“Your story will not be wasted.
This is a truth that I cling to. It’s what reminds me that we are broken in order to build something beautiful…
I grew up with a very supportive family. My sister and I were extremely blessed to have amazing parents who raised us in such a loving environment.
The concept of mental illness is something I never really understood, although it ran heavily on one side of my family, Bipolar I Disorder in particular. The harsh reality of this disorder didn’t quite fit my picture-perfect worldview. My framework came crashing down when I was a freshman in college.
I was nineteen years old, and I hit a season of depression. I wouldn’t get out of bed, saw nothing but a wall in front of me, and had no motivation to move forward. I prayed constantly for God to take it away, but nothing changed. I couldn’t explain what was happening to me. I had no words. I had no thoughts, either. My mind was stripped of everything. The real me was crying out, ‘What is going on?! This isn’t me!’ But the depression took over. The real me couldn’t dictate my thoughts or feelings. My soul was crying out for something, anything.
I went home for summer break and, over time, I slowly resurfaced out of the depression. But then, the real issue emerged. I was restored in my faith, but I began to become obsessive. I couldn’t go anywhere, meet anyone, without telling them about God. Soon, I wasn’t able to sleep and my thoughts began to race. I started to see signs all around me. It seemed as though clues were everywhere and everyone was in on it.
I became chaotic, irrational, haphazard. All the while feeling hyper-focused, highly productive, and full of direction. I was on a grand quest, encountering clues at every turn. In the same instant, I was aimlessly and frantically connecting things entirely unrelated. I was in awe and wonder of the everyday custom and ordinary.
I returned to college that next semester and moved into my sorority house. My friends noticed I was different. I began talking uncontrollably one night and as the adventure I felt like I was on grew more and more exhilarating, my actions spun further and further out of control. Fantasy took hold of my mind as I lost all grasp of reality. What started as an exciting and worthwhile mission became reckless, impulsive, and dangerous. And then, the fixation on the imaginary, controlled by the chemical imbalance in my brain, led to complete mania.
Some of my sorority sisters called the wellness center, who called the police, who picked me up from my sorority house and brought me to the hospital. It was there that I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. I spent time in a psychiatric unit where I lived with many other mentally ill patients, all feeding off of each others’ distorted fantasies. My parents visited me every single day I was in the hospital, endlessly loving me while I yelled at them, called them names, and manipulated them. They knew this was the illness though and were committed to my care and recovery. Once I was released from the hospital, it took many months before I was completely back to myself.
I had another episode two years later that was even worse than the first. I spent twice as much time in the hospital after checking myself in. I ran around the psychiatric ward yelling as I became increasingly heightened. I was taken into a separate room, restrained, and injected with a medicine that caused me to pass out.
I remember bits and pieces of my episodes, but it’s all pretty hazy. I can remember things that I thought were signs but can now see how out of touch I was with reality. I thought there was a giant movie playing out, and that I was the star, searching for my prince. I thought everyone was giving me clues to help me find my prince and everyone was watching me at all times.
I was released from the hospital the second time and my mom moved up to my school, states away, and helped me graduate college. She shared a bed with me and held me through the night as I experienced night terrors. She walked me to each class and took me on long car rides when I would start to have a panic attack. She helped me sort out reality from fantasy. As I said before, my parents are amazingly supportive and showed so much sacrificial love during that time.
I graduated from college and fully recovered several months afterwards. I got a full-time job and began a normal post-grad life. I managed my illness with medication and support from family, but I struggled spiritually because of my view of faith when I was sick in the past. I became distrustful of a truth that was once so familiar: that all things from God are good. Fear became my trusted partner, a check and balance. I filtered my closeness with God. I developed a reluctance to grow deeper into faith as a way to avoid possible triggers.
I began to view every experience in my life through a lens of fear. Don’t get me wrong, I had a secret sense of pride that I had recovered not once, but twice from manic episodes. Twice this demon reared its ugly head, and twice I beat it back. But, I was crippled by fear that if I talked about these victories, the world would never see me, it would only see the disease. Not Brittany, but the bipolar girl.
We get really good at the things we practice most, and I was getting really good at being afraid – afraid of never truly succeeding, afraid of finding love. To the outside world, I created the image of a full life. I focused on my career and my social status. My dating life was an accessory to the image that I was building, never going deeper. I would tell myself things like, I didn’t choose to be sick. Why would anyone willingly choose to share this burden with me?
Deep down, I truly wanted to be married. With that desire came the lie that I could never be loved by a potential husband because of my disorder. I played the constant ‘what if’ game. What if I get sick again? What if he couldn’t handle it? The questions haunted me and caused me to doubt my confidence and not believe I was worth being pursued. I couldn’t find freedom and acceptance of my circumstances. The cultural stigma created an ideology early on that I was somehow less than because of my diagnosis.
I did, however, have someone outside of my family that truly made me feel worthwhile and seen, despite my past. His name is Tripp. He was my modern day pen pal, substituting long phone conversations in place of letters. We had met before I was diagnosed, a chance encounter on a beach in Florida. The low probability that we would ever see each other again offered an outlet where I could be bold in an otherwise padded life. I became known by him, and he challenged me to share my story through our conversations. Over time, it was clear that we cared deeply for one another. On one of our routine phone calls, he caught me off guard by suggesting we meet again after all these years. This meeting left us forever changed as it sparked a blossoming romance that eventually led to marriage.
Several weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, the inevitable happened and I had my third manic episode. My greatest fear had come to fruition. My fairytale had begun and was now under attack. This illness would now reveal itself to the one person I wanted to keep it from most.
In this, my most fearful moment, my husband – even face-to-face with this illness, this dirty thing I had hated about myself – saw only his loving wife. He didn’t see the bipolar girl. When recounting this time in our early phase of marriage, he says he’s never loved me more than when he was acting as my caretaker during the midst of my mania. He is a true gift from God. We pushed through it as a team, and I was back to myself in a matter of a couple months.
I now don’t just have a life that’s managed, but a life that’s flourishing. The experience infused my life with joy at the very time I least expected it. With the support of Tripp, I now talk about my illness often and provide support to those who currently find themselves where I’ve been. Simply put, I let them know they’re not alone. I now know that a mental illness doesn’t have to define you, but it can shape you. Bipolar disorder isn’t a crippling disease, but a means to connect with others and an opportunity to demonstrate that struggles have a profound impact in showing you what you’re capable of overcoming. I have a passion for breaking the stigma of these disorders, and showing that with support and faith, no matter how long it takes, you can thrive.
Your story, whether it’s your past or present, can pierce through the darkness. It’s never too late to have the life you’d always imagined, one that’s a beautiful expression of restored hope.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brittany Williams of Houston, Texas. You can follow her journey on her blog here and Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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