Last semester was a complete and utter shitshow from start to finish. Hypomanic binge drinking myself right into the most severe depressive episode of my life was a wake up call for me as well as for everyone I know. After three weeks of nothingness (Christmas break), I have returned to my “normal” – a mild, steady low. I’m on a medication for bipolar disorder and I will soon supplement that with one for OCD, but let me tell you, emerging from the fugue that is being actively suicidal is strange. More people have seen me break down than ever – than I would normally allow. I’m working on recovering some of that dignity while trying to cut myself some slack, but I still fear another upswing, and that leads to losing my dignity in a whole new way.
So regaining some control over my illnesses has taught me a few things. Whether or not they’re useful is up for debate, but here they are anyway.
1. People want to help you: This is the most difficult lesson by far for me to internalize. I still haven’t gotten there, but objectively, I see it. I am terrified of being pitied or feared (as I’ve mentioned before), but I’ve come to realize that people are concerned and they don’t really know how to show it when I’m throwing things like “I truly resent being born” at them. Sometimes, I overshare, and I think any rejection I felt as a result of this was partially self-induced out of mortification and partially other people’s uncertainty of how to appropriately respond.
2. You aren’t going to want to be helped: Everyone’s response to anything I did felt wrong. I was mad when I was indulged, and I was mad when people tried to offer practical solutions. All this was a result of my frustration with feeling misunderstood and beyond repair. Given the chance, I would have self-destructed, and I still have the impulse to do that occasionally. It’s like an intervention for an addiction. I had to be sucker punched by my illness and coerced into treatment before I continued it without any oversight. (I still resist the urge to flush my meds down the toilet and chug three bottles of wine almost every day, but resistance is key.)
3. You’re going to feel like an outsider: People who have never dealt with mental illness will never understand me, and the people who do have mental illnesses self-isolate just like me or hide their conditions. I look back on my behavior, and don’t really know what to make of it. I just kind of hope that everyone forgot about it over break. Even with the support team I have, I feel alone in this about 100% of the time by sheer virtue of being the actually ill person.
4. You’ll realize how shallow people’s support of mental illness is: In other words, I showed several symptoms that inconvenienced people, and they just couldn’t accept that it was part of my illness. I am of the mind that mental illness is my responsibility, but sometimes, all I can do is try to pick up the pieces after I’ve already done something problematic. “Being bipolar isn’t an excuse to have an angry outburst.” Lol. No one knows how many angry outbursts I actually suppress. Occasionally, one is bound to slip out. Plus, constantly being resentful of life is a good way to get mad and stay that way for a long ass time.
5. You’re going to feel overwhelmed as you deal with everything you neglected: I am so ill prepared to be a second-semester college senior. It’s the worst. From tying up loose schoolwork ends from last semester to getting used to new medication and methods of therapy, I have done exactly zero thinking about the real world. I tore down the wall of severe depression only to find that I have to jump through an absurd amount of bullshit hoops to get where I want to be in five years. Plus, being suicidal made me think I wouldn’t even be around long enough to execute a five/ten year plan, so of course I didn’t bother making one.
6. Any minor inconvenience will threaten to knock you off track: Mental illness makes me fragile. If I break a pencil, my first thought is “this wouldn’t have happened if I was dead.” Part of my treatment is trying not to see things in extremes. Well, bipolar disorder and OCD make everything feel extreme. Actively combating that is a full-time – no, an over-time – job. I have to find internal stability so I’m less affected by other people’s actions and by external goings-on.
7. You’ll be embarrassed: Maybe it’s the stigma or maybe it’s being as emotionally volatile as a child. Whatever the cause, I felt pathetic the moment I started feeling better. That was the moment reminding myself that I have an illness came in handy. Chronic illnesses have flare-ups. It’s out of my control. Other than that, I haven’t figured out how to alleviate all the embarrassment.
8. The only thing that changes is your ability to fight the symptoms: They’re still there, threatening to envelope me the moment I stop fighting them. I can get wrapped up in debilitating sadness and melancholy if I sit with my thoughts for any length of time. This is obviously indicative of the fact that I am just beginning to recover, but the only thing that’s really changed with me is having just enough energy to fight. I’m hoping each passively morbid thought I ignore will give me the power to ignore two passively morbid thoughts the next time they come around the corner. I’m determined not to go back, but at the same time, I’m walking a fine line between recovery and relapse.
9. You’ll still keep a few unhealthy coping mechanisms: I love my obsessive beauty routines and disordered eating. I hope no one ever makes me give up those comforts. I have quelled a few, but I still wish I could do them. I want to drink. I want to fuck a random guy. I want to get impulsive tattoos and piercings. These are both symptoms and how I cope with symptoms. Someone will have to pry my remaining ones from my cold hands. Just the thought makes me panicky.
10. You’ll gaslight yourself: The moment I started to feel better, I looked back at my lowest (or highest) moments and thought, “Well, god. That wasn’t so bad. Why couldn’t I have sucked it up?” I don’t know why I do this. I can visualize myself having a panic attack, but I can’t embody those emotions again. But I shouldn’t have to. Internalized stigma is real. I’m working on getting rid of mine because rock bottom was that awful. No one – not even I – should be able to delegitimize that.