Look at me. I probably look just like a lot of you. Most days, I look a little tired, wearing yoga pants, an oversized sweatshirt and a messy bun and some days, I look cute. But, there are subtle differences, ones you can’t see, bubbling right beneath the surface like well-placed Botox. Lately, I’ve been feeling a sort of way; like I’m walking a tightrope of mental health. Any wrong move could send me toppling and it’s exhausting. I feel like my bipolar diagnosis has been standing at the back of the room hanging out and suddenly, the pandemic has got behind that diagnosis and begin to nudge me uncomfortably forward. This might not make sense to you, if you’re not a person with mental illness but if you are, you know exactly what this feeling is. This is my diary of a manic mom.
My diagnosis of Bipolar 1 came the year after I got married, from the unlikeliest of places, my gynecologist. I know, her specialty is cervixes and uteruses not mood disorders with a side of mania but lucky me, I met a gynecologist who also happened to be the mom of a daughter with bipolar. This is where my journey from broken to bent began. Let me tell you, it is a relief when you realize there is a diagnosis and you are not in fact broken.
The diagnosis was terrifying at first. I had no idea what that meant, which made it even scarier considering everything I’d ever heard about the illness up until that point was limited misinformation and worst case scenarios. The consensus from my doctors is that I started having episodes in my teens and by college, they were at their peak. I can only speak to my particular flavor of mental illness but for me, it waxed and waned between full mania and extreme irritability. My “low” is the extreme irritability that comes from not being able to slow down. It’s like racing towards a brick wall going 125 miles an hour. I see the wall. I know it might kill me. I want to slow down but my mind keeps pushing the gas pedal. It is so bad that I get on my own nerves. That is a new level of irritability.
When I’m in a manic episode, I lose my ability to think rationally. I become reckless in all the ways you can imagine. I also feel invincible mentally, physically and spiritually. I’m naturally an optimist but when manic, its beyond reason and consequences were never considered. I am also inspired because all boundaries are null and void.
My diagnosis was not easy on the Big Guy, myself or the marriage. It took a lot of therapy, medications, research and willingness to embrace my disorder. I had to put everything into accepting my diagnosis, otherwise, I could not have learned to live with it. My husband also had to learn about and come to terms with my diagnosis. From that point on, he became my accountability partner, meaning we’ve discussed it and he knows the difference between my normal moods and reactions and when I’m becoming episodic. I need him to tell me if he recognizes the train going off the tracks, in case I’m not aware.
My experience with a mental health diagnosis has made me a mental health advocate. I had to learn about bipolar disorder. I believe every single person could use some therapy, especially during this pandemic, children and adults alike. My family knows this and we’ve all been in therapy at one point or another. I don’t believe in needlessly suffering when help is available.
I don’t have episodes like I used to. In fact, since the onset and diagnosis, I can only think of two other occasions when I’ve experienced a full manic episode. However, thanks to self-awareness, education and all the work I’ve done over the years to understand my illness, I’ve been able to find my way through them without losing total control.
With the pandemic and some of the situations that has brought with it (quarantining, best friend is a doctor who keeps me abreast of all the latest CoVid news, virtual learning, masks, an election, going back to school, deaths in the family, constantly worrying about the people I love and never being able to hug them), I have felt anxious. I’ve been able to deal with the anxiety. I’m aware it is happening but I push it to the side and move on. However, that constant state of anxiety has triggered what I’ve felt like was a manic episode.
What did it feel like? It felt like running in high heels across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. Other times, it feels like I’m stuck on a roller coaster perpetually going up, violently coming down and going right back up again. When this happens, all I can do is try to process my feelings while separating the noise and chaos from what must be done. Sometimes that means shutting completely down and being still until the attack of everything of the world is hurling at me can pass. I need to make things digestible or I will be swallowed whole. The most important thing is knowing myself and being aware of the symptoms that accompany my illness.
Giving myself over to those old reckless and self-satisfying behaviors is no longer an option for me. I’m a mom. Not only do I need to be mentally healthy for myself, I need to be healthy enough to take care of and love my family. Being mentally healthy is for my family. Knowing how to recognize, treat and work through my illness is the only way that can happen. There is no room for ignoring and denying in mental health because in the end it can mean the difference between life and death. Also, our children are always watching. I want them to know that there is no stigma to being mentally ill, seeing a therapist, taking medications or whatever needs to be done. The important thing is that we can embrace our disorder and love ourselves.