Because of the autobiographical nature of my poetry, I often take times in this blog to bring awareness to issues I might address within those poems, whether it’s abuse, mental health, addiction, or a host of other topics.
I have both Bipolar II and C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic-stress disorder), and I am very open about both of these because I feel as though mental health issues often face a certain stigma. I think by discussing these topics, it can spotlight them and reduce the shadowy reputation of them.
As a result, recently, one of my readers and friends recently asked me how I knew I had bipolar. Considering that a majority of my Stargazers in my Facebook group were interested in me opening up about my own personal stories, I figured sharing the story of my mental health struggles and eventual diagnoses would be interesting to some.
Symptoms of Bipolar II Disorder from BetterHelp & the Mayo Clinic
- Hypomania: a type of “up” or euphoric mood swing, which can still be perceived as “normal” behavior by some. As described by the Mayo Clinic, hypomania might have the following symptoms:
- Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
- Increased activity, energy or agitation
- Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
- Decreased need for sleep
- Unusual talkativeness
- Racing thoughts
- Poor decision-making — for example, going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments
- Depression: a type of “down” or descending mood. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following as symptoms of depression:
- Feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as irritability)
- Marked loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all — or almost all — activities
- Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
- Either insomnia or sleeping too much
- Either restlessness or slowed behavior
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
- Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide
Trigger Warning: Because this post talks about the volatile nature of my bipolar, there are many potentially triggering subjects in this post – abuse, minors using recreational drugs and alcohol, rape, and a suicide attempt.
I have always been an emotional person; as a child, I often had temper tantrums and fits. I would fly into a rage into seemingly minor issues or break down crying in the middle of a shopping mall. I remember when I was three, I had just finished having a meltdown in my parents’ bathroom and my mom turned to me and called me manic-depressive [an outdated term for bipolar disorder].
As I grew older, my moods became more volatile. I would bounce from extreme euphoria to devastation within the span of a few days. Often, I would lie in bed, unable to sleep because of my racing thoughts. I found a journal I kept when I was nine. There were entries written at three a.m. “when the rest of the world was sleeping”, but I’d be lying in bed, struggling to quiet my mind. The next day, I’d go to school with three hours of sleep and perform as though I’d had a full night’s sleep.
When I was around nine or ten, my grandpa passed away. He was very important to me as he was one of the few adults in my life that demonstrated unconditional love. He called me his princess, and he knew how to stop whatever he was doing and make me feel special. I have been seeking that kind of undivided attention ever since. When he passed away, there was very clearly a “before” and “after” period of my life.
For a long time after his death, I grieved. The adults in my life did not know how to explain this loss to a child, so I fumbled around in a dark haze for a long time. My diary entries went from simple posts about what I had for lunch and who I played with at recess to wondering about the meaning of love and writing, asking if God made mistakes.
Often, my best friend and I would have adventures that I chalked up to a child’s imagination but perhaps, they were manic episodes. Honestly, I was always considered odd, but for me, looking back on it, it’s hard to distinguish whether I was dealing with the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder or if I was simply a temperamental child.
I remember one night when I was about twelve or thirteen, I went to my best friend’s swim meet and we went out for celebratory sundaes afterward. I ate my hot fudge sundae, and the sugar from the hot fudge made me act as though I was out of control. This same friend and I often had sleepovers where I would stay awake all night, listening to the squirrels in her attic.
Around thirteen, my parents took me to my first psychologist appointment. The teachers had worried about me because of confiscating dark poems I had written at the time, referencing death and self-harm. At the appointment, the psychologist asked me questions, which I answered truthfully, and I was diagnosed with depression.
By the time I was fourteen or so, I had alienated most of my friends because of my extreme changes in mood. As those high school years wore on, my moods changing, I became increasingly harder to deal with. The darknesses were bleaker, and the highs were even more extreme. I struggled to relate to my peers, and finally, when I was eighteen, my parents and I agreed that medication would probably help manage the dark spells.
I went to see a psychiatrist – a man who wore black tennis shoes that were too big for his feet and had the features of a puppet carved out of wood. He sat and asked me questions, the same questions the psychologist had asked me when I was thirteen, but now, more invasive, more personal.
He asked about my sex life and jotted notes down as I answered. I remember feeling very uncomfortable around him but as though I had to answer his questions. He prescribed medication for depression, but without a mood stabilizer, I immediately went into a prolonged manic state, making poor decisions that culminated in my leaving home with my boyfriend when I was grounded and staying with him for a few days.
For those few days, I did whatever I wanted with no restrictions (smoked marijuana, drank, and had sex with my boyfriend) and felt free, but, of course, it had to come to an end. When it did, everything, and I mean everything crashed to a halt. My parents seriously began to consider whether they trusted me to go away to college.
When I did finally convince them that I was stable enough to go to college, my freshman year, I became a statistic. I was unmedicated and alone in a different city. I was raped by an older student who I considered a friend at the time.
A year later, I dropped out of school because I saw my rapist on my dorm floor most nights, and it triggered me. Without having anyone to talk to, I moved out to Pennsylvania to live with one of my best friends who had also experienced sexual assault.
My parents read the email I sent them about going my own way – despite not mentioning the rape – and assumed it was another one of my “crazy attempts at running away”.
When I moved back home over a year-and-a-half later, one of the requirements enforced by my parents was that I go to therapy and see a psychiatrist. This time, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II once the psychiatrist recognized my extreme highs and extreme lows.
And that’s the condensed version of how I received my bipolar diagnosis. In my chapbook, I have many of these stories and more (in poetry form, obviously), so if any of this interests you, you might be interested in reading my chapbook.