I talked to shadows and said and did random things, including attempting to run away from home more than once.
I was eventually hospitalized, but when they gave me medicine I threw it in the top of my closet when I got home, because I was still manic and didn’t take the whole thing seriously. I was hospitalized again a week later and stayed a month. The second time gave me a sense that maybe I should listen and take the medication, and so I did.
For the next four and a half years I would be on and off medication and in and out of hospitals. During the course of that time I have heard so many explanations for why I was sick and so many opinions on what I should do about it. My dad’s opinion was that I was being punished by God for my rebellion against him and my mother and other times that I was being challenged by God to believe for a miracle. Both my parents believed that God was going to eventually use me to “minister to hurting people” and this was part of my calling.
It’s been about four years since I’ve been last hospitalized. I attribute this success to a combination of utilizing coping skills, working with therapists and caseworkers, and most importantly, being stable on my medication. I think I mentioned that once in 2012 I stopped taking my medication and tried to believe that God had healed me, with unsatisfactory results. Since that failure I have been completely med compliant, apart from a brief time when I almost listened to my dad yet again and discontinued the medication. (A week without it was enough to know I was making a mistake!)
For anyone who has a family member suffering from mental illness, or works with the mentally ill, or maybe suffers from a mental illness themselves, you know the amazing strain it can put upon the individual and the loved ones. I did and said horrible things when I was in the midst of my struggle, and even if I hadn’t deliberately harmed anyone but myself, the heartache of my immediate family who had to see me in such a state would’ve remained a terrible blow.
For those who are recovering from religion and mental illness, you may have been a part of a religious sect that discouraged the use of medication, or blamed you somehow for getting sick. Or even if they didn’t blame you, people who often urge you to believe God for your healing, or, to accept your sickness as some sort of plan God has for your life. If you want to do that, I’m not condemning you (or them). On the other hand, if these sort of admonitions or rationalizations make you uncomfortable, I would like you to know that I know how you feel.
To be honest, there is a part of me that still credits God with being a part of my recovery. Even as I struggle to pray- or alternatively, not- to that formless being “He” has now become in my mind, I feel somehow that I “owe” it to Him to be grateful for unusual, extraordinary progress being made in my life. If anything seems amazing, or miraculous, the natural human inclination is to want to somehow express a certain depth of gratitude to a higher power for it. (We say “Thank God” sometimes when we don’t even mean “thank God”.)
Truthfully, the meds don’t work for everyone and they have a variety of side effects that may make them undesirable. Sometimes it feels like you have to choose between being “happy” or being “fat”, between being “alert” or being “sane”, or between the health of your physical body or the health of your mind. Not everyone makes progress when they go to therapy. Not everyone becomes well enough to be financially independent. In other words, not everyone is a “success” who struggles with mental illness.
So when I say I’m doing well, I speak tentatively and soberly. I’m well aware that I could’ve easily fallen by the wayside or just been trapped in my own delusions. I could’ve, to this very day, continued to cycle between depression and mania and in and out of hospitals. Fortunately for me, I was able to find medications that worked- and they still have to be tweaked from time to time- an amazing therapist, and great case workers.
There was a song that we were singing in worship last time.
You don’t give your heart in pieces / You don’t hide yourself to tease us
I’ll be honest, I did end up belting that out with everyone else. It was powerful, it was a declaration of a higher power that cared and didn’t communicate with us through veiled messages and abstract experiences. Even though I’m not sure if that power is real, it’s at least comforting right now to think so.
I will probably never know why I ended up diagnosed with a mental illness. I don’t believe there is a cure, either. Please note that when I say there isn’t a cure, I speak from a personal standpoint and cannot judge the experiences of anyone who says that they have indeed recovered fully from their illness. I don’t know if my illness is “serving a higher purpose.” All I know is that I have to do everything I can to keep it under control. I feel like that’s my responsibility, and as long as I do that, whatever power there is that’s out there to help, will.