I struggled from the time I was fourteen to the time I was twenty-two, with something I could not name. Doctors called it a lot of things from depression to allergies, and none of the diagnoses were correct. I felt that I was fighting an invisible demon, who refused to let me go. I suffered torment that no one understood. Very few people noticed, and even fewer people fought alongside me, but those who did are invaluable to my life.
When I was fourteen, my little cousin died. He and I had been raised more like siblings than cousins, and he meant everything to me. Once a “proper” time of grief passed, people stopped asking if I was okay. They assumed life goes on, but it did not for me. While losing my cousin is still the most impactful event in my life, I now know that other forces were at work. I walked down a long and lonely road for years, before someone realized it was not only grief and depression effecting my life, but also the turbulent throws of bipolar disorder. My cousin’s death had been the first of many triggers, driving me into bouts of extreme depression and euphoric mania. Before I understood the disorder, it dominated my life. I was at the mercy of a chemical imbalance, of which I was unaware. It is hard to fight an enemy that you cannot see.
High school brought with it months of depression so severe that I slept more than I was awake. It brought surging highs, where I lost weight and began to feel confident with my appearance. The good feelings that I had gone without so long were addictive, so I starved myself and made myself throw up to be able to lose more weight. The chemical tide would turn, and I would eat obsessively and out of control, because that seemed to block out the agony of depression for just a few minutes. I cut myself, because it relieved some of the pressure. Those who have not been in this position do not understand that pain can be a welcome friend when you have gone months without feeling anything; without the desire to live but still human enough not to take your own life. Alcohol entered the scene, and I found it much more effective at blocking out the pain than overeating had been. It also fueled the Superwoman I thought I was during manic episodes. Mercifully, I kept the resolve to not try illegal drugs, but I put to use any other means that I thought would help. It sounds selfish, and I understand that. I was putting my own feelings above those of my family and loved ones, but I was too blinded by my severe mood swings to see that. My parents encouraged me to go to counseling, but I refused. They did not know how to help me, but they never gave up on me. I believe their prayers are the main reason I am no longer in that place of desperation and enslavement to my own ego.
People at school and church either did not notice, or did not want to get involved. I wanted an adult to ask me what was going on, so badly. I needed someone to talk to, but I was afraid my feelings sounded crazy. Coaches, youth leaders, and other adults were in a place to help, but most of them did not. I am not writing this to attack those people. Outside looking in, I am sure I came across as rebellious and unresponsive. I was numb. Three adults tried to help, in the time between eighth grade and high school graduation. An English teacher, known for being strict about classroom behavior, realized how depressed I was. Rather than laughing at me or antagonizing me for sleeping in class like the other teachers, she chose to not bring attention to it. She told me that as long as I kept my grades up, it was okay. Later, when I received the diagnosis of bipolar, I called her. We met every other week for several months. We had lunch and talked about what the diagnosis meant, and she offered support and encouragement. My pastor also noticed. I think he saw the problem as grief. He understood how close I had been to my cousin, and he offered me books on grief and tried to talk to me about what I was going through, but I refused. Even though he did not fix my problem, I hope he realizes how thankful I am that he was among the few who noticed there was a problem. The last adult, who was not a family member and noticed that I had a problem, was my high school principle. He called me into his office one day, and commenced to telling me how badly I was hurting my parents and what poor decisions I was making. Maybe that does not sound like support, but I will always respect him for doing that. He did not have a solution for me either, but he cared enough to notice that I was not myself.
I married young, and my husband quickly found out he had more on his hands than he had bargained for, but he never left me. He stood by my side with my parents, wanting to help, and not knowing how. He suffered through my poor decisions and periods of mania, when I would largely ignore him. He was honest with the doctors, when I refused to tell them what was going on, and he endured my scorn for doing so. One of my closest confidants was my aunt, the mother of my cousin who died. She did not understand bipolar, but she understood grief and depression. Many nights, I called her and came over. She made coffee and just listened to my pain.
After finally getting a correct diagnosis, and the medication and help I needed, I realized what a magnificent support system I had. Without the people I have written about, I would still be in a very dark place. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I came out the other side, and these people have my eternal gratitude for never giving up on me.
Amanda Ross is a twenty-eight year old wife and mother. She suffered with the symptoms of bipolar disorder from the age of fourteen, but was not diagnosed until age twenty-two. Amanda’s symptom’s are now well-managed. She works at her son’s school and is enrolled at Point University, in West Point, Georgia. Amanda is pursuing her degree in Human Relations, and hopes to use her talent as a writer to help others who face similar struggles to her own.