My first suicidal plan occurred in college when I was a freshman. I’d had a break up, self-medicated with alcohol for one and a half semesters, done poorly in my classes, and felt like a complete failure. I wanted to jump out the window of my dorm room. At least by ending my life, my roommate would get an automatic 4.0 for the semester, and that was the least I could do for her. She was my best friend.
However, I succeeded academically and emotionally for the remainder of college. Sometimes, I couldn’t get out of bed. I blamed those times on exhaustion. I met my boyfriend (now husband). We were engaged during our junior year, graduated together, and got married. I got a job in a school district 12 hours from our hometown.
From there, we moved six times and had two babies within two years.
I lost it.
In August 1998, I was teaching in a great elementary school. My commute to work included dropping the two kids off at daycare. I became obsessed with doing everything “my way.” Packing the diaper bags, preparing kids lunches, matching their outfits daily, fixing my hair, wearing perfect makeup, getting to work early, and lesson plans written way ahead. This is how I managed my anxiety.
In late September, an overwhelming itch started on my hands and moved up my arms. No allergy medicine touched it. I scratched them red, raw. It was a symptom of anxiety. My primary care doctor gave me a month of Paxil to treat the anxiety.
In early October, depression kicked in with big plans. I started to believe I was a terrible mom and wife. Depression convinced me to drive my car into a telephone pole to end it all. By mid-October, I was admitted to the psych unit in the hospital. My medications were changed and I started Electroconvulsive Therapy to jump-start the areas of the brain that are needed to make the “happy chemicals.” They aren’t barbaric in our modern times. I remained in-hospital through much of December. According to my therapist and doctor, I’d had postpartum depression with both of my children, but I’d gone untreated for three years. The result was a diagnosis of bipolar II with a side of anxiety. To my husband, I was a monster as the hypomania manifested as irritability, anger, and rage.
My marriage ended in July 1999. I rented a house near my parents, and they helped me with the kids. I cried. I kept working to support myself, but it sucked. I was admitted for my severe bouts of depression repeatedly; almost annually in the fall. My sister moved in with the kids and me for a while. I needed the help. I just couldn’t do it.
It was like treading water around the clock. While I kept my head above the darkness, I was depressed, but surviving. Yet, constantly kicking in a bottomless sea gets exhausting, and I’d sink. That’s bipolar II.
We remained divorced for three years. In 2003, we went to a therapist for a year to reconcile our marriage. We remarried in 2004. It is a fairytale ending for that era. Now, he’s my number one supporter.
I received my diagnosis about 15 years ago. I’m not embarrassed anymore. I’m maintaining my mental health through regular therapy and consistently taking my medication. I have been hospital-free for three and a half years. I am a stay at home mom now to three kids. My youngest has high-functioning autism and ADHD. Average life stressors still affect my brain in ways that aren’t average. I need more physical rest than an average mom my age.
Yes, we all get exhausted. Just add two hours to your sleep needs. At times, normal activities overwhelm my brain. I had an anxiety attack at my daughter’s crowded grand march this month. It wasn’t fun.
Fortunately, I’ve found that with writing and blogging, I can socialize. I’ve found other people who are like me. I can make a commitment and not feel anxious. And I can fight the stigma associated with mental illnesses with my words.