“There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars….But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against–you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable….It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.” — Kay Redfield Jamison
Last week, when news broke that Catherine Zeta-Jones had sought treatment for Bipolar II Disorder, a dear friend sent me a BBC article before the news had even hit my Twitter feed. It’s not often someone of international prominence comes out and announces that they suffer from a mental illness (perhaps with the exception of addiction). It’s even more rare that someone announces they suffer from a mental illness that I also live with.
While CZJ has been diagnosed Bipolar II, as has 18 year old Disney star Demi Lovato (talk about brave – an 18 year old girlcoming out as receiving help for eating disorders, self harm, and Bipolar II, that is some serious courage on her part), I have lived with Bipolar I Disorder* most of my life. Diagnosed with Panic Disorder & Bipolar I as a teenager, I was incredibly proud of both ladies last week for opening up about the disease and, whether they meant to or not, starting a dialog about mental illness. According to WCVB Boston, the condition is underdiagnosed in America, but some celebrities have ‘come out’ over the years to increase awareness:
“…celebrities like Jane Pauley, Carrie Fisher and Linda Hamilton have helped to raise awareness and decrease the stigma. There has been much speculation that actor Charlie Sheen could have the condition.”
So, why is it, that I’ve never spoken about it here at atlimbo? My friends and family have all known for years, I’ve struggled with medications, addictions, relationships, focus – it’s not a very easy secret to keep, and so I just never tried. But to write about it so specifically, so personally, here where everything will live forever in Google cache… It’s daunting. Scary, in a way. I admire these women, I believe that Charlie Sheen desperately needs to see a psychiatrist, I keep up with the news coming out of NAMI and I participate in online communities for people with these illnesses. I’ve been educating myself about BD, schizophrenia, sociopathy, depression, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, self-harm, and all manner of other chemical imbalances since I was a kid. And yet, I don’t know how to write about it in any real way. I don’t know how to tell the story of my diagnosis, my trials and errors with medication and other treatments.
I know that in many ways I’m lucky. My family has never been anything but supportive and while Bipolar I has a higher instance of hospitalization and suicide and yet here I am, nearly 27 and I can keep a job, have a conversation with a stranger, keep my own home in order, and I’m slowly but surely learning how to sustain relationships. This last one is my biggest struggle. There are a lot of stories online about failed attempts and outrageous statistics. I’m contemplating therapy in my new hometown and my boyfriend is as supportive and understanding as they come – he’s seen me through many of my phases in the nearly ten years we’ve known each other, and that comes in handy when I don’t know how describe what’s happening in my brain. He knows what I mean without my even having to say it.
But none of this is really getting to the point. Which is this. Why can’t I write about it? Why is the point so damned convoluted for me? I know that the disorder is a chemical imbalance. I know that there are a multitude of causes and the real 100% cause isn’t even known – for now it’s considered a mixture of genetics, chemical flow in the brain, physiology, psychology, stressers… I know all of this. I’m glad to say I don’t buy into the social stigmas attached to the disorder or the idea to simply medicate it away… And yet, I can’t write about it. I can’t tell my story, despite my being proud to trumpet others who have done exactly the same with their own.
* Bipolar I Disorder is considered the more severe of the two including higher, more sustained jaunts of hypomania and a less consistent depressive side – for more information and a general overview of the disorder, click here.