Depression hurts. But depression hurts even more when you suffer from severe bouts of it. While people tell you to “shake it off” and preach about the power of positive thinking, none of that helps when you are suffering from the deep lows of depression that accompany bipolar disorder. I know, because I have it.
The Taboo of Mental Illness
While afflictions like cystic fibrosis, cancer and even autism are now widely accepted and understood in society, mental illness remains the last social taboo.
It’s a scary to deal with unpredictable people — I get that. However, it’s even scarier when you are that unstable person, and you don’t understand why.
I began experiencing symptoms in my mid-twenties. Some days I felt great; on top of the world. I had boundless energy and my mind was firing on all cylinders. Then, suddenly, I would crash. I was sad, but not your garden-variety sad. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t focus. I wasn’t “me”. There was no amount of positive thinking or self-help books I could find that were capable of snapping me out of my wretched and downtrodden state. My hygiene went south, my career suffered, and my life was falling apart. Trouble was, I couldn’t stop it.
I went to my primary care physician to find out what was wrong. I was at a low point and couldn’t sleep. He talked to me and did blood work. Afterward, my doctor diagnosed me with a severe case of depression, prescribed me 30 mg of Lexapro per day and some Ambien to help me sleep. Then, he sent me on my way, with a referral to a psychiatrist.
I waited to see the psychiatrist for a full 60-days. During this time, I took my medication faithfully, but instead of it helping, it brought my highs to a peak and my lows even lower. I didn’t understand what was going on inside my own head, I had no excuse for feeling the way that I did. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed, days that I cried all day and all night long and days that I would try to drown out the pain using drugs and alcohol. My days strung hopelessly together and seemed like eternities of psychological torture. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake it off, and nothing helped.
After some intensive discussion, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. This meant my highs and lows were more powerful than what other bipolar patients suffered, but also came closer together. He also told me that the drugs I was on, actually caused my mental health to deteriorate even faster. My personality could flip on a dime. That diagnosis became a harder pill to swallow than my antidepressants ever were. Would it even be possible for me to live a normal life with this affliction?
As I approach my 33rd birthday, I have been stable on my medication for almost five years now. I take 400 mg of Lamictal daily and 60 mg of Cymbalta to help ease my depression, anxiety and suppress my manic states. While these drugs come with a host of side effects, the burden of my chronic illness is slightly lifted.
I Found Hope in Unlikely Places
When Catherine Zeta-Jones came out of the closet and admitted to the world that she had bipolar disorder, I found a glimmer of hope that I could hold on to. If she could lead a successful and happy life, I knew I could do the same. And even though her diagnosis is not identical to mine in its severity, her revelation led me to research and study people that shared the same affliction. Now, I have several role models I can look up to in my low moments. Surprisingly enough, that helps more than words can say.
A Daily Dose
While managing my highs and lows is a daily battle, it is one I am confident I can manage through proper medication and emotional support. I follow up with my psychiatrist regularly, I monitor my moods, I am in a less stressful career and I am part of an online bipolar support group. I surround myself with people who understand this social taboo is the final frontier and who put high importance on breaking through those barriers. The people I keep in my life know my condition and embrace my rational moments as quickly as they embrace me during my down days.
Depression hurts. It hurts those you love and those you like, but it hurts you the most. The social attitude about depression and mental illness makes it terrifying for many to “come clean”. However, coming clean and getting control was the first step in getting my life back.
Depression doesn’t need to control your life. If you or someone you know is suffering from this affliction, support, love and understanding are the first steps to finding a cure.