If you’ve been unfortunate enough to follow my mental health misadventures via snapchat or in person, you know I have a tendency to ironize most of what’s been happening. The recent developments have been all consuming to say the very least, so perhaps I do it in an effort to minimize its magnitude for me and for my friends because god knows listening to your friend say she feels like her loved ones are obligating her to stay alive is less frightening when accompanied by a giggle. Or maybe that just makes me seem even more maniacal. I don’t really know.
All this ironic detachment creates a tendency in me to throw around the word “crazy” a lot in reference to my bipolar disorder (especially with the hypomania) and my OCD (especially with the compulsions I can’t hide). For someone so concerned with political correctness, I certainly don’t apply that when referencing myself. But in the spirit of the very feminist Bitch Magazine, maybe I’m simply trying to reclaim the word.
In the face of new medication, new methods of therapy, and new requests for schoolwork extensions, I am finally coming to terms with just how deeply mental illness has permeated these last four years of my life. It’s terrifying to think of myself as actually sick as opposed to simply being a disillusioned brat or worrywart. The word “crazy” carries a certain level of comfort for me by sheer virtue of its political incorrectness.
Having to sift through the past four years looking for signs of bipolar disorder other than my most recent hypomanic episode also forced me to come to terms with the fact that even when I thought I was “better,” I was actually just hypo. From the high of my first semester of college to the low of my second to the high of that summer to the low of my entire second year to the dysphoria and low of my entire third year to the extreme high and extreme low of this semester, it’s scary to realize how increasingly out-of-control things were getting.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of all this, however, is my ability to maintain a relatively high level of functioning throughout – rather, a façade of a relatively high level of functioning. My grades, suicidal ruminations, and increasing dependence on alcohol to have fun said otherwise, but in a college environment, bad grades, existential dread, and alcoholism are run-of the-mill. Somehow, I just knew other people were juggling these things much better than I was though.
When I was high, I drank to black out. I cut myself out of sheer agitation. I was obsessed with attention from the opposite sex in a way that was borderline creepy. I talked insincerely and endlessly about my interests. My handwriting changed (all-caps). My poetry became erratic. I didn’t sleep. I wanted to hang out with friends at 3 am. I spent a lot of money on frivolous stuff even though I normally eschew materialism. I thought I was above schoolwork. I thought I was above everyone, really, despite the social rejection I was experiencing.
When I was low, the sheer weight of my hypomanic obnoxiousness fell onto me. I knew I had isolated people, and I knew I was largely alone because of it. I ate too much. I stared at walls, paralyzed by anxiety. I felt like I had a fever all the time. I couldn’t form complete thoughts, much less do schoolwork. I was generally sluggish. I stopped hanging out altogether with the friends I did have. I spent many nights curled in my bed praying (even after I de-converted from faith) to not wake up, and I’m not saying that to turn this into a sob story. I just think it’s time we stop ignoring the taboo aspects of mental illness. Those are typically the most important and dire ones, after all.
And here I am today still completely absorbed by the mental illness I am desperately trying to get under control. In a way, I would be lying if I didn’t see it as part of my identity. It’s consumed so much of me and so much of my interactions with others that, at this point, I don’t know who I’d be without it. And I’m not entirely sure that matters. Trying to disentangle my stable self from my other selves is possibly missing the point. I am me when I’m stable, but I’m also me when I’m hypo or depressed. There are undoubtedly parts of those selves that I hate, but I will never stop being mentally ill. I can only do what neuro-typical people do: try to mitigate the damage caused by my undesirable behaviors and characteristics.
In the mean time, I think the reason for the humor with which I try to coat my bipolar disorder and OCD is twofold: 1) I feel the need to apologize for the fact that it dominates my life and my conversation with others and 2) I’m scared of all this treatment entails.
Going from complete – albeit irrational – refusal to take SSRIs to willingness to try mood stabilizers finally made me see that yes, I am that bad. And that’s okay. But it also made me realize something scarier: I finally thought I had nothing left to lose. Suddenly, the side effects – even the terrifying ones – didn’t matter. I either wanted to get better or stop existing. Choosing the former option in that ultimatum honestly had a lot to do with the devastation I knew the latter would cause my family. If you have no experience with mental illness, I’m sure that sounds next level morbid, but especially for the depressed, suicidal ideation is mundane enough to desensitize us to that morbidity. And again, we need to fucking talk about the prevalence of these “taboo” and “not-appropriate-for-the-dinner-table” thoughts and actions. I won’t sugarcoat my experiences. It does researchers, mental health activists, and those who suffer from mental health conditions a disservice.
That being said, the alarming nature of life with mental illness is put into perspective when I constantly remind myself that it is just that: an illness. Sure, I may be naturally subdued and introverted, but it is my illness that propels me into more extreme states of mind, not me. Aside from doing what I can medication- and therapy-wise, I am largely out-of-control. That’s comforting especially when considering the guilt with which depressive thoughts imbue me. My mental illness is the only real reason for a lot of my words and actions, but that does not mean it isn’t also my responsibility to deal with the repercussions of my words and actions and more so, to minimize the chance they will occur in the first place.
So when I call myself “crazy,” it isn’t to undermine the seriousness of what I’m dealing with (and everyone else suffering from mental health conditions for that matter). I am simply trying to make light of a shitty situation because trust me when I say you don’t want to see me in a spontaneous breakdown like the ones I’ve been having in front of my professors. Sorry if my approach comes across as less reassuring and more as the following: