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Two years ago, at the age of 40, I was diagnosed as Bipolar 1. For months, I’d wondered whether I needed help because I often suffered from depression, but I’d never had a manic episode, so I was able to ignore what seemed to be nothing more than mood swings.
Then, mania set in.
I was sleepless for weeks, but I’d always had trouble sleeping, so it wasn’t a cause for concern. The first sign there was something seriously wrong was the night I served my family garbage for dinner. I’d been obsessed with garbage—specifically our compost—for days. Photographing its beauty, trying to think of ways to reduce and reuse it, and even using it to create art. But that night, I spent an hour chopping and cooking the chicken carcass, tea bags, orange peels, and whatever else felt appealing, and then served it to my family as though it was a gourmet meal. Suddenly, warning bells went off.
My husband and I survived a few more days of my insomnia, grandiosity, and hypersexuality before it escalated and he took me to the hospital. I thought it was a joke. I thought we were there for a surprise party. It took hours for me to be convinced that I needed help, and many months for me to accept exactly what type of help I needed.
With a strictly structured schedule, exercise, medication, and therapy, I finally feel in control of my mental health.
Last year, at the exact same time—Mother’s Day weekend—I had my second manic episode. I was still in denial about my medication and had not been in compliance. I was again hospitalized and again missed Mother’s Day. It was awful. The ER hospital staff were not as caring as they had been the previous year. Because I already wore the crazy label, they mostly dismissed me and ignored my requests. They actually locked me in my room, which was more of a prison cell, for three days.
This spring was stressful. I did everything I could to avoid the hospital. It worked. With a strictly structured schedule, exercise, medication, and therapy, I finally feel in control of my mental health. I’ve actually started to see a few benefits to being bipolar.
The road to recovery took almost two years. It involved a lot of reading, both about mental health and for pleasure, writing about my experience, and listening to the experts, whose advice boiled down to staying on my meds, sticking to a healthy routine, and making sure that I was getting the correct amount of sleep. Sleep is the cornerstone of my stability. I began recognizing behaviors that I needed to modify if I was becoming depressed, such as forcing myself to socialize with at least one friend a week, or manic, such as forcing myself to wear only simple makeup, hairstyles, and outfits, and not allowing myself to be alone with any man other than my husband or doctor. My recovery also involved a lot of nature, even if all I could manage was to sit outside for a few minutes to stare at winter’s barren tree branches, and art of all kinds. On hypomanic days, I felt like drawing, writing, and playing the piano, whereas my mellow moods demanded reflection while listening to music, reading a book, or looking at paintings. It all helped.
“This too shall pass.” It always does.
What helped me the most were my children. In particular, there was a picture that my five-year-old created the last time I was in the hospital. It is a true reflection of the pain she felt at the time and sobers me into reality any time I feel like I’m starting to swing to either extreme. Another recollection that keeps me in check is the memory of trying to break down the steel door using my head as a battering ram when I was locked in my hospital room. These and a few more memories scare me straight, but also remind me of how far I’ve come and how strong I am. I keep a list of mantras for many different situations, but the one I use most is, “This too shall pass.” It always does.