I majored in psychology, for a year or two at least, in college so I took plenty of psychology classes back in the early 90s. I remember taking one class in particular. It was called “Abnormal Psychology”. I remember learning about bipolar disorder and thinking, wait, other people don’t feel this way? Other, “normal”, people don’t have these “symptoms”? The descriptions of bipolar disorder seemed so normal and ordinary to me that I was surprised I was learning about it in an “abnormal psych” class.
I also remember a time, also when I was in college, a period of deep, deep depression. I did not know enough back then, when I was a kid, to know that this was not normal and that I should seek help. I was in bed for months, in between classes, and I was suicidal. Luckily, I did not act upon my desires to not be alive any more. After a period of about two months, the depression finally lifted and I was back to my regular activities.
Time went by, and then, when I was roughly 34, about ten years ago, we went on a family cruise to the Caribbean. At that time, we had three children (we now have four) and they were still pretty young. When we arrived home after that cruise, I immediately entered what I now recognize as a deep depression. I just stared and stared at our pictures of the kids from the cruise and their sweet faces made me cry and cry. I was obsessed with the thought of them growing up and I wanted so much for that not to happen. I cried and cried for days on end. I remember reaching out to my aunt, who has three grown children, and asking her if she ever experienced such sadness at the thought of her kids growing up. She basically said no, that she has enjoyed all of the phases of life that her kids have gone through growing up. I began to realize that I should seek help for my depression.
Finally, I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist, who immediately put me on an antidepressant. However, at that time I was concerned about bipolar disorder because I had read a lot about it and all the symptoms seemed so ordinary and normal to me. Doesn’t everyone feel this way? I told the doctor I suspected bipolar disorder, and she told me that after a month or so of being on an antidepressant, the bipolar, if indeed I had it, would reveal itself.
Well it did. In a big way. After a couple months, I entered a very scary manic episode. I’m not positive that I was psychotic, but if I wasn’t, I was close. I was very jittery, shaking all over, like I had 20 cups of coffee in me. I felt outside of my body, like I was afraid of what I would do at any moment, as if I had no control over my body. I kept pacing and pacing, going back and forth and peering out the windows, for whatever reason. I called my best friend at the time and told her to come over immediately. She had to call my doctor because I couldn’t do it myself. She took care of my kids, called my mom to come watch them, and took me right to a psychiatric hospital. I was there for one week and while I was there I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. Two years later, I became very depressed and suicidal and spent another week in the hospital.
The past ten years have been a constant process of learning about mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in particular. It has also been ten years of “which meds work?” I’ve tried everything! I have finally become relatively stable, for a couple years now, on what seems to be a working combination, for now, at least. I spend a lot of time going through rapid-cycling moods and considerable time being mildly depressed, with lethargy, loss of interest, and body aches. I have some nights when I desperately want to go to sleep and never wake up or just sleep for a week, but those are pretty random and it is more like a fleeting thought and not necessarily a suicidal thought, if that makes sense. I have not had a full-blown manic episode or a deep depression for probably six or seven years now. I consider myself a “high-functioning” person who happens to have bipolar disorder. I deal with it quite well, actually. In fact, sometimes I see it as a blessing. Sometimes a curse, sometimes a blessing. I am highly creative and intelligent and I happen to be a pretty decent mother to four children.
I also feel very strongly about speaking out about mental health issues. I have spent years writing about myself and my experiences and also researching and writing about mental illnesses in order to educate people and just increase talk about mental health in general. I recently started up a new blog with a friend of mine who has a grown son with bipolar disorder and I am very excited about this new project we call “It’s All Cerebral”.
Meridith is a married mother of four children, ages 18, 15, 12, and 4. She is a teacher and graduated from LSU in 1996. She spends much of her time blogging about mental health issues.