Today was a good day. A positive one. My boss gave me this bendy cat magnet because she found it and thought I would like it. And I do like it. It’s nice when you’re depressed and feel worthless to be reminded that people think about you sometimes.
Then later, I think I impressed my coworkers with all the work I’ve done on our new website. And I kept my attitude in check for the entire meeting.
Then I went to the grocery store.
Then I made dinner. And cleaned up. Cleaned my cat’s litter box. Took out the trash.
I know all of this sounds like, “So what?” Stuff that everyone does every day. But for me this is a really big deal. I’ve found it hard recently just to get up off the couch. So this is progress.
In December of 2013, upon learning that I had Graves Disease and subsequently hyperthyroidism, I was really excited. Because I believed, and my doctor corroborated the possibility, that I wasn’t actually bipolar. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are similar to some of the hypomanic symptoms of bipolar disorder. My doctor halted treatment for bipolar until I was on thyroid medication for several months, and we could see the effect it had. I was thrilled. Because a thyroid problem is not abstract. A thyroid problem is easily defined with a very concrete solution. What if I didn’t have bipolar disorder? What if I was just a normal person with a disease that had an answer?
For most of 2014, I felt amazing. The thyroid medication started to work, all of my physical symptoms went away, and I was completely evened out emotionally. My medication doses were low and I felt okay for the first time in a very long time. For the first time ever, maybe. I felt like a person again. And I thought, “Yes. I am normal. Yes. I am better.”
Then, in May, my roommate informed me about a week after we had turned in our intent to renew our lease that she was probably going to be moving to DC in August but she would let me know for sure by the end of May. Which meant, if she were to move, that I had about 2 months to find a roommate. Turns out, she planned to move. I found out she was definitively moving through her Facebook status. At this point I still thought I had 2 months to find a new roommate or else figure out another plan.
But, our lease didn’t renew in August. It actually renewed July 1st. I got a phone call from my leasing office the beginning of June informing me that because we turned in an intent to renew our lease that if I didn’t find a roommate by July 1st (or if I couldn’t afford the apartment on my own) then we would have to vacate the apartment, and we would be charged the $3000 fee for breaking our lease.
I freaked out. Suddenly, my life was thrown into uncertainty—would I find a roommate, would I have to live with a stranger, could I afford an apartment by myself, what was going to happen?
My parents helped me. They helped me find an apartment (where I now live, by myself). They helped me move. They are helping me pay for it. By all accounts, I am incredibly lucky. But I am so sad. Because I learned that as much as I wanted to believe that I am, I am not normal. I am bipolar.
Unexpected life changes trigger it. And the sudden need to figure out a living situation and then move into that new living situation in a very short amount of time triggered it in me without me even realizing it.
And again, just like the year before, I began to experience a bipolar episode without seeing or acknowledging any of the symptoms. Beginning in May, my behavior started to become erratic. I had no control over my emotions. I would fly off the handle at the slightest thing that might upset me. I would get upset over things that probably weren’t real—how I thought someone was looking at me, if I thought someone was talking about me behind my back. I made up situations in my head that were really just projections of how I saw myself: People at work thought I was stupid, that I was incapable of having a good idea or doing my job well, that no one wanted to be around me, that no one trusted me, that no one liked me, that people were just pretending to like me and then would talk about me behind my back.
I lost any sense of judgment. I talked loudly and got angry easily. I had an attitude, I couldn’t control my facial expressions at meetings, I would have outbursts of frustration that were inappropriate in a work environment. I thought that I was smarter and better than my superiors. I struggled to get to work on time. I often sat at my desk and did nothing but stare out the window or at my phone, feeling incapable of functioning.
And I did all of this without seeing what my behavior was really like.
I didn’t recognize it for what it was until my birthday. I had moved the week before and was incredibly depressed about my new situation. My moods started swinging more rapidly from depression to mania. On my birthday I lost it. I cancelled my birthday dinner, and on the way to the birthday lunch at work I declared that I had to leave and I left right there in the middle of it. Everyone was shocked and I just freaked out and went home. Once I was home, I thought very seriously about suicide. I was upset beyond the point where I thought I could come back from it. And that’s when I knew, obviously, that something was very very wrong.
It took this insane, erratic moment in my behavior (just leaving a work event in a way that was bizarre to everyone around me) to see that I was not okay. I called my mom and said very calmly, “I don’t want to alarm you but I need to be honest with you. I am not okay and I need help.” We talked about possibly checking me into a facility because I was completely out of control, and I even gathered my insurance information (it would have been at least $2000, plus I would have to go on disability), but I had calmed down enough to see the situation for what it was and when that happened I started to feel more in control.
I had been working with my doctor all of July and his solution has been to increase my medication again, though I haven’t been to see him and have only discussed this over the phone. The reality is that I’m still very much not okay. I am okay until suddenly I’m not. Right now, I’m incredibly depressed. The past 2 weeks? Manic.
After my birthday, I stopped being able to sleep. I would lie awake all night thinking about my behavior these past few months and finally seeing things for how they were. I have been wracked with guilt and shame. I’ve been worried about work. I was getting 3 hours of sleep a night, tops. I would go into work really early to get more done. Any time I would finally fall asleep I would jolt awake at the tiniest noise.
Now I just feel really depressed. It comes and goes in terms of getting worse. And I don’t know when this bipolar episode will pass. But worse than that, I don’t know how it will pass. I’m on the medication, I’m taking it like I’m supposed to and it’s not fixing anything. I don’t think I’m getting better. I don’t know what else to do. And I’m alone. I don’t know who I could even talk to about this because I am so fucking ashamed.
I’m ashamed. The saddest fucking part about all of this is that I just am bipolar. Two years ago when my doctor suggested that bipolar meds might help, I never thought I was really bipolar. Even when I asked my doctor outright if I was he just kind of shrugged and said that I might be. I would tell people I was but not really even understand what that meant. I kind of saw it as maybe a more intense version of depression? Even last year when I had my first definable bipolar episode I still didn’t think I was really bipolar—I was just this hypo version of it. And then when I found out about my thyroid, I knew that I was right and I wasn’t actually bipolar.
But I am. I am. It is the worst and most embarrassing part of me. I wish no one knew. It’s so stigmatized and it’s significant enough of a disorder that you have to indicate if you have it when you get your driver’s license. I had to go to HR and disclose it last week just so I could guarantee that I wouldn’t be fired for my behavior. I’m so ashamed and I hate that I have to admit that this is who I am.
I thought that I had a manageable physical disease that could be cured with medication for several years. And I do have that. But I also have a very abstract mental disease with no real answer and no indication when it’s going to come and destroy my life again. Something that I have to deal with for the rest of my life. And it’s torture. I feel so worthless. And disgusting. I hate myself. And I’m scared. I’m scared of my behavior, both manic and depressive. I’ve never felt more alone in my entire life.
I think that I’ll be okay insomuch as I know that I will move past this bipolar episode. I know that it will end. I know because it has happened before. I know that I’ll be fine, probably for a long time. Until something else triggers it. It’s a positive thing that I have hope. But it is tragic in a way that I know, bitterly, that it won’t ever truly end.