My struggle with bipolar disorder truly began in 2010, when I voluntarily admitted myself to a Lincoln, Neb. psych ward. I had experienced symptoms since my early teens and possibly for years before, even though my family and I didn't know it at the time. But if I had to pinpoint a place where this journey began, it'd be on an April night, just after 9 p.m. when, alone in my dorm room, I had an incredibly severe manic episode in which I pulled out pieces of my hair, slapped my thighs so hard they ached, and convulsed in a sobbing mess on the floor. So overstimulated with emotion, I blacked out for part of it.
“I thought, what if there is someone out there who is going through the same things I had and couldn't understand it?
When I came to I realized that if I didn't call someone, I wouldn’t make it through the night. So I called my father, my friend Josh, and David (my future husband, whom I was dating at the time), and I asked them to take me to the hospital. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and given medication, but I hated the side effects. I quit taking it a few weeks later, after David and I (now engaged to be married) moved from Nebraska to Los Angeles to begin our new life and new jobs. I didn't give my bipolar a second thought, thinking it would just go away as long as I ignored it.
Jump forward more than two-and-a-half years, and there I was, married to an amazing man, doing the career I'd always dreamed of doing and living a happy and blessed life. Not a day went by where I didn't cherish what I had, but left untreated and un-medicated, my bipolar was an uncontrolled force that wasn't as easily ignored as it had been before.
A movie was constantly playing inside my head; a reel ran that never reached the credits. For years, I'd been able to pause it, but at this point I couldn't even turn the volume down. At first, it was a glimpse of myself getting angry and yelling at someone who really didn't do anything wrong. But from there, it would grow and suddenly I would be screaming and lashing my hands out in hopes of breaking something so that I wouldn't have to. But above it all, a very logical voice in my head whispered, “You know, you're supposed to kill yourself. It's the only way your story is supposed to end.”
The line between reality and fiction would start to blur so I would have to jerk myself out of the haze. Then, my eyes would refocus and I'd notice that only seconds had passed and the rest of the world was none the wiser. I would remind myself I had to keep control because if I lost it like I envisioned myself doing, people would look at me with fear and whisper behind my back about how I'm crazy, and I couldn't think of anything more terrifying than that. So I'd push away the thoughts until they were scratching behind my eyes and I'd keep them there until I was alone.
Through all of it, my husband would hold me for hours, making sure our hands were intertwined so I couldn't hit myself again. He would tell me that these dark, so called crazy thoughts—broken speech and words of “kill myself” and “stupid” and “unfair”—were okay and that I didn't have to keep them to myself. “Your pain is my pain, and I will never give up on you or stop loving you,” he'd say. Then I'd push at him to get away from me and he'd just hold on tighter and say it again.
David and I married young—he was 23 and I was just 22—and we'd been married barely a year when my mania was at its worst. Anyone who loves someone living with a mental illness is well aware of how difficult it is to watch them suffer, of being incapable of fully comprehending what they're going through and of being on the receiving end of the very unpredictable, scary symptoms that can come along with these illnesses. David could have quit at any time, but he didn't. He could have heard me scream, “Stay away from me!” and could've said, “OK,” but he didn't.
Instead, with the same light and humor David approaches all aspects of life, he began dubbing my bipolar episodes as “Hulking Out,” a reference to the Marvel comic book character the Hulk. He noticed that a certain video game helped calm my mind when it started racing, so he'd sit and play with me for hours, even if he really wanted to do other things. Most of all, he never ceased to show me love and patience, and he may argue that he's the lucky one, but it's not true. I'm lucky to have an amazing friend, and I'm even luckier to call him my husband. It was through his encouragement, and that of my counselor and my closest friends, that I sought medical help. The difference that mediation and cognitive therapy has made is too outstanding to put into a single sentence.
As I healed, I decided I wanted to make a video talking about my experiences with bipolar but I could never find the right combination of words to convey what I wanted to say. Then, I thought, what if there is someone out there who is going through the same things I had and couldn't understand it? What if they were ashamed and hateful of themselves because we live in a world that takes anything it doesn't understand and labels it as crazy? What if someone believed this disease was their fault or that they were alone with their battle and wanted to take their own life because of it?
After a grueling 5 hours of tears and struggling to speak, I laid everything out for the world to see and refused to keep anything secret because if there was someone watching who was like me, I thought, I could help them.
There was one specific comment though, which made me stop and stare at my screen. The comment read, “Just to let you know, you have helped me. I have had three years of depression and PTSD, I haven't been to school for a year, and just before I clicked on this I was typing up my suicide note. I'm 15 and you have basically saved my life, to know that someone can come through all this and be as awesome as you are. Thank you.”
Upon sharing every harsh reality I had faced, I found a certain freedom from shame and from fear that I had never experienced before, and it's a truly magnificent feeling.
Part of my healing process was also aided by the NAMI website, through which I was able to educate myself about bipolar disorder. I encourage others with mental illness to do the same. When we educate ourselves, the unknown becomes known and the fear is reduced. NAMI is a wonderful resource that can help reduce this fear. And when I asked myself what more I could do to help others and give back to this organization that helped me, I decided to take part in the NAMIWalk here in Los Angeles. To my awe and disbelief, my family, friends and YouTube viewers raised my donation goal in less than 24 hours. Some of these donors were people I'd never met, people whose names I didn't recognize and faces I didn't know. People from all over the world whose generosity will change lives, and they asked for nothing in return.
Iyanla Vanzant said, “When you stand and share you story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else.” So may we stand as those who live with mental illnesse and as those who love another with a mental illness, and encourage this world to understand what they dismiss as “madness.” Let us use the darkness that's been dealt to us to illuminate the treacherous path for those who struggle in silence and fear, so that they may continue the cycle of hope that accompanies the most beautiful reminder we will ever know: We are not alone.
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