In the first few seconds after I woke up that morning my mind was completely empty. It felt like my head was filled with heavy cotton that obscured my vision and traveled down my throat. I called my mom and couldn’t form a coherent sentence - my words descended into deep jagged sobs while she tried to understand what I was trying to say. When I sat down to work that day my eyes wouldn’t focus and everything I typed came out like a scattered Scrabble board.
The depressive phases of my bipolar disorder usually crept up over days, but this time it sucked me under like a riptide.
The first time I felt the downwards drag of my mental illness was while I was abroad in France. Even as we strolled along the streets of Strasbourg, taking in the picturesque scene of pastel houses next to the canal, a cloud sat on my shoulders. There were times when it rushed in suddenly - some days after heavy drinking my comforter was a metal sheath and when I got bad news I plummeted into a void of anger and insecurity.
But whenever it was there I became unrecognizable. Someone speaking softly in the room next door made me want to tear my hair out, and my irritation ensnared almost everybody who came close to me. It took me hours to finish work that had previously taken minutes because my brain could barely function. In the mirror my face looked like a melted wax candle - I stayed away from people for fear of being too ugly to be seen in public. Suddenly those I was closest to hated me for a reason I couldn’t understand. I was unlovable and undeserving.
It wasn’t always there but when the cloud settled it stayed for weeks at a time, until suddenly it lifted and I seemed human again.
I tried to explain what was happening to me but most people shrugged it off as stress or a panic attack. A splinter of suspicion at the back of my mind began to grow and the summer after my sophomore year I told my parents that I needed to see a psychiatrist. My mom encouraged me to continue seeing the therapist I had been to for years. I didn’t do either and went back to school in the fall feeling fine - like whatever had caused me to crack that past spring had slipped away.
That cloud always came back.
In December I flew home to Colorado and made the appointment with a psychiatrist. As I spilled years worth of turbulent emotions to him I knew what the diagnosis would be. I had since that morning at the end of my sophomore year.
When he told me I had bipolar disorder type two, the only thing I felt was relief. Some are ashamed to have a mental illness, but to me, it gave a name to the suffering I had endured for almost three years. The back of my brain has a kink in the wiring that is truly out of my control. Yes, at times that cloud still hangs over my head. At least now I know it’s not my imagination.
On the days I feel it heavy on my back I know it won’t always be there - that it will pass with time and that there’s things I can do to ease some of that pain. The medication I take is a temporary fix to my faulty synapses, and when I run out it quickly feels like sophomore year again.
So no, there’s no need for sympathy or condolences. My diagnosis has given me the comfort and closure I needed to live my life.