I’m Living Proof: Coming to Terms with Bipolar
Do you remember the first time we realized something was wrong? Not incorrect or unfair. I mean the time we realized that what we were experiencing wasn’t normal. It was fifth grade, right after our mom and stepdad divorced and we moved to the middle of nowhere. We weren’t doing great. Things were tough at home, and then this feeling took over. We felt a shift in ourselves. At the time we didn’t understand, but now I know it was the first time we experienced suicidal ideation. We were 10 years old.
Of course, there were many other times too. Not every high school freshman locked themselves in their rooms for entire weekends, binge-watching a comfort show to escape and cope. Not every 15-year-old only slept a few hours every night with no issue, starting entire creative projects while feeling incredibly agitated and irritable. Not every 17-year-old suddenly tries to commit suicide a week before college starts, following a summer of relentless, hopeless intrusive thoughts and self-destructive, impulsive decisions.
Looking back, I think we always knew something was wrong. We just didn’t quite understand what. But we wanted answers, so we started looking. Mom took us to a therapist who treated us like the child we weren’t at 15. Another one when we were 18, told us our intrusive, suicidal thoughts sounded like a demonic issue. The one our freshman year of college that didn’t provide anything but a concerned look and book recommendations. Despite all of that, we kept trying to make changes for the better. We wanted to be better.
Then we hit a moment where we really knew something had to change. We were incredibly reckless our first college semester, but also fell into periods of deep despair. What we felt wasn’t normal and it scared us. We started a mood journal to track what we were feeling, and we started looking into possibilities for what we were experiencing, all while trying to succeed at college.
And we made it through. We got all A’s (and one B) our first year of college. We survived Dad’s passing right after exams; Mainly because we fell into a manic episode but, nonetheless, we did it. And when that manic episode started getting worse and worse, to where we felt like crawling out of our skin, we knew we had to do something. We talked with someone from high school who had bipolar disorder and suddenly things started making sense. We went to a psychiatrist, got a bottle of anti-psychotics and a follow up appointment for two weeks out, at which we were diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder. That was three years ago. I want you to know how proud I am of you. Just three years ago, you fought a panic attack and major paranoia the entire walk to the appointment. You sat in that lobby trying not to burst into tears, and you got us the help we needed. I know it was hard. But you did it, and you changed everything for us.
We’ve hit a lot of highs and lows since then. We’ve taken our medication every single day, had it increased and changed dozens of times to fight off episodes and side effects. We learned how to manage our episodes and prevent them through research, trial, and error. No one told us about mixed episodes. No one told us how important sleep was, but we stuck to a sleep schedule. No one told us how important a daily routine was for noticing and preventing episodes, but we created and stuck to one. We changed our entire lifestyle to maintain stability. We were so proud. But no one told us that even then, episodes could and would still happen, and I’m so, so sorry that you didn’t know.
But I want you to know you were amazing. Making almost all A’s, cooking healthy meals, exercising at the gym, or going on daily walks, doing yoga several times a week, even every day for a while. I’m so proud of you, and I want you to know that it’s okay that you got discouraged when you had episodes anyway. I don’t blame you for somewhat giving up on that healthy lifestyle because to you, it didn’t seem to matter either way. That was the year of one, two, three, four episodes that I can remember, and it landed you in a bad place, both mentally and in your relationships.
But you did something amazing throughout all of that. You started talking about bipolar disorder online. We’ve always had a knack for coping through jokes and that’s exactly what we did. And then something crazy happened: people started watching. A lot of people. And even more amazing, you took that as the motivation to learn more and share what you knew. You helped people laugh through the pain of living with bipolar disorder, and you helped yourself accept that part of you. We went from barely telling any of our friends or family to introducing it in any conversation where it was relevant, even getting millions of views online.
You had the courage to share the good, the bad, the scary and the funny about what we go through. You validated those who experienced the same things that you did but never felt like they could talk about it. And while you helped so many people, you also helped yourself. We had a very deeply internalized stigma about bipolar disorder, and you worked through that by being vulnerable online.
We made a lot of mistakes. We got ourselves together, we got ourselves help, we put in the work, and it wasn’t fair. We should never have had to go through what we did, especially not alone. We did the best that we could with what we had, and we did a good job.
Bipolar doesn’t define you, it’s not who you are, but it is a part of our experience, and I’m grateful for where it took us. We never thought we’d be running around online making TikToks with old, heart-shaped glasses on our head while talking about mania. We never imagined the advocacy we would do and the people we would work with to do that. We always wanted to help, and now we get to help on a bigger scale than we ever thought possible. We almost didn’t make it through college. Now, we’re going on to graduate school.
We have some amazing people in our life now, people who support us in and out of episodes, people who understand and care so much about us. You need a solid support system; you cannot do everything alone. The right people won’t hurt you; they’ll make you feel safe.
You have so much to look forward to. Friends like family, family like friends, an online community of people like you, and a love for yourself that changes everything. So, trust your intuition with people, let your friends in, have alone time, don’t overwork yourself, find time for your passion projects. Remember that episodes are inevitable, and that’s okay. We can’t always prevent them, but we can manage how much they affect us. Bipolar disorder isn’t a sentence to a life of misery. It doesn’t always get better, but it does get easier; I promise. Most of all, don’t let anything or anyone, yourself included, keep you from taking care of yourself and reaching for the stars. You are capable of so much and you’re going to do amazing things.