Going on about 40 years ago, I was diagnosed as bipolar. Today, I don’t know whether that diagnosis was correct or not because I’ve chosen to live my life the way I’m going to live it regardless.
So in this post, I’m going to talk a little about my choices for medicating and not medicating. I need to state up front that everybody’s situation with medication may be different. Some people can’t live off of medication; it’s a life or death matter, the difference between being able to have a life or not, or have a life that’s undamaged or one that’s damaged. So this post is not a comment on other people’s choices in any way, shape, or form nor is it a suggestion as to how other people should live or the choices they should make in any way, shape, or form. I just want to say that clearly. This is my journey, though there may be something in it that speaks to you.
I was diagnosed as bipolar, which is funny because years later I received – when I was in therapy, again – a book entitled Mood Swings. The therapist told me to go home and read it. I asked her, “Do you think this is what’s going on with me?” She said, “No, I think it’s what’s going on with your mother.” I’m not going to say anything more about that except to say that I have doubted my diagnosis of bipolar pretty much the entire time since I received it. What I did believe myself to be was extremely depressed. Yes, I get very, very active sometimes – it’s actually the way I live almost ALL of my life. Energy is what I am; people comment on it all the time. I used to have periods where I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning; I would be busy, I couldn’t sleep but I’ve never felt I was in a manic state. I just thought I was avoiding laying down. I didn’t sleep well. In addition, my dreams and I are very attached; anything that’s bothering me comes out in my dreams and a LOT was bothering me, for YEARS. (Over time, I have come to see my sleep avoidance as a bad habit and have dealt with it as such – the same way I dealt with the bad habit of smoking and too much wine; the result is that now it’s not a part of my life (well, I still like my wine!). Staying up super late happens rarely now and when it does I’m quite annoyed by it and I knock it off quickly.)
I was never medicated as a result of the bipolar diagnosis but a few years later I found myself hospitalized for depression. Sometime prior to that, I had been given two medications (I won’t say what they were), one for depression and one for anxiety. Those two medications drove me insane. That’s the only way I can put it. I went from being depressed to being suicidal. I just couldn’t … I just couldn’t. That’s all I can say. I was also having other disturbing side effects from these medications. I was told the side effects would pass as my body got used to them. In addition I was going through something horrible. I was very angry at medications and I developed the attitude, “Why should I be medicated because of what other people have done to me?!” One day I decided, “You know what? Instead of taking just one of these a day, I’ll just take them all today.” I made the (life-saving) mistake of saying that to my therapist at the time and that’s when I learned an important truth about being committed: commit yourself, leave when you think you’re well; get committed by a professional, leave when they think you’re well. My situation was the latter.
That was the end of medication for me.
A few years later, perhaps five or so years after I was married I ended up hospitalized again. This time I drove myself to the hospital because I was just having the worst day and I felt I couldn’t function and I went to an emergency room and tearfully told them, “I’m not safe. I’m not okay.” I took myself away from my husband and my children and I was in there for probably about a week.
When I came out of the hospital that time, I said, “Enough is enough.” Now I’m not suggesting that I no longer dealt with depression anymore because I did. I continued to have periods some might have called manic. I don’t know. I just wanted to stay up to avoid laying down and dealing with my dreams and thoughts and I can deal with it better when I’m up. But I decided, “I just can’t do this anymore.” I really paid attention to the materials I was given on my way out of the hospital, which discussed how to manage my life.
Around that time I had been seeing a commercial for a program called Attacking Anxiety and Depression. Honestly, that program was somewhat expensive at the time; we didn’t have a lot of money early in our marriage. I invested in it anyway and I actually did that program, the whole thing. It was very involved. It involved practically every moment of my every day for weeks and weeks. I did the entire thing. I wanted to get well. I was desperate. I don’t want to say it cured me because “cured” is such a subjective word; who the hell knows whether they’re cured. The circumstances at the heart of my illness were still the same and therefore I still had to cope with the same things. So I don’t know whether I was cured. Like an alcoholic, I’m still a depressive – I’ll say in remission. But what that program, and my dogged (almost crazed) devotion to it, did do was teach me to manage my life. To this day, I fiercely – and I do mean fiercely – manage my life.
I talk to myself in certain ways. I hear when I’m bad to myself and then I remember that I’m also pretty damn great. After all, look at me surviving.
I fiercely defend my privacy, my time as my own and not being owed to anyone. This has alienated many people in my extended family because I’m from a family (two, actually) that feels like we should get together often but my family is also very critical of each other and being with them is not healthy. Well, I have a family – I have a husband and sons and a granddaughter. This is where I put my time. I also fiercely defend my need to spend my time in places and situations that don’t stress me. My extended family stresses the hell out of me and brings back all of the bad memories and they like to talk about these things and they’re a little bit bullying. And so I very, very rarely spend time with them because I always end up having to defend myself around them. Who the hell wants to be in that? And so I don’t. I am comfortable with my family and I devote my life and my time to them. My home is peaceful. Many people have commented on it upon entering and again upon leaving. It’s a great compliment that fuels my dedication to sticking with it.
I have chosen work and hobbies that nurture me and that allow me to nurture others, activities that bring out and display the best in me.
I have no interest in anyone else’s “shoulds” about life. I have examined my life thoroughly. I know what it needs and that’s what I give it. If things fall by the wayside, they fall by the wayside for a reason. If I say no to things I say no for a reason.
Another big change that occurred – perhaps the biggest – is I learned to defend myself as if I were defending my best friend. You know how we all jump up and just don’t allow anyone to say anything horrible about our best friend? Well, I’ve learned that I have to treat myself like that. I will not allow myself to be made a doormat. I will not allow myself to be bullied. Even if it’s coming from me. This has made me assertive – not aggressive. It’s made me stand up for myself. If someone tries to embarrass me, even in public, I will call it out tactfully, “I understood what you said. I don’t know why you would say that in front of of all these people but let’s talk about it,” which invariably makes the person stop and leave me alone. (I did this just recently with a family member.) I’m not perfect and I get those times when I’m bad to myself because, hey, I will probably always have low self-esteem; it’s part of my fiber, it was built into me. So sometimes, when I can’t talk myself out of it, I have had to learn to
Listen to my husband while he talks me out of it. (And he defends me like a mama bear!) I’ve had to learn to listen to those people whom I know love me and admit that sometimes maybe they are right and I’m not horrible. Then I can get myself back on track.
I stick to my regimens. My regimens are my regimens. I get up the way I get up everyday and do the things that are important to me everyday. I end my day with time to myself everyday. Whether I use it to think or to read or to write or to make something or to watch a show or to play a game, whatever the case may be, I end my day privately. My husband respects that and appreciates it. When he realizes that he is staying long and I’m staying up because he’s staying with me, he kindly acknowledges and says, “I’ll see you when you come up.” I really appreciate his understanding that there are certain things I have to do to be okay; time with myself is one of them.
During these years of transition, I was having a horrible, horrible, horrible time with my mom. If anything has been close to killing me, it has been my relationship with my mother. I decided I was tired of being sick. I had done all this work and yet still I was sick. And so I went on over to an online platform called LiveJournal and I said, “I’m going to write this journal every, single day for 365 days and I’m going to find my way out of this.” And I did. Over 365 days I missed writing on only a handful of days. At the end of 365 days I was very proud of myself because when I looked into my word cloud, I saw that I had developed gratitude and I was beginning to see great things about myself and my life. (A sad side note: my relationship with my mother did not survive this. We became emotionally estranged, although we did see each other from time to time and were civil.)
I really started to be healthy after that and will even go so far as to say happy. This is my current state and has been so for several years. Again, I still deal with things; I still get sad; negative emotions still come in, I still have to deal with them. But a real, substantive change happened after that. I said, “Wow, my life is great!” My life is great.
During all these years, I also developed a very strong, close relationship with God. I know there are people who will ridicule that. There’s nothing I can say to you. If God is present in your life, you will know. I worked hard but I did not do this alone. It required a strength that I just don’t have. I don’t care what people call it. It’s not blind faith because I have seen, for certain, His hand in my life.
I’m sorry I can’t put all these things together on a better timeline. I just can’t because all of these things were happening over years at different times by themselves and they all became part of one closely-meshed fabric of health and well-being. But all of these things became my method for living that protects me.
I’m not antisocial. I’m very extroverted; however, that has shifted also. I’m extroverted when I’m around people but I really prefer not to be around people. I’m an introvert who is just really good with people when I get out there. (Sometimes. Other times I feel like I totally make an ass and a fool of myself but I know that a lot of people feel like that at times.) When I want to be with people, I’m with people; when I don’t, I’m not. It’s important to note that my work is a mashup of teaching and entertainment so I am always doing both and people are my livelihood. So when I say “I don’t feel like it,” I’m talking about my non-work time.
It all comes down to making choices that benefit my health, my well-being. I just turned 60. At some point in your life, you have to say, “This is my life. I have to live it my way with my priorities.” At that point, you have to start really taking a good and honest look at the things around you that work contrary to you living your life and living it in a healthy way.
Are you trying to live someone else’s life? Are you living according to someone else’s priorities? Are you living in a way that benefits your own well-being or someone else’s?
This is not selfishness, especially if you are a significant other or a parent. Because if you can’t be healthy, how can your relationships be healthy? Sometimes we say, “Yeah, but he/she just loves me and has my best interests at heart.” Nobody knows what’s best for you but you – and I would hazard to say God. Come to know yourself. Come to know God. (I’m not going to go any deeper into that because I don’t want to get into religion. I can’t stand religion.) I’ll just say learn to pray. Get out of yourself, take an honest chance and pray. Pray for guidance. If you don’t believe, fine. Prove that you’re right. Just give a few, deep, heartfelt prayers, deep from your soul. Pray for guidance to know yourself. I could have done nothing without this. It’s where I got the strength to continue because it was hard. I didn’t mean to go off on that but it’s impossible for me to separate out.
So again, a list of where my journey to emotional and mental health has brought me:
- Fierce protection and defense of myself as I would my best friend, husband and children
- Fierce protection and defense of my time, priorities, and need for quiet solitude
- Listening to people who truly love me when they stand up for me, not fighting against them
- Remembering to ask God for help and especially to thank God for all the riches I do have, to be grateful
These are the little pills I take to protect my health and well-being. I hope there’s something in there that will help you.