HERE is my latest story on Patch. Please visit and feel free to comment or share a story!! The one published on Patch was edited a bit so I am adding the original below….
Michelle grew up in Mount Pleasant as a very popular, active and high achieving student. There wasn’t an instrument, team or club that she didn’t touch. She knew everyone and wanted to know everything. Constant ideas, goals and accomplishments made up Michelle’s days and nights. Never tired, always fast – she would be the best…not at one thing, but at all of them.
“In my pre-teen years it started with track. Then the piano. Then the violin. The cello. The clarinet. The saxophone. Then tennis. Then basketball. Then softball. I was the editor of my high school newspaper and community journalism. I became involved in theater getting most of the leads of all the plays. I didn’t want to just excel, but I had a grandiose notion that I would become famous.” Recalls Michelle, “I was lively, voted the “most outgoing senior girl” of my high school class. If there was a club, I was either in it, started it, or was the president of it.”
Throughout college and the beginning of law school, Michelle grabbed the bull by the horns and then proceeded to swing it over her head, toss it into the distance and make souffle for desert. There was nothing stopping her. That is, until there was.
Michelle’s grandiose self image turned into self loathing. Her massive energy became almost a nearly catatonic state. Her over-acheivment morphed into inability to function. At the drop of a hat – a hat the weight of an anvil – her life became unrecognizable and seemingly unlivable. She always knew there was something wrong, but it wasn’t until she was 27 did she finally receive a proper diagnosis. Michelle had been suffering from Bi-Polar Disorder.
“I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried all the time. I was lazy. What was wrong with me? This was not the person I knew. I knew there was something wrong, but I blamed it on other things such as my marriage, my family, the friends I hung out with,” she admits. “I became irritable and started to withdraw. I turned to cocaine and alcohol to help keep me at the level that I wanted to be at. That funny, manic, high spirited, wild and hard working person I always knew. It nearly destroyed me. After 14 years and a psychotic suicide attempt I found out I was bipolar.”
With no apprehension from others, little support or foreseeable fixes, Michelle crawled into bed and insisted there was no way to crawl out. The world as she knew it – the world she created and seemingly controlled suddenly disappeared and her life became unmanageable. During her manic phases she was hyper-sexual, leading to infidelity. She would seek out comfort from drugs and alcohol & sneaking and stealing to obtain them. She would be mean and cruel and acted out with violent behavior. All of this led to the end of her marriage. And she has few truly close friendships to this day.
Eventually the days of sleep, crying, tantrums and confusion would take the tide back to the ocean of fearlessness, confidence and intensity. She would take on tasks and work harder and longer than any other – that is while she was in a manic state. During these periods she could achieve like nobody’s business. She needed little sleep and she was always “on”.
But these moments of highs always ended with a crash. A crash which would leave her unemployable, chaotic and often, unbearable. Losing job after job, her life imitated her disorder in an unpredictable, cycling fashion. Each time she would pull herself back up, wipe off the depression dust and forge ahead. She could gain employment expeditiously but she simply could not retain it.
“I was functioning at such a manic level for long periods of time and out of nowhere I would crash. It felt like I was having a cocaine crash, except I wasn’t doing drugs anymore. After having an amazing month of work, I couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time, says Michelle, “I called in sick all the time. At lunch instead of socializing, I would isolate myself by either retreating to the parking garage and sleeping in my car, or I would shut my office door and sleep under my desk. I was crying all the time, yet nothing outright seemed to be wrong to explain how low I was feeling. The next thing I know I had to take two medical leaves of absences within six months.”
A time came when Michelle realized that traditional employment was not maintainable during these crashes. Lost work time, irritability and liability were boulders in the way of her career aspirations. She applied for disability and is now legally considered disabled due to her Severe Bipolar Disorder.
She has been weaving through the past decade searching for answers, remedies…happiness. She was prescribed many different medications and had exhausting side effects with each of them. The medication she has been taking for the past 2 years has caused her to become hypothyroid (which brings on a whole new slew of symptoms), given her uncontrollable tremors, caused weight gain and has diminished any interest in that which used to motivate her.
And while Michelle has not killed the beast as she still fights this battle daily, she does have the experience to offer a wealth of advice to those who are new to the diagnosis or its symptoms.
“Bite the bullet and go to a reputable psychiatrist. You MUST be proactive. Keep taking your meds even if you “feel better” or think you “don’t need them anymore”. Go to therapy on a regular basis. Read as much as you can about the disease. Know your “trigger” points. Live as stress-free as possible. Exercise is a must. Utilize trusted family and friends when you need someone to lean on. Educate your family and friends about your symptoms, triggers, meds and everything else,” Michelle lives by these self appointed “rules” to help her get through life’s typical challenges while carrying the heavy load of Bi-Polar Disorder.
Michelle now spends her days at the gym, reading and taking care of her son. Due to her medication she feels her senses are dulled and her creativity has decreased. She finds little joy in writing and all of the other projects she once obsessed over. “I live a totally boring existence,” she shares. But she also knows the dire consequences of the alternative.
While the love she has for her son and the great appreciation she has for her mother fills her every day; she also feels lonely, humiliated and self conscious. But on the outside she appears to be grounded, funny, popular and successful. This disease teaches people how to hide, pretend and preform. And she does it well.
Many – if not all – of us know someone with a mental illness. We may know about it, maybe not. They may know about it, they may not. What we need to recognize is the simple fact that we don’t know what could possibly be happening behind the curtain. One may be quick to judge Michelle on her sexual conquests. Others may banish her to the bad camp because of her past drug use.
What behaviors, words or actions have you judged today? We need to remind ourselves that the very person we are vilifying, condemning or shaming could have a disease no different than cancer or diabetes.
Put yourself into Michelle’s – or whatever person you know in your life who lives with a mental illness – shoes. Imagine having to take chemicals which cause discomfort, physical changes and emotional imbalances. Picture waking in the morning with deep regret because of something you did the night before without the ability to stop yourself. How would you fare? How would you handle having to explain yourself over and over in the hopes to gain one ounce of understanding or compassion – and at the very least, respect.
Bi-Polar Disorder is the tightrope on which many need to balance while the typical difficulties of life shake the very pillars holding that very rope. Instead of reaching out your hand to joggle an already unstable anchor – reach out your arms to help keep them from falling.
If you know someone with Bi-Polar Disorder and you would like to help; or if you are a person who recognizes some of these symptoms within yourself – Please visit the NIMH Website for information and resources.