When you live with a mental illness, there’s a tendency to overthink every word, every action, and even every thought that crosses your mind. There’s a continuous battle going on in your head between the one voice who is constantly breaking you down and the other voice who tries to be realistic and uplifting. It’s exhausting and unrelenting, and when someone states that you’re just crazy, it’s incredibly damaging to your health.
While I could make the point that every single mental illness is misunderstood in the public eye, I feel that bipolar is even more misunderstood and stigmatized than most. There’s this comic perception that being bipolar means experiencing extremely high manic episodes where everything is wonderful and perfect followed by extreme lows. In truth, bipolar can present itself in a variety of ways, which is one of the reasons why it’s so tricky to actually diagnose. My hypomania is often presented as if my life is put in fast forward. I have more energy, which makes me feel like I can take on more tasks, but then my mind starts to go too fast. Even though I’m aware of my racing thoughts, when I’m in the moment, it’s an adrenaline rush and I don’t want it to end. However, this leads to a severe lack of sleep, and in the worst scenario, hallucinations.
I’ve only experienced one true episode of hallucinating, but I can still close my eyes and relive the entire thing. As I laid on my back on my living room floor, I saw the popcorn ceiling of my old apartment rolling in waves, covered with what almost looked like an oil spill. I could see all of the atoms making up my surroundings shimmering and moving. I could feel every single cell in my body shifting. It caused me to take roughly a month off of work, and I felt unsafe to be at home by myself for a while. This was a high that led to a crash of being unable to keep food down and really make many coherent thoughts. My biggest fear through all of it wasn’t that I was unhealthy, but that it would cause the people around me to perceive me as “crazy”.
I’m not crazy, and deep down I’m aware of that fact. It’s a constant battle to remind myself that this is an illness that I have to find a way to live with, and having other people refer to this illness as craziness just makes that fight all the more difficult. In typical fashion, I tend to joke around about my mental illness in an effort to make those around me more comfortable. I very rarely am completely serious, but I’ve started to realize that jokingly referring to myself as crazy just hurts the overall fight against mental health stigmas. Words have power. Words alter a person’s perception. Be careful about word choices, especially when trying to change the stigma surrounding mental health.
It’s been a little over a week since Josiah and I announced that we were expecting a baby at the end of September. For the past couple of months, my emotions about pregnancy have been mixed. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see us become parents. I have a nervous excitement about the opportunity to raise a human with all the qualities that Josiah and I treasure so much.
I’m also scared. This was a total surprise for us. We had planned to really start talking about starting a family after Josiah’s first round of deployments. I selfishly wanted more solo time to get used to having my life partner gone and unavailable to talk for months at a time. I wanted to feel as mentally healthy as possible before adding anything else to our life.
And then last week happened. Last week, I got the official bipolar diagnosis. Bipolar. An intimidating word to be tied to any person, but for someone who is stepping into motherhood for the first time in six months, I’ve been terrified.
Suspicions of this diagnosis first popped up in early 2013, but the therapist I was seeing decided I was struggling with ptsd and major depressive disorder. Bipolar isn’t something that doctors and therapists like to easily diagnose because it can be a word that haunts someone for the rest of their life. But my symptoms have worsened in those four years. Untreated, they’ve started to affect more and more of my life. My depressive cycles have gotten harder to battle through, and my hypomania has left me wondering what kind of person I really am on multiple occasions.
So I’ve started medication. I’ve begun keeping a more dedicated record of my emotions. I have doctors that are helping to monitor my brain and the warning signs I might not think are important. But the fear is lingering. The fear that I won’t be able to be the kind of mother I really want to be because of my mental struggles. The worry that I’ll go through episodes while Josiah is out of the country and I’m the temporary sole caregiver of our child. The very real reality that our children will grow up knowing that sometimes their mother won’t be able to be as mentally present as they need me to be.
I know that both Josiah and I are blessed with families that would do absolutely everything they can to help us be the best parents we can be. Being willing and able to ask for that help is a constant battle for me. There are so many parenting stories I’ve been reading about mothers who struggle with postpartum depression, anxiety, and various other mental conditions. However, I don’t see many moms who struggle with bipolar. I don’t hear many successful parenting stories where a parent with bipolar was still able to provide their children with a healthy, loving, and positive environment. Part of me hopes that I’ll be able to start writing that kind of life story for our new family. Mental health is such a touchy writing subject because it makes so many people uncomfortable, and one of my goals with this blog has always been to change that stigma. But writing about it doesn’t make the fear any less real.