Living with Bipolar Disorder

Daniella Cressman

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In 2013, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

It felt like a death sentence.

Suddenly, no matter what I said or did, didn’t do or didn’t say, I was crazy.

I couldn’t just be upset, sad, heartbroken, or hurt.

No: I must be having an episode.

If I was falling in love (or thought I was) that could have been a symptom and needed to be taken care of.

If I was upset, I was clearly insane: It had nothing to do with the other person, apparently…

It’s been really challenging to not completely huddle up in a ball and never leave the house because I’ve felt like somehow I’m damaged and subhuman because I have this disorder.

Sometimes, I’ve wanted to kill myself, but I have also worked through it, thanks to my faith, although that has shifted between Buddhism and Christianity over the years.

To make matters worse, whenever I have dug up the courage to see a show, or even attend college after being told I had this illness, I’ve been faced with comments by people who don’t even know I’m struggling with this disorder: They assume I must not have it, otherwise I’d probably be in a mental hospital…

One person basically said as much while performing: Something along the lines of “Haha. The mentally ill are so funny. They’re in an asylum,” and the whole crowd just laughed because they would never understand. It was one of the dudes in the The Clan Tynker circus act at the school I had once attended, and I was having trouble getting back into the world after my manic episode. I was so looking forward to seeing them perform–it was the highlight of my week–and I remember my heart just sinking as the words sank in.

I was too numb to even cry anymore.

Then there were well-meaning loved ones who told me I shouldn’t ever tell anyone except my partner.

Other people thought I should tell every soul in the world.

Apparently, everyone had more of a say on this matter than I did.

There was a partner who said he broke up with me solely because of my mental illness after treating me as though I was a total nutjob because I addressed real issues in the relationship.

There were even professors who thought I must be mentally ill because I liked a certain piece of literature and could appreciate its disorganization.

There was a classmate who made a joke about an angry, arguably hysterical character in a story in English class, saying she must be bipolar.

It even hurt me when people referred to New Mexican weather as bipolar, because that meant they assumed I wasn’t since I was enrolled in school, talking to them, and they thought they could just throw the term around like it was nothing, not realizing how much it hurts people sometimes.

There was a neighbor who said she just treats another neighbor she doesn’t like “like a mentally ill person” clearly meaning that this individual was akin to someone who was subhuman in her eyes.

There were loved ones who made jokes about it because that’s how they coped with “the tragedy of losing who I had once been” as if a part of my identity had been completely lost, without bothering to tell me that they actually accepted me for who I was regardless of the illness.

There were loved ones who told me what medicine I should or should not be taking, based on how I was reacting to them at the time, and used the term “crazy” against me, regardless of what the doctor had ordered.

The shame has enveloped me for so many years, and I have carried it like it was a death sentence, held under lock and key in the deepest layers of my psyche, thinking no one would ever love me–or even like me–if they knew.

I remember the doctor pointing at an image of my brain and saying, “This is abnormal.”

Not different, unique, creative, beautiful in its own way…

Abnormal: There was something broken about it and it could never be fixed.

That’s what he told me.

I’ve spent the years since 2013 trying to escape from this illness, studying holistic book after holistic book, begging to be seen as a human being and an equal again by my peers within my mind, and never feeling like I fully measure up.

Apparently, not accepting it was also hurtful for others, even though they never once told me they accepted that I had it. They only joked about it and told others without my consent.

I tried going vegan, then I tried vegetarianism, then pescetarianism.

I thought that maybe if I worked out enough and ate well enough, it might go away eventually.

I tried following Buddhism, which I apparently wasn’t supposed to in some people’s eyes: It was selfish, people said, and it wasn’t the religion I was supposed to be following.

Christianity was.

I tried working out and meditating.

I lost weight and gained weight: Apparently, I looked unhealthy either way.

Sometimes, people don’t understand how painful it is for a woman to never feel as though she is good enough, no matter what she does.

Sometimes, I have gone back to the wrong men, over and over again.

I have spent too much money or had sex too many times too fast with people I didn’t really know very well.

I have been off of all medication for over a year now, and it’s becoming extremely difficult for me to manage, so I’ll probably go back on it and start asking for the help I genuinely need, beginning to accept my beautiful, unique brain the way it is, without being so ashamed of it.

It’s been so hard, because I don’t want to admit that I have this condition.

Maybe it is a gift, in a weird way, or a blessing in disguise: I used to make jokes about the mentally ill, thinking that somehow the way they acted was a choice. Now, I know that this is far from the truth: I could never understand how out of control a person could be before I experienced a manic episode in 2013.

I never understand the stigma that surrounded it, and the judgement, even from people close to you who didn’t really mean any harm.

I didn’t get how hard it could be when you were just starting to date someone, and they’d only come across people who had bipolar disorder and abused them, so they figured everyone with this condition must be the same way and they judged you for it, sometimes without even knowing you had it too.

I didn’t know I was capable of doing some of the things I’ve done out of desperation, even though I knew they were never right.

I can’t believe I went to two peoples’ houses when they didn’t want to talk to me, or kept chasing countless men who had (often explicitly) stated they were simply not interested in me. Even if they hadn’t said a word, it was obvious they were not my person because they ignored for months or years on end, yet I just kept going.

I didn’t realize I was capable of disrespecting other people and myself so much, begging for someone to tell me I was good enough to be loved because I couldn’t find it in my heart to love myself.

Not after everything I’d done. Not after everything I’d been through. Not after everything I’d been called, and the apparent death sentence I’d been diagnosed with.

I just wanted to be good enough for someone because I wasn’t good enough for myself.

I am going to get back on track now. I’m going to start seeing a counselor and taking medication and seeing a doctor who is actually someone I want to communicate with about these deeply personal issues, because it’s a strength to ask for help, and I deserve the care that I need.

What I will not ever do is feel ashamed.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is not my fault, and, although my brain may be different, I am not going to see it as broken, but as beautifully unique. I like the term neurodivergent, because it implies that some of us are wired differently, but that doesn’t mean we are inferior. It might just mean we are gifted in certain ways and require some extra help on other fronts.

For me, bipolar disorder means that I feel everything and everyone very strongly, for better or for worse, and I can choose to use this as a gift to see other people in a deep way and try to understand them. It also means that I am a very creative person who feels art deeply, and that I’m sometimes a bit more impulsive than other people are, and, as long as I am taking care of myself at my core and doing the best I can to be a good person, I am ultimately enough.

Even though I’ve been racked with guilt over my mistakes for years on end, I will start learning, slowly, to forgive myself.

Then, I will start forgiving others and letting go of everything horrible that happened in the past and, slowly, the trauma in my body will be released.

Finally, I am going to become a clinical psychologist and help other people, while also continuing to help myself.

I had to let go of this secret.

It was eating me alive.

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