My Roller Coaster of a Life
As a little girl trying to enjoy life in the outdoors, I would stare up at the blue summer sky, gaze at the sun and thought, ‘How beautiful.’ The only problem was, I was not happy while I was doing it; questioning myself why this wonderful summer night did not make me truly happy. The whole thing was bittersweet. When I think back on it now, after being clinically diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder II in 1990 at the age of 29, most of my experiences since childhood seemed to have been coated in a thin veil of gray—everything with an undertone of some degree of sadness. I never dreamed in color. I cried a great deal, especially around the age of 14, perhaps a lot more than is considered normal but also sometimes common among girls in puberty. I believe I was born with a mental illness. In my case, heredity is involved. Some of my relatives on my mother’s side have suffered from mental illness, as well as a neurological weakness: almost all of my mother’s 15 siblings have suffered from Alzheimer Disease, and as the child of such as adult, statistics show that I have a 50% chance of getting Alzheimer Disease myself.
There is a deep contrast between the ways my two parents raised me. My father was critical, physically and emotionally abusive, and alcoholic. My mother was kind, loving and understanding, yet strict. My mother insisted that we all, my parents, brother and sister, and me, sit down together at the dinner table. Never a meal would pass without a bitter argument between my parents and these would always end up with them debasing each other. When I would spill milk at the table, my Father would call me clumsy. You might say that this upbringing might not lead everybody to become mentally ill but after I began aggressive psychological therapy in my early twenties, I remembered a sexually abusive episode in my life when I was a toddler.
I abused alcohol and recreational drugs during my teenage years and into my early adulthood.
I found a relative, sustained level of happiness during my 3 years at college.
My passion is to write. I have been writing poetry on and off since I was 15 years old, and more recently, articles and stories for children. However, I am often afraid to write. It is only when I write a great deal that my depression lifts and happiness welcomes me with open arms.
My hypomanic experiences occur between deep or prolonged depressions and happier, more normal moods. At these times, I sleep little, talk a mile a minute, get myself into debt shopping til I drop, my thoughts race, have distracting auditory hallucinations, and annoying muscle spasms. Quite often during these time periods, I experience hypomania and depression simultaneously. And so, I am in deep anguish and great distress and have terrible headaches and pain in my chest. I have spoken to many people about the pain of mental illness but they find it very difficult to comprehend. My trusted psychiatrist has told me that when you have been diagnosed with a chronic mental illness, it is likely lifelong. Fortunately, though, the severity of the symptoms can lessen with age. This is finally true of me. My depressions are not as deep and manias not as high. My experiences of mental anguish are rare. The recent exception is when I was often depressed when I was undergoing heavy-duty treatments in 2015—chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation—for stage 3 breast cancer which left me without both my breasts. The only way I was able not to fall into the deepest abyss was to summon all of my strength to keep a positive attitude. It was a matter of life or death!
Of the 3 forms of cancer treatments I underwent, radiation was the most psychologically difficult to bare. I went to the hospital 5 days a week for 5 weeks. Compared to the chemotherapy and surgery, the radiation was not that physically debilitating, but I got stuck in a negative self-talk loop. Every day on my way to, and in the hospital, I would say to myself, ‘I’m here because I have cancer. I’m here because I have cancer…have cancer…have cancer.’
I was laid off from my full-time job in the fall of 2016 because of business restructuring and given a 6-month severance. I was happy for the first 2 months, but Christmastime found me in frantic preparation, and then came the January letdown. I was fairly depressed for the first 3 months of 2017. Finally, a job opportunity came my way elevating my mood, then threw me into a hypomanic stage. I am just now getting out of this state; the auditory hallucinations faint in the background.
Finishing writing this story has proved to be very therapeutic for me as I knew it would be. I finally created the time and summoned the courage to do it!
After I have completed writing a newsletter to my friends and family about my dream vacation to Rome in the summer of 2016, my next writing project will be to write an article for publication about the stigma of mental illness in the workplace.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the people of Stigma Fighters.