“The first time I remember feeling depressed was in 7th grade. My family and I both contributed these feelings to teenage angst and hoped they would just go away. But by the time I was in 8th grade I was consumed by such emptiness that I turned to self harm to cope. This is the mindset I remember being in almost all of my teenage years. I was so afraid of being found out and hospitalized I hid my feelings. I got good grades, had friends, and participated in extra curricular activities but under the surface I was struggling. The first time I tried to end my life I was in 9th grade. I had some pain medication left over from a knee surgery I had the year previous and I starting hoarding them without my parents knowing. One night I took the handful of pills I’d collected and went to sleep hoping that would be the end of it. When I woke up in the morning I was disappointed and embarrassed and decided I would never tell anyone and try again. The next year I tried again with a razor but I didn’t have the stomach to actually cut deep enough. Again no one noticed this halfhearted attempt and I was too stubborn to ask for help so I just lived with it. This depression was my everyday life until I was about 17 and then it just stopped. I hadn’t gone to therapy, taken medication, or changed my lifestyle at all in an attempt to rid myself of these feelings. It was like I woke up one morning and no longer wanted to die. I didn’t question this new attitude any and started living my teenage years to the fullest. Without jeopardizing my good standing in school I started sneaking out to go to parties, hanging out with new friends, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. As far as I was concerned this was the average teenage experience I was finally able to have, though looking back these behaviors probably point to my first hypomanic episode.
Things started to mellow out by the time I had finished my first year of college and for the first time in recent memory I was neither depressed or restless. This was the first time I felt like I was living like a ‘normal’ adult but with that came it’s own problems. I found it difficult to start adulthood because I had never planned to live this long and therefore didn’t have a clue what I wanted. I decided to move across the country to Florida from Connecticut with my girlfriend of six years. The stress of this decision threw me back into a depressive episode and cost me that relationship. During the time leading up to the move I turned into a person I didn’t recognize. I was mean and irritable. I would say things just to be hurtful and the worst part was I didn’t care who I was hurting. I arrived to Florida with no job, no family in the area, and a girlfriend who unsurprisingly broke up with me soon after. I had never felt so alone in my life. My depression came back stronger than ever and I could barely function, though still afraid of being hospitalized I refused to seek treatment. Only after about 6 months of unrelenting suicidal depression did I finally make an appointment with a therapist, the same that would later diagnose me with bipolar disorder.
I had never thought I had anything other than depression and anxiety through all of my life so I was shocked and resistant when my therapist brought up the idea I may have something else. It was through talking about my personal history, my family history of alcoholism and generally bad decisions my therapist was able to identify bipolar disorder as a possible diagnosis. At the time the only things I knew about bipolar disorder was what was presented to me in the media, that people with this illness were unstable, crazy, and dangerous. I obviously didn’t think that was me so I was very opposed to the idea. It was only after a lot of research and conversations about what the illness actually is that I started believing I may have it. I began to understand people living with bipolar disorder are just that, people. Like all people with a mental health condition, those suffering from bipolar disorder are just trying to live the most fulfilling and productive lives they can. Fully coming to terms with my bipolar diagnosis is an ongoing process but it has gotten easier with time.
Around this time I also happened to meet the love of my life (not ideal timing I know). We had gone on a few dates and while I was extremely nervous to tell her I decided it would be better to let her know about my diagnosis before either of us caught serious feelings. After about a half hour of awkward stuttering I finally spit it out finishing by saying I understood if she didn’t want to continue this relationship. Without missing a beat she replied, ‘That doesn’t change anything for me. I want to be with you.’ I was dumbfounded that I had found someone who would react so nonchalantly to the disclosure of what I thought to be one of the more ‘scary’ mental illness. We continued dating and I continued treatment with both therapy and medication. But unfortunately therapy and medication are not a magic cure and it took a full year of trial and error to relieve me of the worst depression I had ever experienced. There were countless nights I asked my girlfriend to leave me, told her I wasn’t good enough, and begged her to let me end my life which was exhausting to both of us. During this time I was also not able to hold a job for more than a few weeks, stay up for more than a few hours at a time, or find the energy to even get up and shower. Nearing about a year of therapy and probably about 10 different psych meds tried in different combinations I was told I may be medication resistant and electric convulsive shock therapy (ECT) may be my next option for treatment. Being told this was like a punch to the gut. I spent so much time hoping I would find the magic pill that would make me feel better and the thought there may not be was devastating. We tried one more pill before I was have to decide about what to do next and by some miracle it worked and I finally found some relief to the constant emotional pain.
It has been a little over a year since starting the medication I credit with saving my life and I have never felt better. I moved across the country once more to Indiana with my girlfriend, this time without a massive depressive episode engulfing my life. I have been able to work a steady job, return to school to earn my degree, and live a normal life due to the stability I have found. That is not to say I am always happy or my illness no longer affects me. I still have minor hypomanic and depressive episodes, I take medication daily and will have to for the rest of my life, and I need to monitor my moods and lifestyle more than most of my peers. But I feel lucky to be alive and getting to experience all of the ups and downs life has in store for me within the range of normal human emotions.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Taylor Zakrzewski. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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