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Looking back now: SJ's success story in progress

Written story

Looking back now, I can see it.

I have always lived with my illnesses. At least as far back as I can remember.  I remember feeling lonely, a lot.  I remember feeling like an outsider in third or fourth grade.  I remember thinking no one liked me, and even if I was standing right in the group, if someone didn’t specifically mention me or invite me to participate, I thought I was being left out or that they didn’t want me around.  Those thoughts continued into my teens and adulthood.  I felt unworthy- of being liked, of being loved, of being included. Throughout high school, I compensated by being a high achiever- great grades, a member of tons of clubs and activities, I even managed to collect a group of friends although the imposter syndrome remained- the feeling of not being wanted, of being an outsider and of being “found out” as a fraud. My parents brushed it off as “normal teenager stuff.” But I knew it was different. I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to ask for the help that I needed- the help I now know I deserved.

I graduated and moved away for college, and it was during college I first was diagnosed with depression.  I was prescribed my first anti-depressant but saw little, if any, relief.  Again, much of it was attributed to a typical first year college student, away from home issues.  It was during this period that I first started having what I now know were manic episodes.  Risky behaviors- drinking, promiscuous sex, over-spending, awake for days at a time, etc.  Frankly it wasn’t pretty, and again it was all attributed to typical behavior- all-nighters for study and papers, rebellion and figuring out freedom, etc. I still managed to keep up that façade, but the imposter syndrome continued, and so did the manic and depressive episodes.

Unfortunately, many of these behaviors continued into my adulthood. Somehow, I managed to seem like I had it all together during the day, at work, with my daughter. Today, I don’t know how I did it. I continued to take my anti-depressant, but never really felt like it worked. I continued talk therapy and visits to my primary care physician, and no one seemed to want to address my concerns. Maybe it was because I did keep it together for the most part, and only fell apart on evenings or weekends, and the manic episodes although destructive seemed to increase my productivity, so everyone thought everything was fine.

Ultimately, in 2016 I reached my true breaking point. I got married, moved into my husband’s house, sold mine, changed my name and my daughter graduated and moved away in the space of about 3 months. My manic episodes still consisted of many of the same behaviors, but I added uncontrollable rage to the mix. Then my husband went out of town for a week and a half. I was completely alone, and I fell apart. I woke up one day and couldn’t get out of bed. When I finally managed that, I moved to a corner of the room and sat there on the floor, knees tucked under my chin, shaking and sobbing. I did call in sick that week but didn’t leave that room until late Sunday night when he got home. I had cut my wrist with a razor blade- not bad enough to really do any damage but enough to scare myself and to scare him. We made an appointment the next day with a doctor and were able to get in same day.

The day my life started over.

That day I saw a new doctor and between my description and my husband’s this doctor finally started to clue in to the fact that I was having bipolar episodes. She prescribed a new cocktail of anti-depressant, mood stabilizer, and something to help with sleep if I was finding that hard. She ultimately diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, severe, chronic depression, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD (due to childhood trauma- that’s a story for another day), and suicidal ideation. She also requested I continue my talk therapy.

Shortly after all of this I was introduced to the Make It OK campaign. I launched it for my organization and helped to found an organization devoted to the elimination of the stigma around mental illness. I spoke at tons of events, but even though I was working on stigma, I was a victim of it. Instead of telling my story, my truth, I spoke of my best friend who died by suicide in 2014. It took me some time with those organizations to get to the point where I could share, but somewhere along the line I realized I wasn’t walking the walk if I didn’t share, and all those years that I felt alone, if I had seen someone who shared their story, maybe I would have been brave enough to fight harder for myself and to tell my story to help others.

I started being more open in at least sharing my diagnoses. It took some time to share my story. I now am able to share- typically not without crying- these days, mostly for joy, also because some of it is still painful, but I fight on.

Today, I have it pretty well under control. The drugs, therapy and a pretty good support system keep things well in hand. I still have good and bad days, but not like before. And I can definitely tell if I miss a dose of my meds (as can my husband). I also still deal with imposter syndrome a lot, but I am learning many people do.

I consider myself a success story in progress.

None of this is a miracle cure, and I have to be vigilant. I am not cured, but I am healthy.

I also continue my work with Make It OK and serve on their steering committee. It is work I am very proud of and that is so important. People deserve to know they are not alone. They deserve to seek the treatment they need and deserve without fear.

We are warriors- all of us, and we need to talk about it, share our stories and truly Make It OK.