“Why didn’t you come to me?”

The past two days have been significantly better than my last posting. For the first time in months, I had to juggle friends and schedules on Sunday. It’s like people were coming out of the woodwork to hang out with me. It was a really nice feeling. I’ve set small goals for myself. The most important thing I’m doing right now, though, is reframing how I think of this year. Rather than pressuring myself to find a stable job with benefits that will lead to a career, I decided to just take a gap year. I don’t want to settle down and start a life here, so why am I putting so much pressure on myself to start a career? In fact, I plan on moving to another state in a matter of months. I’m not the ideal employee right now. I’m not going to just sit on my couch for the next nine months, though. In all honesty, I just want to waitress or be a barista for now. When I think about what I want to be doing with my life right now, that’s what I imagine. I know I’m not going to do it forever, but I don’t even know what I want to do forever. I just don’t want to be so anxious and high-strung. I’ve just from a high-stress, daily crisis type of work environment. Now, I want the biggest problem I deal with to be that someone’s food was prepared wrong. I’ve handled that shit before. I know what I’m doing. Most days, I have such a tenuous grasp on calmness that something like that is all I can fathom at the moment.

Since coming to that conclusion, I’ve been significantly more zen about my life. My future is only as bleak as I perceive it. So, with this new attitude, I set out to spend time with friends. When I get really low, I tend to isolate myself. I surround myself with only those who I trust the most. So, once I start to feel better, I seek out more people. The people who I don’t reach out to during my low points all tend to ask the same thing, “Why didn’t you come to me?”

That can be such a loaded question. I hate answering it. Every person is different, so there’s never one set response. Here are some of the common reasons why.

I didn’t come to you because:

I don’t feel calm when I’m around you.
I feel like I always have to put on a happy face and I was too tired to do so.
I didn’t think you’d put up with me.
I thought you would just try to fix me and I’m not a problem to be fixed.
I thought you’d turn it around to all of your problems and I can’t deal with that right now.
I like you, but I’m just not on that level with you yet.
I didn’t think you would be patient and actually listen to me.
You just want to ask me what you should do to help me and I don’t fucking know.
I don’t feel comfortable being sad and depressed with you.
Your hugs don’t bring me comfort right now. They make me feel like I’m dying.
I think you’re only asking to make yourself feel better about being there for me. It doesn’t make me feel better.
I don’t want to endlessly talk about my feelings, but I know you want to.
I don’t want you to see how truly fucked up I am.
I don’t trust that you won’t gossip about me to all of our mutual friends.
I can’t clearly express what I’m feeling and you can’t handle the grey areas of my mind.
I might need your help later and I don’t want you to burn out on my neediness yet.
I didn’t think you cared.

Are these rational? Absolutely not. But when I’m depressed, I’m not a rational person. I don’t go through my contacts and see a list of people who love and care about me, even though I know that most of them do. I see a list of well-intentioned people who have no idea about the shitstorm of irrationality in my head. Lots of people tell me they want to help and they want to understand, but when I’m already depressed, I don’t know how to make that happen. I’m barely holding on as it is. When people ask what others do to make me feel better, I never know what to tell them. There’s no magic word or pattern of behaviors. With Caity and John and my mom, they just do make me feel better. That’s why I turn to them when things are shitty. That’s why I don’t call other people. Those three know how to make me feel better without any coaching from me. It’s easy to talk to them.

I guess the simple answer I should give people is that it’s just not as easy to talk to them.

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Rejection

I don’t handle rejection well. I doubt there are very many people who do, but I’m kind of horrifically bad at it. For instance, I found out yesterday that I got wait listed for the program in Chicago that I really want to do next year. Now, I’m well aware that wait listing does not equal rejection. I might still get in. There are three more deadlines for the program and they’ll re-evaluate my application at each deadline. Two months from now, I might get in and all this frustration will have been for naught.

In my mind, I have such a skewed version of myself. So, when I got the e-mail that I was wait listed, the thought that automatically goes through my mind is “They don’t want to get rid of you yet. They’re just really hoping that someone better than you comes along.” I overanalyze everything. My inner voice spends hours every day berating myself. I was never someone who really got punished growing up because my parents pretty much knew they could never do something worse to me than I was already doing to myself.

So, I spent a little while crying hysterically last night. I had a couple glasses of wine and ate chocolate frosting straight from the container while I re-watched the American Horror Story premiere and the horrible sequel to The Amityville Horror. I turned to horror for a couple of reasons. First, I decided I’d rather be scared than sad. Secondly, it brought me comfort to know that these fictional characters were having a worse time than I was. I may or may not have gotten into my dream program, but at least I wasn’t possessed by a demon and murdering my entire family. It really put things into perspective. I decided around 7:30 that I wanted to forget about everything and just go to sleep, so I took a couple allergy pills that I thought would put me to sleep. I figured that those and the wine would knock me out instantly. All it did was make me feel woozy and then I was still awake for another five hours. I couldn’t even make myself unconscious successfully. Just another thing I was failing at.

In the past couple of months, I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection. In fact, all I really see of adult life so far is endlessly being told I’m not good enough. I have no job and no real direction. I’ve always had my shit together. I’m a very goal-oriented person. But now, I have no idea what my goals are. I wake up every day and hope that this will be the day I figure out what my purpose is. From where I’m sitting, all I see myself as right now is a useless waste of space.

Numbness

There are so many days that I don’t feel anything. You might think this would be a blessing in disguise, but it’s these days I hate the most. When I say I don’t feel anything, I mean I feel completely numb. I look at my hands or my legs and I don’t feel like I’m looking through my eyes. It’s like I’m in another person’s body.

The thing I don’t tell people is that I’m numb more often than I feel. When I was working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, people constantly asked how I could do that job. How I didn’t come home and cry every day. It’s much easier when you don’t feel the words they’re telling you. It’s not that I’m completely cold or heartless. In my mind, I understood that they were upset and traumatized. I knew how to respond appropriately. I understood that they were in pain. But emotionally, there were so many days that I just felt nothing.

I would sit in my office and be so confused. I was surrounded by people who felt so much every single day and I just didn’t know why I couldn’t. That confusion would lead to guilt. I knew I was supposed to feel something, so what the fuck was wrong with me that I couldn’t? I would torture myself with the thoughts of what was happening to these women and berate myself when I didn’t think I had the right feelings. It got to be so much that I nearly went into panic attacks every time the crisis line rang. It wasn’t from the nature of the calls. It was because every call and every person with whom I worked was another reminder that I’m a freak who can’t do something as simple as feel emotions.

The one exception is when I’m watching movies or television. Then I feel all the emotions that I think I should be feeling in everyday life. For instance, I went to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower tonight. At the end of it, I was bawling. It’s not a particularly sad ending. I just had so many feelings.

It’s the numbness I hate the most. The racing thoughts go away for a little while, but it doesn’t make things any easier. I just feel like an outsider. I lose track of time. I drove 50 miles today before I fully registered that I was driving somewhere. It’s not that I was unaware of my actions or being inattentive to the road. I just had no emotions, no thoughts, nothing. I walked out of the theater and instantly reverted to the numbness. I’ve never been high, but the resounding thought in my head is that it feels like I’m stoned.

The worst part is what happens after the numbness. More often than not, this is the calm before the storm. It’s like I shut down and then all of a sudden, I’m just spiraling downward. I hate this more than anything. All I want is to feel like a normal person and I know I never will.

Friends and Support Systems

This is a big thing I’ve been thinking about recently. When talking to people about things that are bothering me, I’ve been saying that I don’t really have any friends near me. They come back and name a few people that I do hang out with and consider friends. I try to tell them it’s not the same. They’re my friends, but they’re not my friends.

Over the past four years, I’ve built up a great support system with people who have been with me from day one freshman year. Of those people, only my fiance is still in town. The others are scattered across the Midwest and with that distance comes their removal from my support system. It’s hard enough to maintain a strong support system when they are in the same zip code as me, let alone five to ten hours away. Other than my fiance, I have my best friend and my mom, both of whom live about an hour and a half away.

That’s not to say that I don’t have people I trust in the same town as me. I have several good friends whose company I greatly enjoy. I trust them, but not the level of trust that is needed in a support system. What makes my fiance, best friend, and mom different from others is that they have been there during my breakdowns. They can tell when I’m lying and putting on a front that I’m okay. They know what my stressors and triggers are. They know how I behave during a breakdown and react in such a way that they end up comforting me. Most importantly, they allow me to completely be myself and just focus on the emotions I have. When I’m around them, I don’t have to put on a happy face in order to make them more comfortable. I know that very few people want to hang out with the depressed person when they are trying to have a good time, but with the people in my support system, I don’t have to worry about that.

A lot of people ask me what one of those three people does to make me feel better when I’m having a breakdown. The honest answer is, I don’t know. I’m not thinking rationally enough when it’s happening in order to analyze their behavior and look for trends in what they are doing. I know they ask questions when they need to, but they don’t stress me out by asking a ton of things. They rarely ask me what’s wrong because the answer is normally that I don’t know. They don’t ask what they can do to make me feel better because I don’t know.

When I’m in the middle of a breakdown, I almost never want to be around people. I’m normally a fairly introverted person and being around people drains my energy. When I’m depressed, it’s like my energy drains exponentially based on the number of people around me. The more people, the faster my energy goes away. So, while I can tell a friend that I’m having a hard time or that I’m depressed, it gets a lot harder to explain why I don’t want to be around them when I know they’re only trying to help me. Because I don’t want people to be mad at me and I don’t want to alienate anyone further, I often end up hanging out with people who only make things worse. I feel ridiculously guilty afterwards. I question why I can’t just be normal. I try to laugh and smile along with the others surrounding me. By the time I get home, I feel like I’ve run an emotional marathon.

I’m extremely hesitant to count people among my support system. I’ve found that so few people truly get it. There have been times that I’ve thought people were in my support system and they end up not wanting to take on those responsibilities. I don’t blame them for that. It’s a hard thing to do. People want to fix things, but I’m not a problem to be fixed. I have friends who think things will be better if I just go out drinking with them, despite the number of times I tell them that drinking isn’t good for me because of my medications. I have plenty of friends who think I should just get over the things I cannot fix. It’s so much easier said than done. I can’t just wake up in the morning and decide to be happy. If it was that simple, I’d do it on a daily basis. I would never choose to be depressed. It’s fucking exhausting.

A lot of people like to give advice on things I should do to make me feel better. Meet new people. Exercise. Watch less TV. Spend less time online. Talk to more people. Call [insert name here] whenever I’m feeling down. The problem is that the coping strategies I’ve developed have worked over time for a reason. I isolate myself because people exhaust me. I watch TV and spend time online because it quiets the racing thoughts in my head and I can be anonymous. Most importantly, I feel the emotional ties to television characters that I have trouble developing with people in real life. I spend hours analyzing every conversation I have with people and beating myself up for things that went wrong. I don’t call people outside those three when I’m having a hard time because it’s uncharted territory. Until I know how they’re going to respond to something, I don’t have that level of trust to let them in to my deepest, darkest places in my mind.

I know people are going to come back and say that I can trust them or I can call them when I’m having problems. The issue is that I’ve heard that before. Then when I do call them, they’re too busy or disinterested to deal with my problems. They tell me they’re tired of me saying the same things over and over again. They’re sick of me being so self-destructive. They’re sick of my constant need for a pity party. It makes it so that I designate people as friends to call when I’m down and friends to call when I’m up. The problem is that I have far fewer friends to call when I’m down. And those that I do have either live in the same apartment as me or are on the other side of the state. I don’t really know how to change that.

Medication

In this day and age, when you diagnosed with a mental illness, the first step is typically to find the proper medication regimen. Within a couple weeks of my diagnosis, I started a twice-daily routine of Trileptal, a common mood stabilizer. A month later, my doctor added in a daily dose of Zoloft.

It seems so simple. You have an illness. You take medication. However, there are tons of emotions wrapped up in it. As much as I wanted to feel better, I was terrified at how the medicine would change me. Most people have heard about the small percentage of those who take anti-depressants and become suicidal afterwards. I was terrified I would start taking this medication and get worse. More than that, I was scared I was going to lose my identity. Even though I would wake up every day and not know what emotions my brain was going to throw at me, I at least knew that I was going to have some sort of reaction to everything. In my mind, I was The Girl Who Has Crazy Mood Swings. The medication was going to take away everything I knew about myself. I was scared of the unknown. I didn’t know how I was going to react to anything anymore.

When you start taking psychiatric medication, there is no end date. With antibiotics, you take it for a specific amount of time and then the infection is cleared up. Once I committed to this medication, I would likely be taking it for the rest of my life. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. That’s something that doesn’t just go away. I’ve been on the same dosage of Trileptal from the very beginning. I had to switch from Zoloft to Celexa my freshman year of college and had to increase the dosage once in my senior year of college.

Both of the anti-depressants make me extremely tired. People make fun of me for sleeping so long or napping so often. It got slightly better when I switched to the Celexa. Instead of having to take a nap every single day, I got by with one every couple of days.  Of course, based the intense schedule I typically kept with school, I did not actually have the time to nap that often. To compensate for the tiring effect, I had to develop a caffeine addiction. Most days of school, I had to start the day off with a soda if I wanted to stay awake through lunch. My aide periods during my senior year became nap time. When I got home from school, I had to sleep for an hour to an hour and a half. In college, between classes, I had to go back to my dorm and nap. When I lived off campus, I would go to the student union and nap in a quiet place. Once it got to the point where I had to stay awake for an entire day, I had to switch to energy drinks. Eventually, my soda intake increased because one soda wasn’t enough. I started getting withdrawal symptoms when I didn’t have enough caffeine. I’m also pretty sure the twitch I have is an effect of the medication.

My parents would ask me how long I thought I needed to be on my meds. I think it eventually got through to them that it’s not going to be something I eventually stop. If I get irregular in taking my medication, I feel the mood fluctuations and loss of control coming back.

A common misconception is that medication completely takes away all symptoms of mental illnesses. I still have plenty of days where I don’t feel all with it. I still have mood swings and I still get depressed at times. The medication is there to make it easier for me in day-to-day life. I used to be incredibly high strung, to the point that I could not stop looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was there. Now, I don’t constantly look over my shoulder. I have fewer anxiety attacks now. I don’t think every bad thing is the end of the world. If I got a B on an assignment, it used to send me into hysterics. After my medication, I would still be upset, but it wouldn’t cause panic attacks anymore. I still have tons of emotions, but they’re a little more muted now. I’m never going to be cured. I accept that. Medication just makes it a little easier to live.

The Diagnosis

I was 11 the first time I thought something might be wrong. I was just starting middle school. I felt like my elementary school friends didn’t want to be around me. To be honest, I didn’t want to be around them most of the time. I felt like they didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them. While they had their problems, I felt like they never wanted to listen to mine. More than that, though, I couldn’t explain what was wrong with me. They wanted to know why I was so sad all the time. I wanted to know it, too. My parents wanted to know why I was so moody. I wanted to know, too.

About halfway through sixth grade, I started asking my parents to send me to a psychiatrist. I’d never been to one before, but I thought psychiatrists were supposed to fix people’s brains. All I knew was that there was something wrong with my brain and it needed to be fixed. Of course, they weren’t just going to send me to a doctor without asking any questions. I couldn’t explain to them why I was sad all the time. I tried to tell them that I was having trouble at school with some of my elementary school friends. Unfortunately, they did what any logical parent would do and called my school. This led to me being called into my counselor’s office for peer mediation with the girls I said were giving me trouble. Since all that had happened was a friendship falling apart, I mainly looked and felt like an idiot. I lied to my parents and said things were getting better.

They did. For a little while. I was still sad a lot. Some days were better than others. In eighth grade, I had my first panic attack. I was in French class. There was this girl I really didn’t like. I made a joke to my friend who sat next to me that we should raise money to buy her a one-way plane ticket to Australia, since that’s where she was from. Another person overheard and told this girl what I said. She said some bitchy, sarcastic thing back to me, since we were both petty eighth graders. I went to choir and couldn’t focus on anything. My mind was racing. I don’t know when I started hyperventilating, but it wasn’t until my next class that my algebra teacher sent me to the nurse. I tried to tell my teacher that I was fine, but ten minutes later, I couldn’t breathe. I went to the nurse and was completely hysterical. I told her what I had said to this girl. I said that I was sure she would tell a teacher. Then I would get in-school detention. Then it would go on my permanent record. Then I would never get into college. Then I would end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. I was positive that one comment had just ruined my life. The nurse went to get the assistant principal who assured me that I would not get in trouble for what I said. As I laid there in the nurse’s office with the assistant principal trying to calm me down, I knew once again that something was wrong.

My next panic attack came at the thought of starting high school. I called a local radio DJ and asked him if it was normal to feel anxious about that. Naturally, he told me that I probably needed to go wake up my parents if I was having trouble breathing. Since I was completely irrational, I did not do that and just hyperventilated until I fell asleep.

It was in ninth grade that I cut myself for the first time. I had an argument with my parents and felt so completely alone. I went downstairs, grabbed a pair of scissors and just sat there on my bathroom floor. I dragged the pair of scissors across my leg, right below my left kneecap. It was just two miniscule cuts, but they terrified me. I grabbed the phone and called my boyfriend at the time, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him what I had done. I didn’t think he really cared. Our relationship was really odd and I didn’t want to bother him with the crazy things that were going on in my head. I put my Hello Kitty band-aids on my leg and tried to forget about what had happened. The next day, I panicked because I thought the cut was still bleeding a little bit. I told one of my friends what I had done. She made me promise I would never do it again. I promised her, but I think we both knew I wasn’t being honest. I was never a regular cutter. It wasn’t something I did on a daily basis, or even a monthly basis. It’s something I fell back on when I was at my lowest. I would cut myself a couple times in a week and then nothing for months on end.

That summer, my parents finally agreed to let me see a counselor. We found a person that my pediatrician kind of knew, but she didn’t really know anything about her. I went a few times to her, but I never really connected with her. She said I needed to focus on driving more because it was something that was causing me a lot of anxiety at the time. She thought I needed to join more clubs at school, but it was summer and I was already someone who was incredibly involved. She said it was a shame that I wasn’t closer in age to my cousins, but there wasn’t anything to be done about that. By the end, I was outright lying to her so I wouldn’t have to go back to her again.

Sophomore year of high school was the lowest I have ever been. In my school district, sophomore year is the first true year of high school. For ninth grade, they send us to the Freshman Center, which is essentially a holding cell for freshmen. I had made friends at the Freshman Center who were now at the other high school in town. I felt completely alone. The friends I did have were people I didn’t feel very close to. I threw myself into school work. I came home every night and sat in my room to do my homework. I would work on homework for hours and then cry myself to sleep nearly every night. I talked to people at school, but I didn’t want to tell them very much about what was going on. People already accused me of constantly throwing myself a pity party and just wanting others to feel bad for me. Really, I just wanted someone to notice that there was something horribly wrong and save me.

I had a couple really scary moments that year. I vividly remember looking at myself in the mirror one day and not even recognizing the person who looked back at me. I remember another time where I completely blacked out for a few minutes. I don’t mean fainting. I mean having no recollection of what I was doing. One minute, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom working on schoolwork. The next minute, I was standing in front of a medicine cabinet and starting to open a bottle of Tylenol.

I was never truly suicidal, but that was probably the closest I’ve ever come. There were plenty of times that I fantasized about killing myself. I never thought about the feelings of ending my life. It was more that I thought about my funeral and if anyone would even come to it. I would think about how people would react to finding out I died. I never quite got to the point where I made an attempt, though.

I never felt more alone than I did that year. The people I trusted the most were faceless 30-year-olds that I talked to on a Veronica Mars message board that I found. I didn’t divulge all the goings on of my messed-up head, but I gave small glimpses into what was going on. They were the people I spent Homecoming with that year. Everyone thinks that school dances are all about the actual dance, but for me, it was about the process of getting ready. I wanted so badly to have a group of friends with whom I could do my hair and make-up. My mom let me go to a salon and get a fancy up-do. I had a dress that I loved. I just didn’t have any friends to hang out with at the dance or get ready with before it started. While other people had groups of friends doing hair and make-up together or went out to dinner before the dance, I did my own make-up and warmed up a frozen pot pie while I talked to people online. There were people I knew and was friendly with who I thought I would dance with and have fun, but I kind of floated around. I found a couple groups, but didn’t really hang out with them for longer than five minutes. I felt like I was intruding on their fun. I mainly hung out at the back and read my book. People would come over and find me, but I didn’t know how to tell them that I was in a room of my peers and had never felt more alone. I stayed for nearly the entire dance. When my dad came to get me, I lied and said that I had a great time, but was just really tired.

By the end of sophomore year, I was doing a little bit better. I had at least found a group of friends that I trusted and started to confide in them. They started to understand that I was sad a lot and didn’t really understand why. They understood what I meant when I said I felt like my moods were fluctuating. They didn’t know what to do to make me feel better, but they understood it wasn’t something I could control. That was really all I wanted.

Junior year was a little bit better. My moods still went up and down, but I was getting better at predicting when things were going to change. You’ll notice that I mainly talk about when I was depressed. If I was bipolar, I would be manic, too, right? Kind of. The first manic episode I remember was during state testing my junior year. I got out of testing and felt like the world was going in slow motion. I was shaking and felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. I got to my AP US History class in the afternoon and could not focus on a single thing my teacher was saying. I didn’t take any notes because I felt like the world was going in slow motion and I couldn’t get down to that level. I got home and could not stand still. My mom took one look at me and said she thought I might be bipolar. At that point, I’d figured that for about four years, but couldn’t seem to get anyone else to see it. I went to walk around the block a few times and my mom called a psychiatrist to make an appointment for me.

It was May of my junior year that I was finally diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder. The way my doctor explained it, I did not have Type 1 (or traditional) bipolar because I rarely had full-blown manic episodes. I didn’t have delusions of grandeur or make ridiculous and impulsive decisions. I would have hypomanic episodes, or baby manic things. I would have sudden bursts of energy, racing thoughts, insomnia, paranoia, and increased anxiety. I constantly looked over my shoulder because I always thought someone was behind me. I still had the really low lows, though. I would stay low for a really long time and then come back up for a really short time. Finally, someone realized that something was horribly wrong and I needed help. I started medication and therapy, but that’s a story for another day.

I’m not keeping this blog in order to get sympathy or as a cry for help. I’m writing it for a variety of reasons. I want to be able to deal with my own emotions and feelings about being bipolar. The best way I know how to do that is through writing. I want to be able to explain to other people what it is like to be bipolar and to live with that. More than that, though, I want to be able to be a support for other people who are dealing with bipolar disorder and other such mental illnesses. I am going to make a constant effort to write about the good days as well as the bad. I don’t know if anyone will read this, but it’s just something I want to try.