What do Rene Russo, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Carrie Fisher, Demi Lovato and I have in common? We all have Bipolar Disorder. These women have all publicly acknowledged and opened up about their illness, and now it’s my turn.
Hi, my name is Melanie. I am 30 and 3 months away from getting married. I’m also a law clerk, big time mental health advocate, dog lover, content/social media writer for my law firm, blogger, avid reader and oh yeah, I have Bipolar Disorder II with Rapid Cycling. There, I said it. It’s out there. I can’t unsay it.
Since this is my first post for the Supportive Minds Blog, I want to put my background out there so future posts can be more focused.
I have been so afraid to tell certain people and for certain people to find out about “my bipolar” because of stigma. Thanks to Bell Let’s Talk Day and the Twitter hashtag #LetsKeepTalking, I want to come out and share my story. Why should I be afraid? This is a part of me, and it does not make me any less lovable, intelligent, strong or worthy or (insert great quality here). I know I am a good person. I know I am a capable, competent person. I am very strong, stubborn and driven.
My ultimate goal in life is to write a book about living with Bipolar Disorder, and I have the perfect title for it: P.S. I’m Bipolar (no one steal it please!). Why that title? I will get to that shortly.
I was diagnosed in July 2010, after some very upsetting family events. I should say I started having panic attacks/anxiety towards the end of my first year in university. My anxiety was well-managed for a long period of time, but in 2010, I started having severe anxiety again, and there was one weekend of sheer “mania”, more likely hypomania, where I couldn’t eat or sleep and was terrified. The diagnosis came a few days later, but my doctor and I knew it was a long time coming. My family has a tremendous history of mental illness – I have two relatives with Bipolar Disorder, and other relatives who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Once I had my diagnosis and was started on mood stabilizers, things got a little better, but the question became, who do I tell and how? And did they “deserve” to know? I think the best reaction by far was my sister, who said something along the lines of, “Oh, that makes so much sense” – which I took as an insult. This made me take inventory of my behaviour over the years. I was chatty, randomly hyper and had fits of giddiness, had a very bad shopping addiction, at one point I was somewhat hypersexual (but I did not get myself into any dangerous situations thankfully), and I was emotionally labile. I was, for lack of a better phrase, “all over the place”, which is how I describe myself now when I am switching between high and low and can’t stop. So we had our answer. And stuck in the middle of all of this was my poor boyfriend (now fiancé), who was probably terrified of saying the wrong thing to me and setting me off. He was definitely terrified of my hypomanic episodes when I would talk nonstop and then start to have existential thoughts about existence and who knows what else.
Regarding the shopping addiction, I made a terrible mess of my finances and was so embarrassed that I hid it from my parents for years until my fiancé helped me to gather the courage to admit I had a problem. I applied for a loan and am happy to say that I only have one more payment left next month and that’s the end of that chapter. How was I to know that my compulsive buying was part of the “high” behaviour? I didn’t know what was happening to me, it just felt so good to buy and buy and buy and have all these things.
So how did I come up with P.S. I’m Bipolar? One night, we were in the car on the way to my fiancé’s house, and his sisters were going to be there for dinner. I said, “Maybe I should just tell them about my diagnosis.” He vehemently disagreed and thought it was not an appropriate time. I protested and said that they would find out eventually.
He asked, “Well, how exactly are you going to tell them? How do you bring that up in a conversation?”
My response was, “I dunno. Blah, blah, blah, P.S. I’m Bipolar. Oh! That would be an awesome book title!” And then I wrote it down in my Moleskine because I knew if I didn’t, I would never remember.
I am so happy that I can share my story with an audience that wants to know “what it is like” and I can honestly say that my best piece of advice is just be yourself. I know sometimes you may think you are your illness, or your illness defines you or your behaviour. Perhaps to an extent it can affect your behaviour, but your essence is you. In some instances, I am warned to “behave” because I can become very giddy and laugh too much if I drink. This is why I had wanted to express to my fiancé’s family that I have an illness. Because I rapid cycle, they could potentially see me when I am experiencing a variety of moods, and think I am “too quiet” that day, for example.
Dr. Seuss wrote, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” I don’t want to fit in. Maybe in high school that is what most people cared about but eventually after being bullied (emotionally and physically), and recognizing that I was not a shallow teenager and more mature in certain ways, I realized that high school would pass and when “real life” begins, who cares who you were in high school?
One of my favourite lines from a very good book I read, The Help, that my mom and I always say to each other when one of us is down is, “You are Kind. You are Smart. You are Important.” I don’t know if we remember the quote exactly but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the words themselves, that I know I am a good person, that I am smart and that I matter. I don’t need someone to reassure me of anything else. These qualities are beautiful to me.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”- Mother Teresa