Before you begin reading this, please know that I have been struggling with the idea of completely “outting” myself. I’ve heard so many opinions on how I should not do this, because I will be shunned. Stigma is so strong, and people will stop taking me seriously. People will first look at me as “crazy” before they take everything else into account. I have been dealing with this for more than ten years. I have been hospitalized three times. Every single time something bad happens, I go into hiding, and all the people close to me must think I’m an asshole. In reality, I’m just scared of being ostracized.
I don’t think it’s fair that I “have” to hide my illness. I want people to understand that I do not go out late at night anymore because it may trigger me. I’m sorry for missing out on so many birthday parties. I want people to understand that for me, going out to party until late makes my mind keep going, and for my brain, it’s like it does not leave the party for days or weeks at a time. I stop sleeping, I start being nonsensical, and then eventually, I crash. I get depressed. I lose so much valuable time. Much too often, when these cycles come and go and I finally start feeling normal again, I look around to find the gigantic mess I created. It feels like I have to start life all over again. I don’t want to do that anymore. I can’t live this way anymore.
I fully accept that I am bipolar. I fully accept that I need to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis, take my medicines faithfully, stop old habits, and create new ones. It took me many years to reach this point. So after much deliberation, I have to accept who I am, with my faults. I am not afraid of being passionate, of loving, of sharing this very personal, and sometimes painful, part of me.
If people want to shun me, then I don’t want them in my life anyway. Despite what all of my professors, doctors and mentors have said, everytime I have opened up to someone, I have felt accepted and nothing changes. If things change, I will adapt. I have created a strong support system because I have opened up. Shutting up has done nothing but harm.
So why open up? I want this to be the norm. Much like LGBTQ individuals are becoming less and less afraid of coming out, I want mentally ill individuals to stop being so damn scared. In my opinion, to not come out is to be scared, to not accept who you are, to hide, and very likely, not get the medical and emotional help needed to feel confident and capable again. True friends and family will love you all the same. Life can be “normal” and beautiful if you are open with yourself and take care of yourself. It is so key. It is so absolutely essential to be able to take care of yourself.
So… thank you for reading.
(Orginal artwork by Julia Gfrörer. More of her work can be seen here: http://www.thorazos.net/)
The panic attack has always been one of the worst elements of my mental illness. I’ve written a poem about it, but I’d rather properly explain what it is actually like first. Poem can come later.
For instance, I had a panic attack at work yesterday early in the afternoon. I was lucky enough to get to a bathroom right before it hit. I slept for about 13 - 14 hours when I got home from my shift.
This morning, I woke up with a migraine, and my whole body aches — a fever-like ache. I feel slightly nauseous. I still feel fatigued. Panic attacks usually throw me off for a couple of days, and if I’m not careful, it can throw me into a bout of depression. I’m strongly considering calling out of work today.
My manager did not let me go home following the panic attack. I don’t know if it is because like most people, the belief is that it is just something made up in your head. It’s not real.
He did let me stay in the office and answer phones for a couple of hours, though. That was good.
I’ve said this a million times over, and I will repeat it ad nauseum until people finally get it. Mental illness is a physical illness. It occurs in an organ called the brain. Just because it affects your brain does not make it imaginary. A brain is an organ. Mental illness is real.
There is usually little warning when a panic attack is going to occur. If I had to put a number to it, I’d say 5 minutes or less. First-timers often mistake it for a heart attack. It is the result of an accumulation of stress, and it improperly fires off your body’s “fight-or-flight” response in an erroneous manner.
Symptoms (for me) include:
- Extreme feeling of being overwhelmed and a sense of impending doom. Today, after dealing with panic attacks for years, I also feel dread. I keep telling myself, “Why is this happening again? What did I do wrong this time? Will this ever stop happening?”
- Light-headedness, like feeling I’m about to faint. If I don’t sit or lie down, I may end up on the ground.
- Hyperventilation, shortness of breath
- Sweating profusely
- Extreme sensitivity to my surroundings. I usually have to close my eyes, and sometimes press down on my ears.
- Heaviness/tightness in chest, which yes, leads to the hyperventilation, but also makes me want to scream. I sometimes do.
- Feeling like my skin has ants crawling all over it. Very similar to when your “leg falls asleep” but it’s everywhere. It’s always the most intense around my face. Sometimes I feel it going all over the inside of my mouth and nose.
- My entire body shakes and no, I can’t control it. Sometimes my teeth chatter.
- Sometimes I clench my fists and jaw.
- Sometimes I get nauseous. I did end up throwing up once.
- Crying, obviously.
Following a panic attack, which usually lasts around 30 minutes, I feel extremely fatigued. If I have access to Xanax, it shortens to about 10 minutes. I always get a headache. If I end up staying awake (like I did yesterday at work), I am pretty much useless because I feel disoriented, confused and weak — again, much like when you get a fever. I usually pass out for hours.
Best part about staying at work yesterday was the loud music playing, the crowds continuously building at the doors, and pretending to be ok. As a reference, I’m currently a hostess at a restaurant.
My hands were still shaking and I laughed nervously because I kept holding back tears. I was in the perfect environment to have another panic attack. I didn’t.
When I came home, first thing I did was hug my fiance and cry. I helped him put away some groceries, I reheated some leftovers, took a Klonopin (for anxiety) and my nightly dose of Lamictal (for my bipolar). I fell asleep while watching an episode of Weeds.
The worst part about having panic attacks is the strong desire to stay home to avoid having another panic attack. It does make you weak and susceptible to having a repeat incident. The idea of going to an environment that is loud and crowded honestly frightens me. That is exactly the kind of place I should be avoiding, not going into willingly. I honestly hate that this is my job, even though I’ve met a lot of lovely people there. I know that there is at least one person I will keep in my life long after I leave this job. This is a wonderful gift.
My psychiatrist (I will refer to him as pdoc afterwards) has told me that for someone with bipolar, working in a restaurant is among one of the worst jobs to have.The environment and the odd hours can trigger mood swings and disrupt sleeping patterns, and it does not help that my bipolar is comorbid with an anxiety disorder. People that know me have heard me repeatedly complain about not sleeping at all, not getting enough sleep, sleeping too much, and having disrupted sleep for almost a month at a time. Since working at a restaurant, this has been my norm. I have been getting more and more worn down, and yesterday I cracked.
Ok. So now I know. It is harmful to my health. Aside from getting my new prescriptions (temporary increase of Klonopin and a temporary addition of a sleeping medication), I was also strongly advised to get a new job. A regular 9 - 5 job that will offer consistency. If I can work just lunch shifts, I’ll be fine. I need to maintain a regular schedule. I may have to accept getting paid less if I can’t get my schedule changed, but at least I won’t get sick, and thus lose potential earnings.
After accepting my diagnosis earlier this year (I was in denial for three), I read up as much as I could about being bipolar. I read scholarly journals and hard research. I like research. It’s comforting, and it reinforces the idea that mental disorders are real physical illnesses.
Bipolar is a life-long chronic disorder that can be treated, controlled and stabilized, much like the way asthma and diabetes can be. It can run in families.
In my own family I know of two others with bipolar. It has not skipped a generation, as far as I know. The oldest one with bipolar was never properly treated and was always explosive and “crazy”. The other family member did get help, and is doing much better today, as anyone that has reached the light of the end of the tunnel should feel. I am the one that has caught on to it the earliest in age. I have only been getting treated for about a year, and have already tried about 7 different combinations, or as I prefer to call it, “cocktails”. Well, now it’s 8, but again, this medication change is temporary, because yes, working in a restaurant is affecting me that strongly. Once I get a regularly scheduled job, I’ll go back to cocktail #7. Cocktail #7 was the breakthrough I needed, and I’d love to go back to that.