I don’t remember much from my childhood. It was pretty unremarkable, I think. I had great parents that cared for me and my siblings. They kept us safe, disciplined and as happy as they could make us. My dad was a bit angry and always working and my mom a bit aloof and guarded but I feel very grateful that that’s the worst I can say.
One of my first memories is falling down on the way to kindergarten and my mom carrying me into my classroom to clean my bleeding knee. Part of me thinks this was my first day of kindergarten but that might not be true.
I remember watching my 3 favorite movies over and over especially when I was sick. Any kid of the 80s should recognize my list. Labyrinth, Never Ending Story, and The Princess Bride.
I remember taking the fall for the misbehavior of my older siblings.
I remember using a flashlight under my covers to stay up way too late reading my books.
I remember the cute little names my family called me when I was a child. I had several of them. My dad called me Tippy Toe Lala (because I danced everywhere) and Flippity Blondey (cuz my blonde hair flipped out? Kinda self explanatory I guess).
My mom told me that because I was such an easy baby and such a happy kid, that it inspired her to call me her Sunshine. You are my Sunshine was her song for only me.
But then my mom would show me this picture in our photo album; I was sitting at the dinner table in front of a soggy bowl of cereal (my worst nightmare) with my chin in my hands just ferociously glaring at the taker of the picture.
And that’s why she also called me her Stormcloud. I could be fierce in my off moods. They came and went quickly and could be completely unjustified (obviously not the case with soggy cereal, that stuff is heinous and completely worthy of my wrath).
And thus my childhood continued, me mercurial and my life good, quiet and uneventful.
At some point I noticed that there were at least two of me. There were times I felt like a completely different person. I felt wrong things with absolutely no justification. I remember starting to wonder what was wrong with me.
By the time I was 11, I’d heard of the movie Sybil. I’d never seen it but I knew what it was about. There really were people who had different personalities living inside them. Was this what I was?
I distinctly remember 2 different kind of Beckys. I remember making my family laugh, being silly, singing and dancing, being happy and active, sweet and loving, kind of the center of attention when I was at home.
And then there was this other Becky. The one who was angry. Who was quiet and watchful. The one who never wanted to get out of bed. Who hated talking to people and thought friends were for the weak. Who wrote letters of hate for myself in the margins of my Bible during family scripture study time. I felt evil and wrong when I was this Becky.
During my teenage years I had episodes of severe depression. I attempted suicide 5 times between age 11 and 16. Luckily I never achieved much damage and was never caught.
I became very good (I think) at hiding the depression and the “Bad Becky”. I kept all that shame, self hate, anger, and depression hidden behind a smile. I faked my way through my teenage years. I pretended to be Good Becky even when I wasn’t. If my parents didn’t buy my act, they never said anything, so even then my deception was effective.
But it was painful. The more I pretended to be happy when I wasn’t the more I hated myself and was convinced I was broken. I had no cause for the hate and every reason to be happy. How terrible a person was I to be so hateful when I had no reason. The more broken I was, the less I deserved to be loved. I hated who I was so I became Bad Becky almost all the time.
Then we moved. Somewhere new. Somewhere sunnier.
All of a sudden, I was different again. I was Good Becky all the time. I was happy and talkative, and even almost outgoing. I had friends. I did things. I even got an after school job. For almost 2 years it was like the Bad Becky didn’t exist anymore.
After graduation, I discovered tattoos, and smoking, and swearing, and oh, boy did I discover my sex drive. And I had money. For the first time in my life I had money to do what I wanted with. And mostly that meant spending it as soon as I got it.
I’d found a new Becky. A new Bad Becky. Not sad and hateful but rebellious and nonconformist.
Every once in a while, the SadBad Becky would pop back up but it never lasted for long. I was pretty much coasting and it was pretty cool.
It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I finally got my answer. I didn’t have multiple personalities. I was Bipolar.
My mom had gotten a job in a psychiatrist’s office and all of a sudden mental health was something that was spoken about in our home. It was almost a fad for us, looking back. We did personality tests and actually talked about how we felt. But I was happy most of the time now so I didn’t tell anyone about the Jekyll I was sometimes. But my mom had thought I should get checked out. Just in case.
I was bowled over when the doc told me I was bipolar. I didn’t really know what it was at the time but I had a label now. I had an answer to why I was wrong. And I relished in that label. As an angst-y 19 year old in the year 2001, in the midst of the pop-punk revival, I loved that my label set me apart. It made me different which was something I craved all of sudden. I am bipolar I would tell myself, and I felt special. I felt justified.
Let me interrupt myself here to impart some important information.
What my depression feels like-
When I am depressed I am not sad usually. I don’t cry a lot like you see in the media. I am usually indifferent. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t like the things I usually like. The people, the hobbies, the work, my entire life is completely unsatisfactory. No sex drive, either starving all the time or no appetite at all, sleeping 12 hours a day. Getting out of bed is a tremendous effort. My body and brain are exhausted and no amount of rest is restorative. Sometimes I am numb and literally don’t feel emotions at all. Sometimes I am just absolutely unmotivated. I like to say that I invented binge watching before Netflix did because usually that’s what I did. I would lay in bed, and watch complete series of television shows. Because that’s all I could get myself to do. I slept and watched TV. For days, weeks, months at a time. Sometimes I would read instead but it brought so little joy that I didn’t read my books like I would normally. But then there’s the thoughts. The self doubt, the self hatred, the unrelenting self flagilation that just won’t quit. “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me”. And no amount of evidence to the contrary makes a fucking bit of difference. There is no getting away from yourself. There’s a distinct pain that accompanies depression that isn’t just physical. It’s mental and emotional. It’s an all encompassing debilitating pain. That’s what depression is. A painful mental and physical immunity to joy.
What my mania feels like-
Mania is a bit easier to describe than depression. It’s very nature makes it more memorable. For me it’s also less common than depression. I’ve only had maybe 4 full blown, drawn out manias. Shorter manias and hypomanias (not as severe as mania) are more common for me. So here’s a specific episode of my mania. I was 20. I lost my appetite and any concern for my health. I only ate about every 3 days. I lost 30 lbs in the 2 months my mania lasted. I was dating 3 men at the same time, none of them knew about each other (this is very unlike me). I hardly slept at all. I couldn’t because I just could not stop thinking. I never stopped anything. I was doing something all the time. I spent my entire pay checks (about $1800) on food, movies, dates and presents for my family. I had nothing to show for it after it was over. I couldn’t stop talking and I very literally lost my voice twice. I got 3 speeding tickets in 1 month and had to attend a driving course in order to keep my license. I smoked constantly. I drank too much (I even went to work drunk once). I tried weed (but it bored me to tears). I was the epitomy of irresponsible and I was completely unstable. In the midst of this manic episode, I got engaged to my childhood best friend (remember those other 3 guys I was dating? boy, were they surprised) and decided to move across the country to marry him. This was one of the worst decisions I ever made, but more on that in another post. At the tail end of this mania, I became irritable and irrational. I remember I was “normal” (non episodal) for less than a month before I went crashing back into a depression. This manic episode changed the course of my entire life and I still feel the ripples of it 15 years later.
What hell feels like (or a mixed episode) –
The worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, total and utter anguish. A mixed episode is technically when you are both depressed and manic at the same time. Now, you ask yourself, how is possible? Well the best I can describe it is you have all the worst aspects of mania on the inside (irritability, restlessness, ambition, motivation and anxiety) covered by a shit coating of depression. So exhaustion, ambivalence, pain and numbness. The worst mixed episode of my life happened when I was 23, I think. That whole year is actually kind of a blur. Here’s what I remember. I’d go to work and numbly make it through my day. I’d come home and lay in bed just wishing and dreaming of being anywhere but where I was. I dreamed about getting on a plane and flying to Mexico to escape my husband, my family, my job, my church and my entire life. But I couldn’t move. I’d lay in bed watching TV or reading a book just hating everything about my life and completely unable to do anything about it. But my mind wouldn’t accept that. I’d lay in bed all day, masturbating 10 times but never feeling satisfied. Dreaming about doing anything but what I was doing , but unable to do anything. It was during this episode that I left church in the middle of the service and went home to a butcher knife in the bathtub. I was hospitalized after my attempt and got a change in meds, a new therapist and a two week suicide watch, My mixed episode was over but my life was never the same.
What suicidal ideation feels like-
Until I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to die. I had a constant death wish for the first 27 years of my life. I thought about suicide several times a day every day. I hated my life, I hated the fact that I had ever lived. I hated the fact that I’d failed all my attempts and everyday I lived was another reminder of my failure. I was weak useless garbage that everyone would be better off without. All I wanted was for everything to be over. Forever. I was constantly thinking of ways to go and making plans. Every time I drove under an overpass, “I should speed up and drive into that”. There was nothing in my life worth sticking around for. These thoughts didn’t stop and wouldn’t go away. Suicidal ideation is your own brain, your own self, pushing you down, drowning you under hopelessness and despair. Remember when I said there’s no getting away from yourself? I lied. There is a way. But only a sick and tortured brain would take it.
Three things kept me alive past my teen years. The fact that I was naive and didn’t know what it would take to kill me (pre-internet days). That my father taught me gun respect and safety from a very young age and smartly kept his guns locked up. And that I was slightly more terrified of burning in hell for eternity than I was about suffering through life. Begrudgingly I admit my uber religious upbringing saved my life.
Pardon my tangent. Let’s get back to the story.
Over the 16 years since I was diagnosed as being bipolar, I’ve gone through the spectrum of emotions about it. It made me feel special at first. Then ashamed, embarrassed, alienated, untrustworthy, and unknowable. “I am Bipolar”. It started haunting me, dogging my every move, and making me question every decision. “Am I crazy?” I felt like I was a slave to my illness. For a long time I hated that “I have to take a pill to be normal”.
Eventually, after years of living in this world, I realized that I was lucky that all I had to do was take a pill to regulate the disorder that I was unfortunate to have. Not everyone is that lucky.
I realized that I HAVE a mental disorder. That I WAS not my mental disorder. Bipolar didn’t own me. It was just another road on my map of intersectionality. And as such, my bipolar disorder didn’t control me. I controlled it.
That made taking my daily medication an act of rebellion against this thing that attempted to dominate my life.
I started to talk about my disorder and kind of came out in general as having bipolar disorder. I posted about mental illness on my Facebook page without worrying what my high school friends might think of me (fuck ’em anyway). I began to volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and started to educate people about depression in general and Bipolar Disorder specifically. To speak about what having Bipolar is like and trying to help those who struggle with it themselves know that things get better. I started using my voice to tell others what I’d discovered about myself.
That I owned my Bipolar Disorder.
I can’t say that I have it down perfectly now. I don’t. In fact, just recently I’ve quit my medication regimen (under the care and supervision of my doctors) because I feel like I’ve lost my touch on the pulse of my disorder. It’s been so long that I’ve lived with it that I think I’ve become a bit complacent. Things have started to slip again. I’m working and planning towards a new regimen and keep a strong hand on my disorder.
I don’t see my disorder as my nemesis anymore. It’s not a tug of war, it’s a partnership. I’ve accepted and appreciate that my brain works the way it does. It’s my job to stay on top of it and make sure it’s functioning to the best of it’s ability.
Bipolar Disorder has been my longest frenemy. I feel like it’s best represented by the crappy devil and angel tattoos that I got when I was 18, not yet knowing the name for the internal struggle that will never leave me.
And as always, lovingly thought of as the sunshine and stormcloud of my life. At this point, even though Bipolar Disorder is only something that I have, it is a part of who I am. It’s played a large part in me becoming who I am and I would be a very different person without it.
Still it is only a part of me. And the rest is completely up to me.