Sorry for this being a day late. This post has been difficult to write, and has the distinction of being the only post on here that I did not write in one sitting. Aside from writing it, the decision whether to post this was a hard one, as I know it will make people I know worry about me. Please don’t. I’ve been managing so far, and there’s no reason to believe that I won’t continue to be okay.
I have had a list of diagnoses for the past six years of my life. Obviously that length of time is nothing to a lot of people, but for me, at twenty, it encompasses most of what I remember about my life. Actually, I have large gaps in my memory, so I don’t even remember most of that. If you ask me about the past two years, I’ll probably remember it, but before that there are just snippets. Most of those make me hope nothing ever comes back. I also don’t remember much of February through May, so if I started talking to you beyond pleasantries and became friends with you then, if I tell you the same stories or forget things about you, I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure I was paying attention when it came up the first time.
One thing I do remember from before six years ago is sitting on the floor of the living room with a new issue of Time looking at the cover story about children with bipolar disorder and wondering what it was like to have it. Now it seems like everyone wants me not just to idly imagine, but strive for, life without it. I mean, they don’t say it that way because that would be stupid. You don’t “cure” bipolar disorder.
I’ve said before that I’m not on medication by choice. It works for me. Bipolar disorder generally manifests in cycles and I’ve been pretty aware of when I need to pay closer attention to my moods. This year was different. My least functional time occurred in the spring, as usual, but the intensity of everything was turned up to eleven. As far as anyone can tell so far, it’s probably stress exacerbating it. I started talking to doctors about a month and a half ago. In one appointment, I was asked “Why didn’t you talk to anyone in November, when you first became aware of problems?” I didn’t really answer the question, but it’s because the good reasons to have never outweighed the bad. Ever.
I remember as a teenager being under constant surveillance, ultimately not having a say in my treatment, and most of all, people’s comments. A lot of people didn’t even try to hide that they thought I had no future, that I was a burden on my parents, but the most egregious was from a therapist I was seeing when I was 18. I wasn’t having real problems, just trying to figure out what I was doing with myself over a gap year. I’d seen her before, so she knew my history. She thought I was doing great until I came in having decided to go back to uni. There was an instant switch and she told me I was just going to end up on disability anyways so I shouldn’t take out the loans or go anywhere far away from my parents. I always tell the story about her in outraged tones, but honestly it’s hard to feel shocked by it. It’s more of what I’ve been hearing since I was fourteen, just stated more bluntly. It’s the microaggressions, the constant reminders that my brain is different, that there is something “wrong” with me. I know most of you don’t consciously think of me as being broken or different or any of those things, but when you make comments about how my brain is “interesting,” that I’m just sick, that bipolar disorder or any other of those diagnoses I have is just an affliction, well, it hurts.
Because they’re not these monsters in my brain. They’re part of who I am. Try and separate me from them, and unless you’re related to me, you probably wouldn’t know me. If I had no anxiety, I might be better at social situations, and I might have grown up with more friends I’d originally met in person. If I hadn’t been hospitalised I might have stayed more in touch with the ones I did meet in person, and I probably wouldn’t have gone to uni when I was sixteen. The music I compose would be different, or maybe I wouldn’t compose, because the albums that inspired me meant so much because the feelings that connected me to them would be different. Because of everything that happened as a teenager, I have felt a constant need to leave the country, get as far away from where I grew up as possible. And I did. I feel better outside America. How can these diagnoses not be who I am if they have visibly affected the last six years of my life to the point where I live in a different country?
But still, whenever I bring up a problem remotely related to my mental health, whenever I feel suicidal, or like self-harming, if I tell anyone, the first response is always “See a doctor,” or “take this pill.” When I consider telling anyone anything, I am risking losing the trust and support of everyone around me. People tend to either pull away or get too close when mental health issues come up. I stop being someone who can take care of myself and become someone fragile, someone who needs to be watched.
This doesn’t have to be the response. A few months ago, I came off of a manic episode during which I had cut. I went and knocked on the door of someone I didn’t know all that well. We’d been friendly all that year, but we never specifically hung out together. He was just the closest person I knew who I felt sort of comfortable going to. So I pretty much came into his room crying, and he didn’t suggest I should be medicated or anything. We went for a walk. We bought some frozen pizza for later. That was all he needed to do in the situation to make me think “this is someone awesome who I should make an effort to stay friends with.” Really, I don’t need advice if I bring this stuff up. I don’t need you to tell me things about bipolar disorder or feeling suicidal. Trust me, I know it already. Just be around.
Really, I won’t break.