Being Dragged Through The Mud: Overcoming Bipolar Disorder
Editor’s Note: Today’s story is shared by Ali Morrison, and she blogs here. Do you have Bipolar, or do you have a sibling, parent or close friend who does? Please feel free to share in the comments. I know from personal experience it’s hard to find friends to relate with on this, and I’d love to see this post begin a conversation. – Lauren
I like the start my story at the end. At least the current end, because it’s a happy one. Look at me: I’m a Christian, a wife, a soon-to-be mother, I have a good job, a college degree, I’m a homeowner, I pay my taxes, I have no criminal record… I’m doing pretty well.
Eight or so years ago, I was doing pretty well too. I was first in my class, student council class representative, cheerleader, working, involved in everything… Everyone wanted to be me. Except, well, me.
I wasn’t the girl in the black hoodie in the corner, I was the girl at the center of the pep rally. But I was miserable. I felt hopeless and lifeless, and I assumed it was my fault. It was so much worse, too, because a few months before that I had been on a high like none other – I didn’t need sleep, I’d laugh at everything, I could finish my schoolwork in less than half the time it took everyone else. I had a great family, and as I said before, which really only made me feel more guilty for feeling awful. I tried everything to make myself better. I joined more clubs, I worked even harder on my school work, I tried out for and made more teams, I got a job, I rebelled and started drinking and partying… nothing could make me hate myself less.
One night I was at a friend’s house with some people when her parents weren’t home, and we started drinking. Everyone had one shot… then I had a second… then I had a third… I was so out of control that a friend I’d called to yell at (while drunk), called my parents and asked them to pick me up. I hated her for that, but I hate to think what would have happened if they wouldn’t have. When I see headlines for young people who die of overdoses, it makes my heart hurt almost like I knew them. Because, in a sense, I did.
My parents were furious, obviously, but all I could say when they asked me if I knew how much trouble I was in was, “I don’t care… I just want to die, anyway.” It wasn’t some big dramatic blow-out or presentation from me. They just needed to know what I had hid so long. The next few days are a blur in my head. I think that was a Friday night, and I think I went to Methodist on Monday. The 8th floor, to be exact. Or, the psychiatric ward, as most people know it. When I came in, we had to enter through the ER. An armed security guard then took me up. My parents could only visit for an hour a day, during the assigned hour.
The pediatric and adolescent section of the 8th floor is a pretty weird place.
Maybe that seems obvious to you, but the disorders that they mixed in there could be pretty volatile. Substance abuse, rebellious behavior, chemical imbalance… We all made for one big crockpot of crazy in there. They take your shoelaces, anything sharp, and even anything that only MacGyver could find a way to use as a weapon. At first, I refused to talk to anyone. But even for me, that got pretty hard. There’s not exactly a ton to do, and leaving is slightly more than frowned upon. Even though it was an awful time and awful memory, I met people over that week who still affect my life. One girl I met there encouraged me to open up the Bible for the first time since my children’s Bible. In that week, I felt less judged and more accepted than I honestly have since then. I also found out that my wild swings in mood and behavior had a name: Bipolar Disorder. I started medications and was released from the hospital.
When I left, I was glad, but I soon realized that leaving meant returning to life. Answering questions, picking up pieces. High school kids are hateful, and I heard all kinds of rumors about me: That I had gone to rehab, that my parents were pulling me out of school, that I just had an incredibly poor immune system. Even with my medications, life was an unpleasant rollercoaster that I had no control over. My sophomore year, I had to have a home tutor administer my finals and missed almost 30 days of school. I needed more meds, I needed less meds, I needed a doctor, I needed a therapist… Sometimes it almost seemed worse on the other side of the diagnosis.
The only thing that seemed steady in my life was the feeling of being dragged through a life I didn’t want to live. And I know now that was God dragging me.
I know people like to create these grand analogies about God carrying us through life, but I’m a little more pragmatic when I picture God. I wasn’t exactly working with him to get the other side, and I really think in some ways, he was doing everything he could to get me to the other side of the valley. If that meant he had to drag me by my hair, so be it. I don’t think I ever DENIED God’s existence. I just couldn’t see, at that point, why a God who loved me would grab me by my hopeless, limp arm and drag me through the mud. But now, I realize, every day God dragged me through that mud was another day that he didn’t leave me and didn’t let me stop moving forward. (And just as a side note, if you know someone battling depression, please don’t tell them to have faith or pray more or “cheer up.” Those are absolutely vital, but no one would tell someone with diabetes or cancer that—and mental illness is still an illness that needs medical treatment. And empathy, and understanding.)
There are still highs and lows in my life, as there have been for years. I’ve been blessed, because as I’ve gotten older and hormone levels have leveled out, I worked with a doctor to get off my meds about a year and a half ago. Will I need them again someday? Probably. I mean, statistically I shouldn’t have been able to get off them at all. And as much as I’ve tried to bury the pain associated with this, it always pops to the surface every once in a while. My husband and I were out to eat a month or so ago, and a woman was talking loudly about one of her nephews.
“He complains about how crazy she is… I tell him, well maybe he should have thought about that before he started dating someone with Bipolar disorder! What, is she going to collect disability her whole life?”
It makes me cringe. Cringe because of her ignorance, because maybe some of it has an ounce of truth in it, and most cringe because I feel broken and bare when I hear comments like that.
I wanted to eloquently tell her my story. Or even just kick her in the head. But I couldn’t do either, because I felt exposed and vulnerable.
When we try to hide our pain and insecurities, we give them power over us.
I know that my story could help people. I couldn’t find a single “happy ending” story when I got my diagnosis, so I didn’t know if I’d ever graduate or get married or get a job. Now I’ve done all of that and so much more. I don’t think it’s because there aren’t any “happy ending” stories. I think it’s because when people get to a point like I’m at, they crawl up and bask in their normality, never to look back.
So I don’t doubt the power of my story. I just doubt… me. I’m afraid you’ll judge me. Judge my capabilities as a wife… as a Christian… as a mother… even just as a person. I’m afraid maybe when I come over for dinner, you’ll give me a plastic knife, or that you won’t let me be around your kids because, you know, I’m crazy. But that’s okay. I’m not going to give my pain power over me anymore.
God didn’t drag me through the mud so I could come out and live life constantly fearing mud.
He dragged me through the mud so that I could help drag others through the mud. So I could laugh at the mud and learn from the mud.
And so I could be prepared if I was ever in the mud again.
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