When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was 23 years old. That was 12 years ago. Although it was an intense situation and I had a lot of fear, it was my first time facing an episode like this. My main struggle was just figuring out what it was and getting the appropriate treatment. I was young and optimistic and ready to figure things out.
I eventually did get things figured out and, with the help of good doctors and a wonderful support system, I got through it. It took about 2 years to get to a place where I felt like me again, but what is two years to an optimistic person in the prime of her life? It was a steady improvement that led me to a good place emotionally. In fact, for the first time of my adult life, I truly felt good. I didn’t experience any depression during this time, and because of my medications, I was able to stay feeling well for many years. I still did struggle with anxiety and stress a lot, because I had not learned the value of taking care of myself, but overall, I would say this was a really great period of time for me emotionally.
This lasted for about 4 years, during which time we had another baby, a girl. She was born in 2009. I continued with my medication during this pregnancy and postpartum, was carefully monitored throughout and all was well.
But I was foolish. I was itching to get off of my medications entirely. I only took a small dose of one medication daily at this point for maintenance purposes. I was doing well. I didn’t like the idea of chemicals influencing my brain. Did I really need this medication anymore? I tried to cold turkey myself off several times (which was extremely foolish–don’t every do that!!) I never could get off of it without symptoms returning.
Finally, however, in 2013 my husband and I were ready to have another baby, which would be our last. With the help and support of my psychiatrist, we weaned me off the last of my medication so that I could be medication free for the pregnancy. This was also extremely foolish! The process was rough, but I was determined. I finally got completely off of my medication. I ended up experiencing depression immediately, but didn’t recognize it for what it was. I ended up at my PCP office several times complaining of extreme fatigue and weakness thinking there was a physical problem. They investigated and found nothing. I know now, looking back, that it was my depression.
Then, I got pregnant as planned and everything went haywire emotionally. I was a mess. Huge emotions took over my life. I did all the self care and lifestyle changes I could think of but nothing helped.
To shorten the story, I had complications in my pregnancy that caused me to have to be on bed rest. I remained in my recliner, on bed rest for around 9 weeks. Although I had amazing support to help our family at this time–this was the hardest thing I had to live through up to this point. My emotional state was constantly on the verge of breakdown, on top of the depression and emotional upheaval. By the time I got off of bedrest and before I had my little guy via emergency C-section, I could feel that I was having some significant depression symptoms. I knew things had gone from bad to worse.
The hormonal shift after my son was born was the hardest I remember, out of all of my children. Even after returning home, I was a mess, constantly. I was having difficulty because of the circumstances of my emergency C-Section that affected my physical health. I also had extreme fatigue and weakness that hit so hard and suddenly, that I thought I might be dying. I had lab work done and all kinds of things checked but everything came up normal.
I remember the moment, after my son was born, that I finally realized what was happening to me. I was out for a short walk, with my son in the stroller, enjoying a beautiful day. I could, emotionally, feel something that felt horribly familiar–I was starting to have mood swings again. I pushed the stroller home in a state of horror and fear and shock. How could this be happening again?? After so many years of being well, I didn’t really believe that my bipolar diagnosis was correct. In fact, I had multiple doctors tell me just that. Yet, here I was, going down this same road again. I had been headed down this road ever since I got off of my medication, but I had been in denial.
I knew what would happen if I didn’t get into a doctor and get some meds right away–I would be back in an inpatient facility. I called several psychiatrists and got an appointment to the one who could see me the soonest.
This episode was a lot harder for me to face. I wasn’t young and fresh and optimistic anymore. I had gotten a little older, and I was no longer young and naive about my circumstances. I had been here before and I had a good idea of what was coming. I was scared for just that reason.
And I didn’t feel like I could face it. I felt I didn’t have it in me. Already in a state of depression and emotional illness to significant degree–I could not face things getting worse than they currently were, nor could I face going on in my current state.
I had two friends stop my to visit me and my new baby, as I was just figuring all of this out. They were from church and offered to say a prayer with me. My friend prayed that I would have the courage to face this trial. In that moment, I knew that was what I needed: courage.
Courage! I did need it. That day and everyday, because this was the deepest and darkest depression I have ever experienced and it has been the most difficult to come out of. I needed to muster courage when I felt drowned in hopelessness. I needed courage to get back on medications. (This seems silly to me now, but at the time, my mind was so mixed up I wasn’t sure what to do). I needed courage to live each day when I felt like I was stuck in a dark nightmare, or some kind of living hell. I needed courage to keep trying, as I came out of the deepest black and into an endless state of gray–with life stretching on before me– constant depression as my companion and no end in sight.
Eventually, incrementally, I started to come out of it, a tiny bit week by week.
I’ve never done anything so difficult as live through this last episode of depression. But live through it, I did.
In fact, I am at the tail end of year 4 and just finally feeling like me again.
Have you seen the movie, Willow? It’s a cult classic from 1988. There is a scene near the end where Willow (played by Warwick Davis) is making his final stand against the evil Queen Bavmorda’s army. He is very small in stature and standing with only one companion, out in the open, waiting for this evil army on horseback to come and attack. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. Willow says to himself in that moment, as the horsemen approach his position, “Courage, Willow.”I thought of this as I got ready to write this post.
I know it is excruciatingly hard, but in those moments where you feel ready to give up, or feel like you can’t do it alone– Find your courage. And don’t try to do it alone. Get help now. Call a friend, tell them what you are feeling, now. If you don’t have a friend, and you are considering ending your life, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, now. Get help from a medical professional, a counsellor, anyone, now.
Life is hell now, but it won’t always be that way. Find hope, like I talk about in this post.
I am living proof that things get better.
Courage, (insert your name here).