There is something about me I do not tell people because I fear judgement, and I fear having to deal with ignorance, but this blog is about overcoming my fears, and I do not think I should have to remain silent about a part of me that is instrumental to who I am.
Not long after I turned sixteen, I was hospitalized for a week. It was after my fifth suicide attempt, and I was diagnosed with manic depression (yes, I know the correct terminology is bipolar, but I still think manic depression sounds cooler.)
I do not talk about it because I do not want people to think that a diagnosis means that my life is tumultuous and unstable. It is not.
When I was a teenager, I did not understand what was happening to me. I constantly cycled through feeling high and invincible to feeling depressed to the point that I heard a voice inside my head telling me to kill myself. To look at me, I don’t think anyone would have known anything was wrong because I did not appear gloomy, and I did everything I could to cover up the fact that anything was wrong with me. I even joined cheer team because I wanted to be around happy, positive people.
When I was in the hospital, a family member who years ago was diagnosed with manic depression wrote me a letter, telling me that she knew how I felt and I needed to have faith and trust the doctors. She also told me that her life was very happy now and that she never thought of suicide. As I read that, I could not comprehend how my life could be happy or without suicidal thoughts.
I feel fortunate to have gotten sick back in the 80’s because there were not a lot of experimental drugs back then for manic depression. Lithium was still the main form of treatment and today it is still the gold standard, but a lot of doctors shy away from it in favour of newer drugs. So, a patient can go from one drug to another without making progress.
After being placed on lithium, my hallucinations stopped within a week, and within two weeks, I felt normal, even happy. I know it is not like that for everyone with an affective disorder, but for me, it was that simple.
During my pregnancies, I went off lithium to avoid side effects to the fetuses, and I had wonderful pregnancies. With my first three children, I went back on my medication right after they were born. I was unable to nurse them, but I did not have any problems with postpartum depression. If anything, I felt constant joy at the intense love I felt for each of them.
When I became pregnant with my fourth daughter, my doctor informed me that research had changed and I could remain off my medication if I breast fed. At the same time, I did research on the internet about lithium-rich foods, and I got in into my head that I could control my illness through my diet, and I would never have to go back on my medication again.
I was still breast feeding my daughter Olivia when I got pregnant with my daughter Sophia, and then I breastfed her until she was nineteen months. When she was ten months, I started feeling mildly depressed due to returning to graduate studies then work, preventing me nursing her as much. I coped through positive self-talk and remaining optimistic.
Five months later, my grandmother passed away, my milk dried up, and I started deteriorating, yet I was still convinced that I would be fine without medication. While at work, I coped with my depressed states by finding menial tasks to keep my mind going. For my graduate studies, I waited out my dark times and did my work when I was feeling high. Gradually, coping became more difficult, and then my hallucinations returned.
At that point, I knew I needed help.
So, I called my doctor, went back on my medication, and I told myself that I just had to endure the next two weeks and I would be well again.
Readjusting to my medication after not being on it for four years was difficult due to the side effects of weight gain and horrible fatigue, but if given the choice between living on the edge, wanting to kill myself and dealing with fatigue and weight gain, I would gladly take the latter. Now that I have been back on my medication for a few years now, my body has adjusted and I do not feel any of the side effects. Through healthy living, my weight is under control and I have an excess amount of energy.
I do not regret my illness; in fact, I don’t even like referring to it as an illness. If anything, it is a gift. Being able to experience such a wide range of emotions has added to my creativity, helped me to be empathetic towards others, and has given me such a strong appreciation for life that I will cling to this life and never take it for granted.