DISCLAIMER: This story contains details of self-harm and suicidal ideation that may be triggering to some.
“I sat on the steps outside my apartment, watching my roommate tell her side of the story to a police officer while another cop asked me questions. My roommate’s mom arrived and took her away, and then an ambulance came for me. I called my boyfriend, half-convinced that he would break up with me on the spot, but I was so alone and I had no one else to call.
‘Something happened,’ I sobbed. ‘We had a fight and she called the police. I’m going to the hospital.’ I thought he would hang up on me, dump me, something; instead, he jumped in an Uber and met me there.
In the ER, I lied to myself and the doctors all the way through a psych evaluation. They kept me overnight and then sent me home. In hindsight, they should have admitted me. If I had been honest, they would have. I was not okay, and six months later I would wind up in that same ER, this time hoping to be admitted. I was suicidal, and I was finally being honest with myself that something was very wrong, and I needed help.
My story starts at four years old, accidentally watching the September 11th attacks on television when they interrupted my cartoons. That triggered late-night panic attacks over the sounds of airplanes overhead. From preschool, I struggled with anxiety-fueled insomnia, and some of my earliest memories are of being anxious. I vividly remember being four or five years old, lying in bed consumed by fear as I heard airplanes overhead.
I was terrified they were going to crash into my house, or land on the roof and bring ‘bad guys’ who would hurt my family. Over the next few years, I developed obsessive-compulsive symptoms, sensory processing issues, and social anxiety. I had panic attacks at summer camp when forced to put sneakers on wet and sandy feet. I struggled to make and maintain friendships in elementary school, always feeling like my classmates were speaking a language I didn’t understand.
One evening in ballet class at nine or ten years old, I stared at myself in a leotard and tights in the mirror. I had suddenly developed hips, and I was horrified by the lumps on either side of my waist. I looked at my pre-pubescent classmates in their ruler-straight bodies and I wished I were skinnier. By the time I was entering middle school, I was experiencing bouts of crippling depression and being bullied. Many days, I couldn’t get out of bed and was chronically late for school. I was bullied for being a ‘teacher’s pet’ and ‘trying too hard.’ Any friendships I had from elementary school evaporated as I became dysfunctionally anxious and depressed.
I struggled to attend school and was threatened with repeat years and truancy officers. I would lay in the bed in the mornings, paralyzed by anxiety. I was terrified of the bullies in my classes and the bullies in my head. I was brutal to myself. I started cutting calories until I was near fainting in dance class. I begged a boy to love me, to save me from my mental illness by loving me when I couldn’t love myself. He knew better, he knew he couldn’t do that, and we stopped spending time together. I was heartbroken, hungry, self-harming, and ultimately suicidal. One day, I walked into school several hours late, and was told to go to my guidance counselor. She wasn’t in her office, and I had reached the end of the line. I was ready to walk back out the front doors and into the traffic of the highway down the street.
My English teacher showed up at exactly the right time and saved me from taking my life. She held me while I sobbed and told me something I hadn’t heard from anyone before. I was not a failure, a screw-up, a punk destined to drop out of high school. I was sick. With her validation, I was sent to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with depression, OCD, and anxiety. I began therapy and six months later, I was eating properly, taking medication, and on track to graduate. I tried cheerleading, horseback riding, and gymnastics, but eventually came back to ballet with a much healthier mindset.
I thought that was it. I thought that with medication and therapy, I could be well for the rest of my life. I graduated high school like a big middle finger to every teacher and guidance counselor who told me I couldn’t. I walked across that stage with a shit-eating grin. I started college at my dream school. I made some incredible friends. I was on top of the world.
Until I wasn’t.
It began with a girls’ trip to Martha’s Vineyard in the fall of my junior year, in 2017. One of my friends had a family house on the Vineyard and we took a road trip out there for a weekend. I was furious to discover that my friends had invited one of their boyfriends to join us. I didn’t say anything about not wanting him to come and instead seethed with rage for the whole weekend, eventually getting into a screaming, shoving fight with my best friend.
In retrospect, I can’t even remember why I was so angry. It was an emotion that was completely detached from reality; I screamed and fought like my life depended on getting my way. Like a toddler. I am horrified to look back on it, and afterward, I felt as though I was recovering from a serious bout of flu. I was exhausted, weak and shaky, crying constantly. When we got home from that trip, I went to see my psychiatrist. He put me on a medication that he described as a booster for my antidepressants, to help manage what he perceived as severe anxiety resulting in mood swings.
Over the next year and a half, I had more episodes of extreme and completely unfounded anger. I would scream at my friends, throwing fits and getting angry over nothing. I felt like a raw nerve at all times; anything and everything could set me off. I picked fights over things I didn’t care about. My roommate got engaged and instead of being happy for her, I told her all the reasons he was wrong for her. I perceived some great and terrible truth about their relationship that she couldn’t see. She resented me for it. The doctor, who was about 178 years old and probably should not have been practicing medicine anymore, continued increasing my medication doses until I was medicated into a fugue state. When I wasn’t a zombie, I was angry, irritable, and picking fights with my best friends over nothing in particular.
In April of 2019, the day before the cops showed up, I was walking to a yoga class with my roommate. I told her about a funny gift my boyfriend had ordered for me, and she made a face. ‘That’s really weird.’ That got me. It wasn’t the affectionate way she called me a ‘weirdo’ when I was being silly. It was a judgment in line with other harsh things she had said about my relationship. I was pissed.
I turned around and walked away. I called my boyfriend to spend the night with him because I was so furious about this vaguely unkind comment that I couldn’t stand to be in the same apartment with her. I went to work from his place in the morning and when I came home the next day, she insisted we talk it out. Instead, I got angrier and angrier until I was screaming at her. I completely lost touch with reality. I was dissociating and completely out of control. I wanted to stop, I wanted to walk away, but I couldn’t. She became so scared of my mental state that she called the police, which freaked me out so badly that I attacked her. Scared of myself and the police on their way, I ran out of the apartment and walked around the block, crying and talking to myself. ‘I’m not crazy,’ I muttered, ‘I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.’
While I was in the ER, my roommate moved out and has not spoken to me since. I don’t blame her. I would be scared of me, too. I am scared of me. The following October, I finally admitted to myself that I needed help. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t trust myself either. I checked into the ER and spent a week in a psychiatric hospital. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I began a regimen of mood stabilizers that save my life every single day. My medication gave me back a mind that I lost a long time ago, and suddenly my life was my own again. I recognized my psychotic rage as an unusual manifestation of mania, and they receded with the medication. I sleep better, I think more clearly, I have very rare panic attacks and no blinding rage. I am healthier than I have possibly ever been in my life.
But it came at a price. I lost my best friend. We called each other ‘non-biological twins.’ We were soul sisters, the best friends either of us had ever had. I live every day in fear of the monster that I know lives within me. I don’t want to hurt the people I love ever again. I don’t want to hurt myself. I have begun raising money to get a psychiatric service dog, who will help me make sure that what happened in April of 2019 never happens again. A dog will change my life, give me peace of mind that there is something besides my own broken mind in between sanity and the raging monster who tried to hurt my best friend.
A dog could provide grounding during mania, interrupt self-harming behaviors, help me regulate my sleep cycle, remind me to take my medication, alert to panic attacks, and so much more. Psychiatric service dogs are less common than guide dogs, mobility dogs, or seizure alert dogs, and so there are fewer resources available to obtain them. They are still, however, lifesaving and medically necessary for people like me. I am fighting every single day, and I live in fear of becoming that sick again. There is so much stigma around mental illness, and disorders like bipolar in particular, that it is very hard to ask for help in this way.
That stigma keeps people like me from getting help when they need it. I was so afraid of being ‘crazy’ that I couldn’t admit to myself or the doctors that I needed help when I was literally in the hospital for a psych evaluation. I wish I could go back to April 2019 and shake that scared girl out of her denial. I needed help, and there should be no shame in asking for it. Checking myself into the ER and committing myself to the hospital was one of the hardest things I have ever done because I so desperately didn’t want to be labeled as ‘crazy.’
Mental illness shouldn’t be used as an insult, and the shame that language builds around psychiatric disorders has cost so many people their lives. I am so grateful that in the middle of absolute darkness, I retained enough presence of mind to keep myself safe, but we must restructure our mindset around mental illness to erase the stigma and help people like me get the help they need before it’s too late.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sharon Fischer of Boston, Massachusetts. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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