‘We’re being secretly recorded for a reality show!’ There was something wrong with me. I was completely paranoid.’: Woman with Bipolar Disorder becomes advocate, ‘It’s a constant battle’

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“My name is Kim Barnett. I was born in 1982 in Moorpark, California, a small city in Ventura County. I had two loving parents, two siblings (older sister and younger brother), and lived in a nice house. We were one of the first black families to move there, and the city was predominantly white and Hispanic. As a child, this was a difficult life situation, as I didn’t look like anyone else from the very start of my life. I always felt different and extremely lonely. On top of all of this, I was unknowingly dealing
with a lot of mental health issues as a child and teenager. I knew as a young child I was different. Not only in the way I looked but in the way I behaved and felt at times.

This pains me to say, but it’s the sad truth I use to pray to God at night, asking him to make me white, so I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the situations I had to experience. They say, ‘kids say the darndest things,’ but they also say things and ask questions, which can sometimes be mean and inappropriate. I was asked by one childhood friend, ‘Why is your skin so dark and do you taste like chocolate?’

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

A teenager at my high school went as far as to say, ‘I don’t like black people, but I like you.’ I remember thinking, I’m the only black person you know, so that doesn’t make any sense. But I just let it go. These instances are only a couple of examples out of many I went through as a child, teenager, and young adult. The effects are lasting and damaging to one’s self-worth and self-esteem, and devalued my worth as a human being for a long time.

During my teenage years, after my parent’s divorce, is when the odd and unusual behavior began to really manifest. I remember being in a shoe store with my mom and her best friend and talking to strangers in what I honestly thought was Spanish. It was definitely not Spanish, as I am not bilingual, but in my mind, at the time, I thought I knew the language. I was so off I decided to talk to strangers in this language I did not know. In hindsight, this behavior was prompted by either mania or hypomania from my Bipolar Disorder.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

I always, even as a baby and child had issues with insomnia and hardly slept at times, especially when dealing with stress. Insomnia, coupled with stress, are the main triggers for my hypomanic and manic episodes. Consistent sleep and stress management, which I know now, are the keys to maintaining my sanity with this disorder. My mom has told me before she thinks I was born manic, as the doctors told her I was the most alert baby they had ever seen. But I was also born with both of my hands clenched into fists, which always indicated to me I was born a fighter, willing to combat any life obstacle, even a mental illness.

In high school, I was very sociable, had a close-knit group of friends, played sports, participated in choir and a couple of musical productions. I was friendly with everyone, no matter who you hung out with, the color of your skin, gender, or sexual orientation. I was a lover of all people and still am to this day. Who am I to judge anyone? After high school, I went to college and started to experience major depressive and manic episodes, although I wasn’t aware that’s what it was at the time. Because I had lived like this my whole life, I thought my various moods, sleepless nights, erratic behavior, suicidal ideation, promiscuity, excessive spending, delusions of grandeur, rapid speech, overly energetic attitude, and occasional inflated self-esteem, were just my norm.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

During my later high school years and through college, I used drugs and drank a lot of alcohol to self medicate and cope with life. In my early 20’s, a couple of years prior to graduating from college, I experienced a manic episode with psychosis that changed my life forever. I only remember bits and pieces from this episode, but what I do remember will probably remain in my memory forever. I was living with my best friend at the time in an apartment. We had a few friends over and I was talking up a storm. So much so that I stood up in front of the TV we were watching and proceeded to just talk, talk and talk, almost like I was putting on a show. I could not stop talking and was completely paranoid. I remember telling them I thought our lives were being recorded for a reality show that was being secretly taped. Eventually, I and they began to realize there was something wrong with me, and we all decided it was a good idea to take me to the hospital.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

When we got to the hospital, while I was completing the intake paperwork, I got scared and tried to run out of the facility. One of the staff members caught me before I could make it to the doors that led to the parking lot. It was clear to the staff, myself, and my friends I needed to be there and admitted. When I completed the paperwork (with help) and was finally admitted to the Psych Ward (now called Behavioral Health Units), I didn’t even know who I was, where I was, or why I was there. I was definitely not in my right mind and not acting normally. At one point, I even told them I was Dave Chappelle. I adored The Chappelle Show at the time, so I must have felt a connection with him somehow. It’s funny now, but for a long time, I didn’t mention that to anyone, due to shame and embarrassment.

I spent the next 2 weeks in the inpatient facility on a psychiatric hold. While in there, I was strapped down to beds multiple times for uncontrollable behavior, which was deemed a danger to myself and to others. I was also heavily drugged so they could get me to sleep, which was something I had not done in 4 to 5 days straight.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

After being there for some time, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. Bipolar Disorder includes symptoms such as hypomania, mania, psychosis, insomnia, depression, rapid speech, promiscuity, delusions of grandeur, excessive spending, and various other symptoms, although each individual with this disorder experiences the symptoms differently and in varying degrees. The diagnosis was actually not a shock to me at the time, but was slightly a relief, as I knew I had been off my whole life and I didn’t function like other people but never knew why or if it was just all in my head or my own perception. Finally, I had a name for what this was and I could finally start to address it.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

This is how my mental health journey began. Honestly, the next couple of years were a blur to me, and still are. I know I started taking various medications as treatment, all of which made me extremely sick, extremely tired, and caused massive weight gain. I went from 165 pounds to 260 pounds within the first year of the meds. I was happy to be getting help, but as a woman, this was not acceptable to me. I went off my meds multiple times, trying to lose the weight these medications had caused, and to gain some of the energy back I had lost. Hypomanic and manic energy feel good. They bring about a
euphoric feeling I felt was taken from me and I wanted to get that euphoria back. Every time I went off the meds, it would just induce another manic episode, sometimes with psychosis. The psychosis caused me to be a danger to myself and others. Bipolar Disorder is a cyclical disorder, but my cycles were more frequent, due to lack of care for my mental well being by refusing to take the medications consistently.

When I was 25, I met my future husband, and around that time, I began to take the meds consistently, fearing if I had another episode it would scare him away. Unfortunately, I was only doing medication management at the time and refused to see a therapist for any real length of time, which would help me develop coping skills for life and begin to heal some of the trauma I’ve endured.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

A few months after we got married in 2011, was my last full-blown manic episode with psychosis. Unfortunately, the episode began to manifest while I was at work. Thank God, my employer knew I had the disorder and was as understanding as possible. I started to get more relaxed with my medication because we were trying to get pregnant and I thought the medication could harm the fetus if I was able to conceive. I didn’t tell my husband I had gone off of my medication. I knew what I was doing was wrong and could potentially cause me psychological harm, but I was being selfish and was willing to sacrifice my mental health to get something I wanted.

Just so you know, to this day we do not have any children, which ended up being something out of our control. After I went off my meds, I was okay for about a year. I eventually spiraled completely out of control and ended up back in the Behavioral Health Unit once again.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

Upon release, almost 2 weeks later, I vowed never to go off my meds again. Not to anyone else, but to myself. I was tired of not taking care of myself mentally and emotionally. In the years since, I have finally started working with a therapist weekly, and have learned and am still learning how to cope with life changes and situations I cannot control. It’s a constant battle with my mind, but I’m willing to do the work.

I decided I needed to begin to heal in other ways as well, which utilize some of my passions.
I love to write and I love to connect with people, so I started to write a blog, started a page on Facebook, and changed my Instagram handle to My Bipolar Voice, where I share publicly about my illness, spread mental health awareness, and attempt to end the stigma attached to all mental health conditions. Writing for me brings me such peace, and knowing someone cares to read what I’ve written brings me much joy. For me, sharing my experiences, triumphs, failures, challenges, and successes with others helps me to feel like I’m being heard, seen, and less alone and hopefully helps others who struggle similarly, feel the same.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

For anyone who is struggling with any mental health obstacle, whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, schizophrenia, etc, I urge you to learn about the obstacle you face. Knowledge is power, and finding more information about the condition I face, has helped me tremendously on my healing and management journey. I bought and read books and articles on my disorder to better understand the condition and how to manage it. I also suggest following the guidelines your doctor(s) give you. So many times I personally did not listen and paid the price for it later.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

Try to learn from my mistakes, so maybe you don’t have to go down a similar and difficult path. Lastly, find something you love to do or are passionate about. My happiness was halted for a long time because I didn’t have any hobbies or interests of my own liking to keep me engaged or provide joy. Once you find something you love, I urge you to explore it and go for it. You never know what other doors may be opened for you, just because you decided to give your passion a try. My exploration of my passions has helped me land the job of a lifetime. I now work for a psychologist as an Executive Assistant, which is the profession I’ve always worked in. But this position is in health and wellness, which was a dream of mine to be a part of.

I hope my story was helpful in some way. My journey of healing is ongoing, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to be some small part of yours. Be safe and be well. This is My Bipolar Voice.”

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kim Barnett from Palmdale, CA. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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