“Never Give Up.” Three bold words written across my favorite SGI International t-shirt. The simple phrase resonates with a lesson that I learned from living with bipolar disorder: be relentless. Living with bipolar disorder for twelve and a half years made me relentless in never giving up on myself, in fully pursing my spirituality, and in never giving up on others.
From my initial diagnosis, bipolar disorder taught me to be relentless. Although I was riding in the backseat of my parents’ white minivan that spring of 2000, mania brought me into a New York psychiatric emergency room. I was speeding towards a wall of confusion in my manic state. I saw Jesus on the corner in one moment; in the next, I could speak Russian. Insight deluded me. Five hours after being brought to the ER, I was admitted. Now separated from my parents, I began my journey to piece my sanity back together.
That summer, I prepared to return to Harvard University for my junior year. It would be four years later, however, that my graduation robe would hug my shoulders. My time at Harvard became a mix of highs and lows, but mostly lows.
“My couches were like coffins—they held the seat of my dreams, sleep was stitched into cushions of my love seat.” These lines are from my original poem “Nadir,” and speak to the depression that I experienced.
In spite of the highs of the few hypomanic episodes and the multitude of depressive lows, my spirit was relentless. Over the course of years, I stuck to my treatment plan, adjusted my regimen according to doctor’s orders, worked with my helping professionals, attended support groups, and developed healthy coping mechanisms. Because of my condition, I could never give up in the pursuit of a balanced me.
My illness taught me to also be relentless in my pursuit for a spiritual connection. Even though the anguish of depression had me curled up on my dorm room floor, I still prayed. I sought the balance of spirituality and the comfort it brings. The relentless pursuit of spirituality was essential for me to realize that the moods and cycles that I experienced were a reflection of the larger spiritual system and nature’s ebbs and flows. Although difficult in the midst of experiencing the highs and lows, I gained comfort in knowing that I was not alone; even the seasons spoke to my condition.
My mother held her head in the way that only a distressed mother can that night in the ER. Even through my manic fog, I could see the pain on her troubled face. Now, looking back, I know what that was—a mother’s love. My father expressed his love in his own way: “Go to sleep, son, go to sleep,” he said in his tenor voice, trying to coax me to rest. I was helpless as a little child. Yet, this same distress made my parents fearlessly relentless.
My parents, 007 stand-ins, twice shuttled me from Harvard back to NY because I could not complete the semester. I left during the cover of night. Both times my parents were there to swiftly whisk me away. I had my parents, but more importantly, I had two souls who would not give up on me.
Looking back on those nights, I see that my parents had a relentless faith in my ability to pull through the mania and the depression. Their relentlessness taught me a profound lesson: do not give up on others. The question that I ask when I see some of my friends going through the throes of depression is, “How can I give up on you?” I may not be able to help each one of my friends, but I know I can say a prayer and believe.
Twelve years after my diagnosis, I am proud to say that I have obtained dual masters degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University, pursued a coaching certification, and loved each bit of helping students while working in higher education. I am the proprietor of Live Breathe, LLC, a consulting business which focuses on speaking, coaching, and group leadership for college students, companies, and adults. I also work with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in two capacities: as a presenter for the In Our Own Voice program and as an outreach coordinator for the Breaking the Silence lesson plan distribution project in Long Island. I record and write poetry, exercise, and maintain a vegan diet. Please feel free to contact me or join my Facebook page to find out about the work I do.
Twelve years later, I am strengthened by my guiding life purpose and the knowledge that I cannot give up on myself, others, or my spiritual practice. I am certain relentlessness is built into my DNA.