‘They strapped me down to a bed by myself. I was told healing was not possible for me.’: Woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Bell’s Palsy details journey to becoming ‘badass, resilient human’

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“When I was initially diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in the early 2000s, there was not much explained to me about managing the symptoms of the disorder, other than the psychiatrist prescribing me with a couple of medications he hoped would work and suggesting I see a therapist to help with coping with the dire diagnosis. I was in my early 20’s when I first heard I had Bipolar Disorder and was still in college at the time. I was really into partying up until this point and having a good time with friends. I was self-medicating, as some would say, with alcohol, weed, and occasionally other drugs. School was really an afterthought—mostly something I felt I had to do, rather than something I wanted to do.

African American college student sitting in her bed at her college dorm
Courtesy of Kim Barnett

One day, after partying for a few days, my body and mind finally couldn’t take anymore. I went into what is called psychosis. I didn’t know who I was—I thought I was famous, had rapid speech, couldn’t sit down, and was pacing a lot. I was also paranoid and thought people on the television were talking about me or to me. I even thought my roommates at the time were demons. I was trying my hardest to shut my body down to go to sleep. I tried taking a sleeping aid, but it didn’t help. Loud noises were a definite trigger and would startle me. I was in bed one of the nights when I couldn’t sleep and was so scared to move, that when I had to pee, I just peed in the bed.

My best friend at the time helped clean me and the bed up—God bless this friend, as I’m sure it was scary and emotionally painful to witness. My roommates reached out to my mom and stepdad, and my stepdad came to pick me up so they could get me help. They all thought it was drug or alcohol-related, although at this point I had not had any substances in a couple of days, other than the sleep aid. I’m sure my previous use a couple of days prior was not helping the situation, though. My stepdad drove me to Moorpark, CA, which is roughly 30 miles from Northridge, where I lived at the time.

We were headed to my mom’s house. On the way there, he had music playing in the car. I proceeded to sing at the top of my lungs and dance to the music. Mind you he was listening to music I had never heard before, so I was making up the words. He must have been so confused and worried. This was not my normal behavior. At their house, I waited for my mother to get home from work. I was a cigarette smoker at the time and remember smoking more than half a pack of cigarettes as I waited. Chain-smoking was a problem I would come to know later as part of my manic tendencies.

African American college student diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a party with her family and her boyfriend
Courtesy of Kim Barnett

Once she arrived and saw my behavior, she immediately took action and drove me to the Emergency Room. My mom’s best friend and my brother went with us to the hospital. In the car, I remember being in the backseat with my brother and bothering him on the ride there. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don’t remember many details of the ride. It’s almost as if I had blacked out at this point or was sleepwalking since I had been up for 4-5 days straight. It was later explained to me by a psychiatrist when the body is awake for too long, it acts like it’s sleepwalking or microsleeping to protect itself.

I was immediately attended to at the hospital. I filled out some paperwork as best I could, and then I was admitted. I was told later I had attempted to run out of the hospital, but I was caught by security and brought back. I was admitted to the psych ward, which is now called behavioral health units, here in California. In the psych ward, I was medically and psychologically evaluated. This included drug tests to ensure it wasn’t a drug-induced psychosis. All they found in my system was THC from the marijuana I frequently smoked. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and put to sleep with something they injected into my veins. I slept for 3 days and do not remember what happened during this time, except a vague recollection of eating some food.

I was in the psych ward for almost two weeks. The staff administered medications I couldn’t pronounce and had no clue what they did. I was required to go to group and one-on-one therapy sessions, and participate in activities like arts & crafts, and exercise. We were even allowed to smoke on the patio, but only at certain times. During my stay, I was severely manic, so my moods fluctuated from anger, depression, or extreme euphoria. I was so unruly at one point, they strapped me down to a bed all night by myself to keep me from moving or disturbing the other patients and the staff.

Eventually, after two weeks of this, I was deemed stable enough to leave, even though I was still severely manic. Once released, I was assigned an outpatient county psychiatrist, who prescribed three medications and told me to get a therapist. I did not have insurance at the time and government services were not great, but at least it was something. The mania lasted for about three months and got a little better as the days passed. I started talking to a therapist, as suggested, and thought I was doing better and would be able to put this past me.

young Interracial couple sitting in a bus and smiling
Courtesy of Kim Barnett
young interracial couple sitting in a couch, with boyfriend's arm resting on the girl's shoulders
Courtesy of Kim Barnett

I went back to work at Olive Garden and continued school at CSUN. Those roommates, however, were frightened by me and asked me to move out. So I did. All of this traumatized me and created scars I thought would never heal. I was told healing was not possible for me, and the only way to manage my bipolar was through medications and talk therapy. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I started to believe differently and seek out other options to heal my wounds and the trauma endured from experiences such as the above. This is only one of my experiences out of many similar ones from my past.

In December of 2020, my path crossed with a Holistic Psychologist, and my world of self-healing began. A new way and perspective of mental health and wellness were finally introduced to me. I learned medication management and talk therapy are not the only options to help treat my symptoms—they are helpful, but there are other ways to heal my past traumas and wounds. Through this Holistic Psychologist, I learned and practiced meditation, journaling, breathing techniques, and visualization. I began reading books on these topics, as well as practicing some of the knowledge I was learning from these books and teachers.

African American woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder before suffering Bell's Palsy
Courtesy of Kim Barnett

My perspective slowly started to shift, and I began to feel more like myself again. A new world had been opened up – one that does not hold on to the past and shrivels away in miser. Instead, it learns and grows from the past, and uses the knowledge gained to heal from the painful challenges experienced in life. Yes, I still go through challenging times. However, I now have a way out and can get back to a regulated state easier than before. The first challenge to this new way of living came in the form of another dire and unwelcomed diagnosis on March 7, 2021.

I woke up in the morning and the right side of my tongue felt slightly numb. I didn’t think anything of it at the time and proceeded to get some water and exercise on my indoor bike. About an hour after I exercised, I was having a conversation with my husband Chuck. He said something funny, and I of course laughed at his joke. As I laughed, I noticed it felt like only part of my face was moving. I told Chuck, ‘My face feels weird,’ and asked him if anything looked off. He said, ‘It looks like only the left side of your face is moving.’ I immediately went to the bathroom to check out my face in the mirror. What I saw was shocking and terrifying!

The whole right side of my face was frozen and slightly droopy. It was also almost completely numb, including the majority of my tongue. My first thought was the worst—I had a stroke. I’m only in my late 30’s, so the chance of it being a stroke was slim. But my mind tends to always think the worst. I also thought maybe I slept funny, and it was just asleep (like when your foot falls asleep). I kept slapping it, trying to wake it up, but it didn’t work. About 30 minutes went by before I finally decided I needed to seek medical attention. So, Chuck and I went to the nearest Emergency Room.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

I was so scared they were going to tell me I had a stroke. My heart was pounding, and my hands were clammy in anticipation of a diagnosis. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Chuck was not allowed to come into the Emergency Room with me, so I was left to deal with this on my own. I was so scared! The nurse at the front desk asked me why I was there, and I explained half of my face wasn’t moving and felt numb. I was wearing a mask, and she asked me to remove it so she could take a look. I removed it and she examined my face. I was so fearful of the situation, I began to cry like a baby. She comforted me and explained I was in the right place for help.

I was immediately seen by a doctor. They did some strength tests with my hands, bloodwork, among others. They finally had an answer for me about the diagnosis—I had Bell’s Palsy. A condition causing a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the face. It can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed. The condition causes one side of your face to droop or becomes stiff. You may have difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected side. It’s sometimes caused by a virus, which I didn’t have, and sometimes caused by stress, which I was not under. So in my case, the main cause was unknown, which made it even more frustrating this was happening to me.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

The condition is normally temporary and usually lasts only a few weeks to a few months. They prescribed some medications, and after a month, I sought out physical therapy as well as acupuncture. Unfortunately, it’s been almost a year and I’m still affected by the condition. I’ve developed synkinesis, which means some of my facial nerves have repaired incorrectly and cause involuntary movements. My smile is still crooked as well. This additional diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy to my already existing Bipolar Disorder was disappointing and sent me into a deep depression.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

I even resigned from my Executive Assistant job. I didn’t know when—or if—I was going to recover, and I didn’t want my employer to have to wait for me to get better.  Eventually, I pulled myself out of the pits of despair and utilized all the tools I had learned from The Holistic Psychologist as well as continued to take my Bipolar Medication and talk to my therapist. I’m grateful I had all those self-care tools in my back pocket. Otherwise, I may not have ever come out of the depression I was in.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett

Currently, I’m doing well emotionally. My face has not recovered fully, but it’s better than it was at onset. I’m in a much healthier mental space, and I’m learning to accept my new normal. I may not be where I thought I would be in my recovery process from Bell’s Palsy, but I believe I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Resilience sometimes comes out of challenges and adversity and I’ve become one badass, resilient human being.

Courtesy of Kim Barnett
Courtesy of Kim Barnett

My advice to anyone struggling with challenges or adversity in any form is to hang in there and seek out avenues you may not have explored previously. You’ll never know what could have helped you through the challenge if you choose to not be curious and receptive to alternative opportunities for assistance. Resistance and fear of what we don’t know are common. But sometimes, when we explore the unknown, we find what we were looking for all along, and growth occurs. That’s what happened for me, and I’m a better person because I walked through my fears.”

Courtesy of Kim Barnett
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.

Read more from Kim:

‘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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‘I have a loving husband. My life is a fairytale. I should be smiling. I have no sob story to garner support.’: Mom suffering from depression gets real about mental health stigmas

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