We (the momma and I) have decided to make February a month of sharing stories to fight stigma. So, along with our newly posted video on YouTube we are going to start sharing our stories and learnings on our blogs, starting conversations about it on our Facebook and Myspace sites, and commenting on it on our Twitter page. So, visit us, chat with us, and learn with us. And without further adieu, here is my story...
There was a moment in my life when I almost drowned.
Living in the largest dorm in the country with three best friends, experiencing my first serious college boyfriend, living the perfect life of a well-off artsy college kid, I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better. That is, until I turned my back to the ocean and was swiftly and dramatically pulled in by the undertow.
One moment I was there and one moment I wasn’t. It was as if I had suddenly had my brain replaced by someone weaker, angrier, sadder. I didn’t know where I was or what I had set out to do anymore. I couldn’t understand what went wrong. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly seeing pools of blood every time I closed my eyes.
It was a dramatic and intense case of depression. I stopped eating. I broke up with the man who was, at that time, the love of my life. I stopped leaving my room. I stopped all contact with the world, and whether I pretended I was there or not, my eyes were empty.
This went on for several weeks. Floating around Chicago, the city that I had worked so hard to get to. To me this went on for a lifetime. I floated out to sea.
Then my boyfriend, who was now just a friend-friend, called my parents. He called, and just as swiftly as I was pulled under, I was pulled out.
My dad arrived from Seattle no less then ten hours after he was called. My life, my room, and my thoughts were packed up and shipped out. Flown back to Seattle and, in my mind, never to return.
Nothing could have been more painful. Nothing could have been more dramatic to me at that point and place in my life. Nineteen years old and suddenly I was forced to leave my friends, my life, my freedom and everything that I had built within the last two years of hard-earned independence.
I arrived home tired, cold, and wet, water still in my lungs.
The next couple of years moved from an undertow to a tsunami. My mind moved quickly from a simple depression to a devastating suicidal obsession. Looking back I am amazed I am even here to tell my story.
In the next year and a half I spent time in hospitals for suicide prevention and for overdose recovery. I spent time in apartments, manic and drugged and depressed and dangerous. I spent so many hours feeling completely out of control of my mind and so many hours trying to fight against it with every form of self-medication and self-harm I could find that I am amazed I have the ability to form thoughts or press my fingers to these keys.
It took me a long time to come to terms with what was happening. After having a “wait and see” diagnosis of bipolar disorder II at nineteen I spent many, many months fighting the label and implications before I finally received my final, “for sure” diagnosis of plain old bipolar I. My months and years of fighting only made things worse and it took me a long time before I realized that if I was good to myself and my body, my bipolar would be good to me. Who knew stimulants could make you manic or alcohol could make you devastatingly depressed!
Once I finally gave in and decided to change my life things began to turn around again. Though it took lots of self-care and finding the right doctors, counselors, and meds, my stability allowed me to live the life I had always dreamed of living. My stability was more then just taking care of myself and finding the right help however, it was also my amazing luck to have the opportunities and support network I do. It was this fact that inspired me to begin to make a difference in the mental health world.
Having spent time in the worst psych units with the saddest cases I realized that things must change. I realized that people need to talk about these things. People needed to be able to talk about their thoughts, lives, and feelings. We need to be able to share our stories.
So…here I am today, graduating, speaking at conferences, in classrooms and auditoriums, writing and collaborating with mental health and education professionals, working with amazing mental health organizations, writing a book. Through my experiences I have realized that I needed to make a difference, and through my opportunities I have hopefully begun to do so. I am so excited and pleased that I have the opportunity to make the differences that I am seeing.
Today I have found my way back to dry land where I can finally stand on firm ground, and it is here that I will help others do the same.
(This picture was taken when I was 20. I look a little different now that I finally take showers and have let my natural hair color grow back.)