WARNING: Some content in this post may invoke graphic visual imagery or emotions. Please do not read anything you are not comfortable with.
The title of this post really identifies where I wanted to go with it. What happens in the difficult time before you are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and what that can make you feel. I wanted to tap into some of the more complex issues that I dealt with as the process before being diagnosed was personally harder for me than actually getting diagnosed. Before I begin, I want to remind everyone that we are all individuals in this life. We will never share the exact same experience in the exact same way. So I ask that readers remember that these experiences and emotions that I was exposed to, these are all mine, just as yours are to you. I’d like us to go on with that in mind and nothing but support for each other.
Almost four years ago I was a pretty average 22 year old woman. I don’t believe I have ever felt ordinary but I was, like most people around me at the time, just trying to get by and figure out where I fit in the world. I had started a Bachelor of Nursing and it was going extremely well, I had been dating my high school sweetheart for six years, and I was living with my somewhat traditional family. I knew from a young age that anxiety and depression were common in my life, but I had never thought of, never even heard of bipolar disorder. At this point in my life, “bipolar disorder” was laying dormant within me, biding its’ time and waiting to explode. But not for long.
It began with heartbreak. My first real love had decided after six years that I wasn’t the one for him, that another girl was. I was 22 and I had never before experienced anything like this. I was given heavy sedation by my doctors to just get me through each day because I became completely non-functional. My family were horrified, they had let him into our home, they had loved him too. Now my family were screaming about rage and betrayal. But one day, maybe 3 weeks after our break up a new thought was entering my brain. Why worry and grieve when I can go out and party with my friends? Who cared about a boyfriend when I could have whatever lover I wanted. And this new thought took over my mind. I went out, I took drugs, I kissed a hundred strangers, I slept with a few more. Dangerous situations, bad choices, I didn’t care. If I wanted to do it then I would do it. And I felt nothing. My brain had found a brand new planet to live in where nothing had consequences and it liked it there. But it didn’t last.
Around four weeks later I was starting to feel bad. Worse and worse until it was the worst I had ever felt in my life. Depression had always been part of me, but this was something new. These were feelings so profound I had no way of controlling them. I begged my doctor to help me, to give me whatever he could, for fear I would not wake up in the morning. My home life was incredibly difficult. My mother and father would scream and fight, sometimes physically. I begged my mother to let me move out, let me live with my friends. I thought a change would help, anything different would help ease this feeling. My mother ransacked me with question after question. Who will you live with? Is it a girl? Is she a lesbian? Why so far away? Question after question until I gave up on the idea and committed myself to my misery.
So now here is where I take a slight curve ball in the story because this is precisely the time when I had swiped right on a guy on Tinder (lets call him Leo). He was a guy I had no expectation of, no dreams of sharing anything with, nothing. He was another number on my list as far as a I knew. But then this guy started talking to me and he started to make sense. He told me moving out is normal. He told me that families are difficult but cutting my father out wouldn’t help that (advice I am forever grateful for). But mostly he just made me feel happy. I felt myself around him, I felt my real smiling coming out to meet him, and suddenly this guy I had known a mere three weeks had become pretty important to me.
Now back to the story. I had been staying on and off with friends at this point as home had left me feeling horrible, invisible and punished. So on one average day I had a date to meet up with Leo. I was sitting in the shops killing some time until my brother rang me. He was furious, disgusted, he was shouting threat after threat at me. He had gone through my computer, read my messages to Leo and demanded I come home. I was enraged, so enraged that I told him I would not come back, that nothing he said could make me come back. I got on a train and I called Leo. Leo was very angry about the message he had received from my brother to bring his sister home. I apologised and I begged him to forgive me. We met up soon after and he told me I had two choices facing me in my life right now. One was to return to my family, to my misery, and never see Leo again. The second choice was to stay with Leo, we would figure out a plan, but I would finally be free to live my own life. I knew what remained for me at home. I had no idea what would happen going forward. I chose to stay with Leo.
So the time came for me to go home to get my things. I had asked a friend to bring a car so I could sort through some stuff. I was met at the door by my brother who told me I had 20 minutes to take my things, that I was being recorded, and after 20 minutes he would call the police for trespassing. I went to the remainder of what was my room. Things, who knew what, were in garbage bags all over the floor. No furniture remained in the room. I asked where my computer was, I was told it was broken (broken after reading my personal messages). I had spent 3 years working on 24,000 jigsaw puzzle and when I asked where it was, I was told it was taken to the rubbish tip (my mother had ripped it apart in her anger). My mother entered the room and yelled at me; how can I do this to her? Can’t I see what I’m putting her through? I said nothing but grabbed the last of my things and left. The next few weeks of my life were a blur, living between couches and on park benches or literally on the grass in the city just for somewhere to sleep. I began planning with my friends and eventually we found a place to live and I found a job in aged care. And things were finally looking up I thought.
Some weeks just before Christmas of 2015 I had visited my family just to see how they were going. I knew I could never just ignore them forever so I payed them a visit. I was on good terms with my father (thank you Leo). I was on okay terms with my mother. My father talked about Christmas, how we would get together and have drinks. And then, because of some reason I don’t even remember anymore, I didn’t go. We had no drinks. I was not there for Christmas. I saw my father once more after the New Year and we parted on good terms. He hugged me and waved as I got into a car and left. He was smiling. And then just a few days later, after a massive stroke, his soul was taken from this Earth. For three days I stayed by my Father’s side while we waited for the inevitable to happen. People came, so many people, they told me not to cry, said he would be fine. My dad’s mother and his sister came. They carried on, screamed, they told me I was the reason he was dying, that I hadn’t loved him and had turned him away. But I didn’t care. I stayed with him, and when the time finally came early on the 9th January at 9am, I held my mother, and I held my father and I watched him leave this Earth. An honour I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
These are some of the most intimate details of my entire life. And sharing them with strangers on the internet is by no means an easy task but they are important. I was 22 years old and completely oblivious to something I had been living with my entire life. But after three very traumatic instances my mind had changed into full blown mania and depression. It might take some more, it might take some less. But after these instances I was lost. I did not know myself, I did not know which way was down from up. I cycled through mania and depression month after month, hitting dangerous highs where I wanted to fling myself off a roof because I believed I could fly, or carving at my body with a kitchen knife because I was so depressed and just wanted a way out.
It took me very, very, long and painful road to realise that I have Bipolar Disorder. The highs are not always easy to notice. You flow through them, with no filter, no voice in your head to tell you wrong from right. And everything you do is wonderful and makes you feel better. I honestly believed when I was manic that I was just getting better. So for a year all I told my doctor was that I was depressed. And then when I finally realised my cycling, it was one month, maybe two, before I had been diagnosed as Bipolar, and I was on the road to treatment. My heart literally breaks for anyone out there who might be feeling these things, and not understanding what is happening. That is why I am sharing so much of myself. I have the knowledge of what this disease can do, what it can feel like, and if I can help even just one person through this horror of a time, all of my words will be worth it.
I will discuss more in another blog about what is actually means once the “big diagnosis” occurs. Because that is a completely different side to things with brand new emotions and questions about how to just get through it. It is scary, of course it is, but there’s no reason that we can’t beat it. And I will leave on a bright note, from the scared 22 year old girl who didn’t understand anything, I am nearly a 26 year old woman who barely even thinks about bipolar disorder anymore unless I really need to. And that I think, is a pretty amazing achievement.
*The contents of the blog are not to be used in lieu of authentic mental health treatment. Please contact an emergency or medical professional if you are having dangerous or harmful thoughts.