Trigger warning: mental illness
In a recent discussion with my therapist, I hazarded that this was the stability I’ve been in 10 years — since my depressive episodes began at age 15. When I was a sophomore in high school, I felt a darkness take over me. It began, from what I remember, with trouble sleeping. I would lie awake at night, overcome with anxiety about the minutes passing.
“It’s 11pm…7 hours until you have to wake up…”
“11:30pm… 6 and a half hours left…”
“1am.. GO TO SLEEP.”
And on and on, until I would wake my mother up to tell her I hadn’t slept yet.
I was initially diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder: depressive mood change with the winter season. When I first sought psychiatric help, the end of my sophomore year of college, and an SSRI antidepressant was prescribed to me. For a while, this worked for me, it lifted me out of my depression, and I felt stability. However, in December of that same year, over winter break as a college junior, I made changes to my medication dosage without talking to my doctor. I began to have racing thoughts and to climb the tree of hypomania. As I abused psychoactive cannabis, that tree grew new, twisted, and warped limbs. It is due to my family’s observation and protection that I was prescribed an antipsychotic and survived that climb without hospitalization.
Over the years, that climb has become familiar to me. The excitement, the intoxicating ideas, the forceful pull of creativity, the lessening need for sleep. Eventually, it turns darker, as I leap from the tree into the wild sky of psychosis.
On April 1st of 2019, I had been wandering the beach near the Santa Monica Pier from 9 am until midnight, when the cops found me in my underwear and sports bra in a construction site on the Pacific Coast Highway. I was throwing a shovel at a man who had just sexually assaulted me in the public beach bathroom. I was put in the back of a cop car, as they called my mother, who came to take me to the hospital.
Most of that day and the following days in the psychiatric ward are fuzzy. As the delusion has receded, it’s become hard to understand the events that I lived through. No longer do I possess the mind that went through them. I have found the trauma of psychosis is harder to process and let go of than the assault.
I lived that period in a fictional world. One I believed to be real. I did not understand sanity nor that I had lost touch with it. Over those weeks in the hospital, my body healed. The severe sunburn and dehydration from my near-drowning in the Pacific Ocean were addressed. Months of residential mental health treatment helped me to find stability and renter the present while reacquainting myself with reality. But the trauma? The embarrassment and shame? I left that alone in a deep well in my mind.
This past May, that well began to crumble.
I had been feeling the familiar stirrings of hypomania, but I wrote them off, and I ignored them. And then one night, on my nightly Zoom mediation group, I felt triggered into the trauma of the last time I lost control of my mind. The hyper-activeness of my thoughts brought me back to that day on the beach. I chose to tell my friends about the fear of hypomania and the physical response of trauma in my body. Afterward, I called my psychiatrist and, with no answer, spoke to the psychiatrist on call. I cuddled my dog, and he licked the tears streaming down my face. I slept. In the morning, my doctor took me off of my anti-depressant and caffeine.
The days passed and I felt myself balancing the duality of my Bipolar condition.
I began to regulate myself emotionally and create stability in life. A few weeks later, in therapy, I realized for the first time that I am afraid to tell anyone that I feel happy. When I allow myself to admit that my mood is good, it can only be acknowledged along with the fact that for the last ten years, “good” moods have been a warning sign for what is to come – the race, the climb. It’s clear from my journal entries, the sparse ones from depressions, the wild, colorful ones of hypomania, and the delusional, disturbing ones of mania.
I tell my psychiatrist I feel happy, and her response is something like, “How’s your sleep? Are you getting a full 8 hours?” I tell my mother I feel happy, and her response is something like, “Well, you better keep an eye on it.” Honestly, those responses crush my heart a bit. Then, a bit more, when I realize they’re right.
This has been 10 years of my life so far — the ups and downs, the rollercoaster ride that rarely stops. The fear and the shame. I want to claim now that this is the stability I have been in those 10 years. I do believe that to be true. And yet, some fear is holding me back. While I do feel true moments of happiness, I still have to keep an eye on myself. So I may stay in this reality and not return to that vibrant, delusional world. I want to remain stable.
I want to remain sane.
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