It was an elegant ceremony. I cleaned my room for the occasion, making it spotless. It had been in the back of my mind for weeks and finally the plan was coming into fruition…
Bipolar disorder is one of the hardest things to battle through. It is a daily struggle to find comfort and balance. It is the constant flux between the inability to function and the ability to explore what it feels like to be God or a genius. It is drowning in depression and in sailing the winds of energy and happiness. These highs and lows are amplified by anxiety, stress, relationships, school, and work.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder is defined as: “a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve overthought things like death, religion, war, and poverty. I was blessed to live in such an intellectually active household, but being the youngest I grew up very quickly and learned about the “real” world. The world beyond the youthful imagination and innocence. I had really bad anxiety and depression from an early age.
The first incident I can remember is when I was seven year old, right after my grandfather died. His death was the first I understood and comprehended. That was it, no more, he would never be around. He died of Alzheimer’s, and I have no memories of him before he lost his speech. When it became a realization for me that death was final, I developed depression and anxiety. I remember crying in my mother’s arms repeating “I don’t want to die.”
The depression and anxiety continued to get worse through middle school and high school. I was always late, struggling to get out of bed for anything. But, on occasion, I would wake up feeling great. I wouldn’t sleep for about a week. I was reading, getting homework done, and excelling in my athletics. It was an amazing contrast to my depressive episodes.
However, when I came off those weeks of euphoria I would hate myself and curse life. The best way I can describe it is the urban myth that if you have sex while on ecstasy, sex will never be the same again. The mind tells the body that it won’t reach the same level of pleasure again. I couldn’t find that high on life; I had no control over it. The best I could do was wait for it to come around again.
But the waiting started getting difficult. This is when my first suicide ideations and attempts began forming. I would think of how to do it, and make a half-assed attempt at ending my life.
Even my life molded into a dark side and a bright side, I felt like Two Face. Away from the depression and internal battles I lived a different life. I come from a large family whose love and support is endless, which is something that I’ve learned not everyone has. I have always been popular, assertive to be the one everyone noticed. Since I was a child, I have always been the most out going in my classes, the student that knew everyone at school, and the student that everyone knew.
I have always been comfortable with the opposite sex, one of the first in my age group to have a girlfriend. In high school, I was a three sport varsity athlete from freshman year. I never liked to single in on one group of people. I was friends with everyone: nerds, jocks, outcasts, band geeks, popular kids, etc. They were all a part of me, and I wanted them to know that. I won and received numerous titles and accolades for my participation and energy over the years. This theme has remained my entire life, this popularity, this admiration. From teachers, to coaches, to peers I always keep people laughing and smiling, trying to brighten their lives.
Nothing waned in college. The adoration continued the moment I stepped onto campus. I wanted to know everyone, and I wanted everyone to know me. It was more diverse at school and I wanted to enrich myself. I wanted to learn about everyone.
My friends refer to me as “one of the smartest people they’ll meet,” “such a nice guy,” “someone who is always willing to help out.” I study hard and get excellent marks in school, I am a Resident Assistant who really engages the students I oversee, I have been president of clubs, had great internships and jobs, and created a career for myself.
If you asked me what I have, I would respond “Nothing.”
“How can you say that?” is the next question.
It’s because my depression had other plans, manifesting intensely when I went to college. Being away from home, starting things from scratch, and the pressure to be an adult triggered stress, anxiety, panic attacks, new and worsening symptoms. The worst thing that continued was that no one knew what was going on with me.
I was an actor, I still am, a brilliant performer that shows nothing awry on the surface, yet inside I was dead. During my college career, my depressive and manic episodes had balanced. It was a consistent cycle, each one would last for a few weeks.
It wasn’t until last year, that I swallowed my pride and stopped internalizing. After a break up with my girlfriend of two years, I told my parents everything that I was going through. The break up was the warning sign I needed. My previous girlfriend of six years complained about the same things, the mood swings, the withdrawn attitude, refusal to communicate, among other things.
I felt that this was a sign that it really was me, two very different women coming up with the same grievances to end relationships. I knew that the break up and loneliness was going to trigger a depressive episode. I was aware of myself, but I needed to fix myself to better myself and my relationships. When I spoke to my parents, my mom agreed that she had seen anxiety and depression in me as a child. It scared me more when I saw the worried looks on their faces.
AMAZING. I started feeling in control. The sleeping medication was helping me sleep for more than two hours. My moods were balanced, I wasn’t continually changing back and forth. I was feeling great for the first time in over a decade.
Then, after six months, I started feeling down again. This time more intense than ever. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Was my body adapting to the medication? Did I need a higher dosage? Was this just natural? I couldn’t fight the thoughts in my head. The depression, the anxiety, the stress, the nightmares, I became a mess.
It was a Thursday night. I couldn’t fight what was in the back of my mind. It all came forward and took over my mind like a virus. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Robin Williams, one of my favorite actors, had just taken his own life after battling depression.
That incident hit me especially hard. He was an actor and comedian; his job was to make people laugh and entertain them. But inside, he was battling demons that overcame him. His role in Good Will Hunting had inspired me to fight and confront my issues, but after his death I remember thinking, “How can I ever overcome this?”
I wanted the note to be eloquent. I wanted to shed light on what I was going through. I felt like the ones closest to me not only deserved an explanation, but were entitled to one. The note is five pages long, but here’s the beginning:
(Note: I have omitted names and specific details for privacy purposes)
“’They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.’ -Arthur Schopenhauer
Mom and Dad,
Thank you for giving birth to me and raising me. Your relentless efforts to make me into a better person never went unnoticed. I cannot say how grateful I am, and always will be to be your son. There was never a moment in life that I wasn’t proud to call myself your son. You guys are my rock and I love you more than life itself. Do not mourn my passing. Although my life was only 21 years, it was 21 years of love and joy, with the best family that anyone could ask for. I can’t reiterate how much you both mean to me. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity called life.
To my siblings,
(In birth order not importance, because I know you guys will fight over it.)
To the oldest,
Thank you so much for making mistakes, it taught me about life and how to avoid those mistakes. You have so much potential that you haven’t utilized or tapped into. You need to. This world would greatly benefit from you if you gave it the opportunity. I love you so much. Make a difference for me.
To my sister,
You’re the favorite. No matter how much you deny it, you’re the favorite. J I love you though, and am so proud of everything you’ve accomplished. Your work ethic always pushed me and inspired me to do better. You are going to do profound things in your lifetime. I will be watching with great anticipation to see those accomplishments take shape.
To my second brother,
I’m sorry you got the short end of the stick and are the awkward middle child. But that’s what makes you special. You taught me that it’s cool to be a nerd, that it’s better to have substance than flash. But how can I call you a computer geek anymore? You’ve developed into a respectable gentleman, with style, and elegance. Keep going, because you’re going places. Live long and prosper.
When I finished writing I printed out the letter, signed it, and neatly placed it on my desk.
It was an elegant ceremony. I cleaned my room for the occasion, making it spotless. It had been in the back of my mind for weeks and finally the plan was coming into fruition. I took a shower to clear my head. I sat at my desk for about ten minutes and made peace with the mortal world. I attached a belt to the door frame and hung from it to make sure it was sturdy enough. It was almost time.
However, there was still doubt in me. I was scared to feel myself struggle for life, because although I knew I wanted this, I knew the body naturally struggles to hold on. I decided to take a cocktail of drugs to help me relax and pass quietly. When I felt the effects of the drugs, it was time. I was ready. I was never raised with a religion, so there was no faith, only hope that there was something better for me on the other side.
I put my head in the self-manufactured noose and leaned forward. I could feel my swollen blood vessels in my stricken neck, tears streaming down my face, my body telling me to pull myself up. I started to see stars and spots in my eyes. I took one more glance around my room and then, darkness.
I woke up. Gasping for air, I wriggled back and forth, kicking and pulling the chair back over to me. After releasing myself, I ran to the bathroom to splash water on my face. I felt the cool liquid run across my face and thought to myself, “Is this is real, am I’m still alive?” I couldn’t believe it. Was it a miracle? Was it the drugs relaxing my body to the point where I could still breathe through the constriction? Was it fate? I couldn’t explain it if I tried, but I was still alive.
It has been nine months since my survival and I am still trying to make sense of it. I am still trying to sort out my life and put the pieces together. For the longest time after the incident, I was caught in limbo, a walking zombie. I didn’t know where to search for answers or who to confide in about this life altering moment.
I finally swallowed my pride and sought out counseling, after weeks of fighting with my girlfriend, weeks of detachment from friends and family, and weeks of lost interest in everything.
“Was it fate?” This was one of the first questions I asked my therapist. He explained to me that there are psychological, biological, and scientific answers for so many things, but some incidents are beyond these categories, they cannot be comprehended, they are for our own interpretation.
Through consistent therapy, I have learned to coach myself, to show myself compassion. I have dealt with a lot in the past year, the death of friends, the stress of work and school, relationships, handling finances, and all the while I want to be a hero for everyone. But as my therapist said to me, “You need to be your own hero first.”
I have consistently met with my psychiatrist to adjust and work on a combination of medications to balance my moods. People believe that medication is a way to mask what is going on, to numb your mind to the pain. I thought that for a time. However, I have come to learn that it is necessary, but not the only component towards reaching a healthy life.
I started going to group therapy a few months ago to share my story and inspire others in my mental health community. In turn, I’ve learned a lot from the people that attend group as well. I have found that I am not alone in my struggle.
I have always loved to help people, and I always try to help people. I’d like to think that’s my true calling on this planet. I have so many gifts that make that a possibility; why squander that? There are people across the world that would sacrifice a lot for the life I have, there are people that put their lives on the line for me to have this life. In the worst way possible, I learned that life is not something to waste. But for me to make this a possibility, for me to give the world everything I have, I have to put myself in the best position, mentally, to do that. It is hard work, but good work.
Since the incident, I have graduated school a semester early. I will begin my graduate degree later this month and continuously work on my mental health. I have found support in my friends, family, and doctors. I want to become an advocate and spokesperson for mental health awareness and research.
My eldest brother called recently and said to me,
“We are all on our own path, we all have different traits, characteristics, and demons. There is such a stigma around mental illness and failure that we lose sight of the blessings that come from the cards we are dealt. Instead of fighting what we are given, what we are born with, embrace it. Let it be a part of you, because it is a part of you. The sooner you allow yourself to accept this, the sooner you’ll understand yourself and your battle; that is when you will win. Don’t let anyone tell you that this is a bad thing or you’re different, because you wouldn’t be who you are without it. We are who we are.”
For anyone struggling with mental illness remember, there is always someone willing to help, there is always someone to talk to, NEVER GIVE UP. There is always someone thinking about you, always someone who will miss you, and always someone who needs you.
I will forever hold onto the moment in which I awoke with a new appreciation for life, family, friends, and the world around me. I will never give in again. I owe it to myself and the ones I love most to not let this illness define me, but strengthen me.
“When it is darkest, we can see the stars.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Inspiration for our daily lives no matter if you are feeling great or suffering through the toughest times. A collection of his best passages that save the reader time sifting through pages highlighting his beautiful writing and flow of words. The celebrated American author Ralph Waldo Emerson provides the essence of inspiration without sacrificing clarity.