The thing that has remained constant throughout my early adulthood; has been the presence of bipolar disorder in my life. My psychiatrist tells me that I am neither I nor II, but that I have an illness on the bipolar spectrum. My twenties have seen five major, incapacitating depressive episodes. This decade has been one of unpredictable, erratic instability. I have been in complete recovery, after over a year of disabling depression, for about three months. This episode was constituted of sudden sadness, suicidal thoughts, 12 hours of sleep and months of medication experimentation.This has been the most stubborn and difficult episode of my life, it was the most trying one. I learned more about myself and my condition than at any other time. I came through it, one hurdle at a time.
The first, and most time consuming, challenge was finding the right combination of mood stabilizers and an antipsychotic. The next was building a support team, the foundation being a weekly support group for people with depression and bipolar disorder. Near the end my recovery, I fought my way to the threshold of being functional again, being able to work once more. After continuing my cognitive therapy that I have been doing for four years, I had one last obstacle: confronting some of the realities of bipolar disorder: inevitability and fear.
This episode had been like the ones before it. I had been taking my cocktail of mood stabilizers, same time everyday, as prescribed. Like before, my depression blindsided me despite adhering to medical treatment. Bipolar depression is a stealthy, moving target . Every time before, when I was knocked down, I eventually got back up, not thinking about future ramifications. This episode put an earnest and paralyzing fear into me. Despite being on the brink of triumph, I still felt as defeated as I had at any point during the depression. This feeling, I had described to both my psychiatrist and my therapist. They did not understand. They could not understand. What was the use of even trying again? This was my paradox. After months of recovery to even be able to derive and fathom this idea, this last test had me battling myself in a self-defeating struggle. The battle over this dilemma between me and myself was in my subconsciousness. In the end, my will to survive and pursue happiness triumphed.
As I close my twenties this year, I can say that the most important thing that I have learned is acceptance. During my past episodes in my twenties, I held to two beliefs: that there is a silver bullet that will end my bipolar disorder and once my episode has stabilized, I could just wish it away. The reality is that bipolar disorder can only be contained. Through habit, routine, maintenance, preparedness, vigilance and mindfulness, Acceptance is acknowledging the inevitability that illness will affect my mood again. I also accept that I am stronger than I have ever been and I have a greater arsenal. More importantly, I have accepted that I am not alone.
In my own shielding belief, guarding me from the truth, I believe in stigma overpowering the realistic, compassionate perception about bipolar disorder that more people have than I even realize. I do not trust many to discuss the condition that I live with. My life has benefited in confiding in acquaintances that become friends, even my partner who I instinctively opened up to within a month of dating her. With caution, I am starting to realize that opening up liberates me from living in the shadows.
The best medicine out there, the medicine my doctor said she can’t prescribe, is love. Without the love and compassion of my family, friends and treatment team; medication would only go far. The episode brought me very close girlfriend. With only compassion as an education, she nurtured me, encouraged me, nursed me and was my co-architect to my recovery. Depression hijacks the mind and soul. The pain is inflicted on one’s sense of worth. In the end the boils down to irrepressible loneliness. Every day it was very apparent to me that I was not alone. Despite all the pain and illusion,it was impossible to succumb.