‘I thought it was stress. When I began crying and shaking without triggers, I realized it was much more.’: Woman opens up about journey to bipolar disorder diagnosis, self-care

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of self-harm and attempted suicide that may be triggering to some.

“My struggles with anxiety and bipolar led me to go against society standard and become a 27 years old childless housewife in order to finally find happiness.

I wasn’t always aware I had mental health problems. If I am being honest, around 11 years ago my mom just thought I was a very moody teenager, and so did I. Mental health problems can be very hard to diagnose during teenage years for that reason. There are a lot of hormonal and emotional changes that happened during these years. However, we should have seen it coming. I come from a family with loads of mental health problems. Both my parents have had their struggles with depression and anxiety while I have some more distant family with more severe mental health problems like borderline personality disorder.

Around 16 years old, I started feeling down and hating people around me. This is when I started seeing a mood management specialist. I only went for two to three sessions and was really against it. She would give me tips on how to cope with my emotions, but I wasn’t open to applying them, so it never really worked out for me. I just felt so misunderstood and different from everyone. Doctors said it is normal for a teenager to feel this way. So, I just assumed what I was feeling was normal, and stopped trying to find whatever triggered those emotions for the next four to five years.

At the age of 17, I moved to China with my family where I studied medicine for two years. Medical school is no joke and put a lot of pressure on me. I have a fear of failure that is absolutely terrible. So, in face of the challenge that was medical school, I had anxiety for the first time. I didn’t really understand what was going on back then. I thought it was only stress at first because it was always linked to a trigger. But then I started feeling anxious without any triggers. Crying and shaking, I realized it was more than stress. Nothing could really be done then. China is not very open when it comes to mental health, so I just shoved everything under the carpet and kept on smiling. This was something I did a lot in my younger years; hide my emotions because I always associated emotions with weakness. Which I now know is not true at all. But back then, in that time and moment, I somehow believed that by hiding how I was feeling I was being so strong. All this hiding will eventually catch up to me, but I am getting ahead here.

woman crying
Courtesy of Jessika G.

Fast forward to 19 years old me, moving back to my home country in Canada with my partner. Little back story on my relationship we met in high school, and he followed me in China (cute, I know). We then decided to go together to Quebec City which is three hours away from our home town to continue studying. This year marks a first for me: the first time I gave something up for my mental health. I had taken the decision to leave medical school because it was causing too much anxiety. I remember my dad told me, ‘Jessika, in life you have to do something you love. Since starting medical school, you don’t look like yourself. You look like a zombie. Don’t be afraid of what others will think and do what feels right.’ After having my dad’s approval to quit, I decided to do it because I knew my parents would be proud of me no matter what. Once that decision was made, it felt like a weight was lifted up my shoulder.

The following two years in Quebec City were amazing. I was working towards a degree I love, having a part-time job I love, and in an environment I love. Everything felt like it was in the right place, and for the first time in a while I had some space to breathe. It felt amazing. After my two-year degree, my boyfriend and I decided to move to Paris to continue our studies. I moved there with a very positive mentality and then a few weeks after I moved, I get a phone call from my mom that someone close to me had attempted suicide. I remember taking the phone call in my apartment’s bathroom. I shed two tears, wiped them away, and kept on smiling. This is the biggest emotional mistake I have ever made.

woman sadly smiling
Courtesy of Jessika G.

I didn’t know that not living my emotions in that moment would make them come back later. Well, they came back to me. In the middle of a presentation in university in front of my whole class, I started crying. It was just all too much. That moment I finally accepted that I needed to see a therapist. The rest of my bachelor’s degree went well. I had weekly appointments with my therapist and spend the next three years excelling in school.

After university is when the real rollercoaster of emotions started. I would get a job, last three months, develop depression, quit, stop working for a few months, and repeat. I always had something other than myself to blame though. It was the environment, or a rude boss, or the work itself. Then after doing some freelancing work only two days a week, I reached the depression point of the cycle. I decided to seek some medical help other than my therapist because she mentioned I may need medication. After some back and forth with the doctor, the psychiatrist told me I have bipolar disorder. Now, a lot of things make sense. Why I become so depressed easily, but then have moments feeling like a superhuman. It all became so clear to me. But the medication and diagnosis didn’t solve all my problems. I still had anxiety.

So, I found a job which allowed work from home, flexible hours, a super chill environment, and I am now super motivated to make it work. Three months in I become super anxious. My anxiety triggered a depression, the worst I have ever had. I ended up in the emergency room for suicidal ideations. Then I was on the watch with my local crisis team for the next three weeks. But I still decided to keep my job. Then, after a few months, I got my first ever panic attacks. I didn’t know what it was back then. I thought it was something wrong with my heart. After having a few in a week, I finally listened to my therapist and quit my job after a year of struggles.

The conclusion I came to with my therapist was that I was not made to work for other people. It is too much pressure for me. It creates anxiety which triggers a depressive episode from my bipolar disorder. I think we can all agree that no one needs that in their life. So after speaking with my very supportive partner, I came to the conclusion that I would focus on myself for a while.

couple smiling together in the snow
Courtesy of Jessika G.

So, I am now medicated on an antidepressant, a mood stabilizer, and an antipsychotic that I take every day. These are prescribed to me by my psychiatrist I see every two to three months. I also have my therapist, who is still the same from Paris, that sees me weekly and helps me work on my anxiety and self-confidence. On my own I meditate daily, sleep as much as I need, and take time for myself.

I am a very open-minded person. If someone comes up to me and asks me about my scars, I’ll be honest and say, ‘It’s a mix of self-harm scars and my cat being too aggressive when playing.’ When I was diagnosed with bipolar, it only felt natural to say it casually as I always did when talking about my life. But something was different and felt different when I would mention it.

It was a mix of fear of the unknown, misconceptions and taboo that made people’s reaction awkward and I didn’t understand why. People can easily talk about a broken arm, so why is it so hard for people to accept that someone is openly talking about mental health?

At first it got me mad. Then I realized it was because people were not educated enough on the matter. So, I started talking about it in my close circle and noticed the general mood around the conversation changing. It went from awkward to interactive. People now wanted to know more and felt more comfortable asking questions because I was bringing in facts and teaching them more.

That’s when it clicked. I could use my social media platform that I had grown to 10k followers over the years to educate people on mental health rather than just talk about travels. So with some restructuring of the page, I now dedicate my online space to being a positive place with information about mental health, affirmations, joy, etc. It is now all about building a community of people who want to look after their mental health and keep people informed.

woman smiling with peace signs
Courtesy of Jessika G.

This will help to break the stigma around it for sure. Education is the key to it. If you are struggling with mental health, please reach out for help. Never think that by asking for help you are weak, because the reality is the opposite. Asking for help requires a lot of strength and self-awareness.

If you knock at one door and they are not helping you, knock on another one. Someone will listen eventually. Unfortunately, mental health treatments can be hard to seek sometimes due to lack of understanding from the staff. Don’t let this make you lose faith; find someone who will be willing to listen and help.

woman sitting on the grass with her cat
Courtesy of Jessika G.

Surround yourself with people who are good for you. Great friends don’t judge you; they will listen to you and help. If you feel like someone is draining your energy, they are probably not right for you. A friendship should be a positive experience.

Don’t be scared of medicines. I used to not want to be medicated and I struggled for over five years before finally accepting it would help me. Honestly, it has been life changing. Don’t be afraid of taking some if needed.

Finally, always remember that mental health is a journey. No one will ever be perfect and there is always some work that will have to be done. So, instead of focusing on the goal, find pleasure in the journey. It will make everything seem a bit brighter.”

woman smiling wearing a "positive vibes" shirt
Courtesy of Jessika G.
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