About six months ago, after a very rough several years of trauma, I suddenly felt as if I would never be able to leave my house. Curtains drawn, lights off, sitting on the sofa feeling sheer panic and fear of the unknown, I decided it was time to see a psychiatrist. I had been to counselors before. I sat on the couches and cried on some days and made them laugh on others. They were all won over by my charming and self-deprecating way of relating to others. I would never think to let them see the darkness. I would share my bad days and splash around in the shallow end of feelings, desires, regrets, and the struggle of interpersonal relationships.
I knew the murky depths of my inner struggle plunged miles beneath the surface of my shallow exterior. I had no idea what was “wrong” with me, but I knew I felt crazy sometimes. I knew I struggled with an eating disorder. I knew that I vacillated between high-energetic productivity and periods of thousand pound lethargy. There were times I could not will myself out of bed or off the couch. I told myself I was a lazy, worthless, piece of shit. During especially inspired periods I would buy everything I needed for 100 different projects. All of those projects were left sitting incomplete and another glaring example of how disappointing I was.
I have been a chameleon my whole life. Since as far back as I can remember, my personality would shift from overly confident to hopelessly insecure. At times I knew everybody loved me, was jealous of me, wanted to be me and then without warning I knew without a doubt that everyone hated me, thought nothing of me, and would be happy if I disappeared. I’ve been a martyr, a hero, drama queen, social butterfly, wall flower, religious freak, rebel, gay, straight, bisexual, a vixen, a prude, a child, a victim, quiet, loud…the list goes on. Who am I? Do I know?
During conversations with therapists, or while checking out self-help books from the library, I wrote these varied shifts in personality off as quirky. A mental health diagnosis was not on my radar. I didn’t associate mood with productivity. I didn’t think about moods at all. I didn’t like myself or know myself very well. I was just who I was.
Until six months ago. I was having regular panic attacks. I felt afraid of everything. I was seriously planning ways to “accidentally” hurt myself. I knew that I had a history of childhood trauma. I figured that was the issue. I scheduled an appointment with a counselor and a med manager and committed to diving into the deep end and sorting these things out.
After several conversations and several trials of meds, one which sent me into a spinning full-blown manic episode, my psychiatrist very apologetically diagnosed me bipolar. “In addition to PTSD and agoraphobia, I am adding diagnosis of a mood disorder. Have you heard of bipolar?” She immediately changed my course of treatment and the type of meds I would take. Why was she so hesitant to share this diagnosis with me? How bad is this? Why do I feel ashamed? I don’t like ambiguity. What is a mood disorder? There were too many unanswered questions. So I hit the library and checked out 25 books and various audio recordings about mood disorders, manic depression, and living with bipolar (which I’m told is a very bipolar thing to do.)