On this the last day of Mental Health Awareness Month I’ve decided to tell a little about me. I have a story. I feel it needs to be told. If for no one else, this is for me. (This is the very condensed PG version.)
Something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was, but I was wrong. I was wrong inside. I didn’t react to things the way other people did. I knew it. I could see how other people were different. I was always told to be myself. But I just wanted to be like everyone else, I didn’t understand what it meant be “myself”. I spent days in tears feeling like I had this black cloud over me. At a very young age I longed for my life to end. Other days I was flying high. I could not control my thoughts from going everywhere, I could not control my actions, I could only follow them. This wall all considered a natural part of growing up. I was just a moody child, then a hormonal pre-teen, a troubled teen…. I look back and don’t know how I, or the people closest to me, survived. There are many stories from this time that are very hard to tell. They may come out at a different time.
My ups and downs carried on for years, and years, and years…. the older I got the worse it was. After all when you get older your actions have many more consequences. However, when the moods were swinging to either end, those consequences simply didn’t exist in my mind. On the down swings I was fighting for my life, literally. On the up swings I couldn’t rationalize things. I couldn’t see beyond the emotions.
After a failed suicide attempt at 25, I finally started getting some mental health treatment. I was told I suffered from Manic Depression, and was put on Lithium and an antidepressant and started seeing a therapist. Maybe if I had just been able to stay the course that I was originally put on life would have been different, but things changed.
I was re-diagnosed a number of times. Things changed so much over the next few years it was a constant battle of up and down trying so hard to get a grasp on reality. The biggest mistake that was made, I was told that I did not have a mental illness, I had hypoglycemia and the fluctuating blood sugar levels were causing my mood swings. I was so relieved that I didn’t have a mental illness. I was normal like everyone else. I simply had to watch my diet and everything would be alright. I believed this for years and tried so hard to control everything with my diet. If things got out of control, I would beat myself up for not following my diet strictly enough.
People couldn’t see just how bad I was because I was still able to hold down a job, even if I changed jobs frequently, I seemed normal, I was just “moody”. I went through friends like water. Friends I made when I was manic, couldn’t stand the depressive side, and friends I made when I was depressed, didn’t understand the up me. Friends I made when I was in my normal state couldn’t understand my swings and they simply disappeared.
I had a job, but I also had a lot of debt. I lost days. There are huge gaps in my memory. I’ve met people while I was in a normal state and had no recollection of meeting them before. I didn’t remember men I obviously knew very well. I did drugs. I stayed up for days. Risky behavior? There were no thoughts of the risk. Nothing could hurt me. And if it did, so what? In both states there was not much thought about my own safety.
Then the day came when the depression took hold so tightly I held a razor to my wrist and started to slice. I just made the most cursory of cuts, deciding exactly the way I should do this, how deep did I have to go, how much would it hurt, how long would it take….then suddenly I thought….The Mess. There will be such a mess and my roommate will find it. Someone will have to clean up the mess. That thought saved my life. That thought gave me enough pause to call a suicide hotline. I would not tell them where I lived but I promised to go to the out patient center of the mental health department and talk. I drove there, and when I got there I talked and told what happened that night. I could not promise I would not harm myself if I left. I honestly don’t know if I could have or not, but I knew I needed someone to help me. I needed to know for sure that I could get through the next day. I knew if I said I would not be a threat to myself or others then I would not get the help I desperately needed.
Since I was not able to say I would not harm myself I was not allowed to leave, I was told I as going to be admitted to a mental health facility. I admit I actually felt a relief. I suddenly felt safe, at least for the night.
The police came and took me to the hospital. I was entered as a non-voluntary admission. That is the only way my insurance would pay for this, but I had insurance now, this was what got me into this facility instead of the state hospital. I had no idea the amount of debt I was about to get into. I needed help, that is all I thought about. I no longer cared what people thought of me, I no longer cared if this would follow me forever, I only wanted to lie down and never wake up. I knew these thoughts had to stop, I knew if something didn’t change I would end my life, soon.
(If you would like to know more about my stay in the mental hospital please see my post: Inequality in the Mental Health System.) The stay in the mental hospital changed my life forever. I was there longer than I thought I would be. The little overnight stay turned into two weeks, but when I left I was in the mental health care system. I had group sessions set up, I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist and therapist. I had a new lease on life. With another wrong diagnosis, Borderline Personality Disorder.
Soon after starting to see my new psychiatrist it was then determined that I do indeed have Bipolar I disorder. I started being treated with Lithium and other medications again and things finally started to get on track.
It took some time to get the medication just right. It took a lot of time in therapy. It takes a lot of work to get things right and get better. It takes a lot of work to keep struggling through the system. It takes a lot of work to help yourself when there doesn’t seem to be an out.
I’m a lucky one. I was able to find help. I was able to get a correct diagnosis. I was able to get a treatment plant that worked. I’m still able to get the help I need, when I need it. So may people are not as lucky as I am.
There are many obstacles in getting mental health care. I fought hard to get where I am today. I still fight hard to ensure my mental health is a priority. I will never give up.
Too many people are fighting for mental health care and have so many obstacles in their way. If you are one of these people, please don’t give up. Reach out. In my experience, things don’t always go smoothly, but getting help meant my life is so much better than my life was before.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline If you are in crisis please call. 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Mental Health Alliance (This site has a lot of useful information, including help getting care without health insurance.)
National Institute of Mental Health
Seeking Mental Health Care: Taking the First, Scary Step (this is a very useful article from Psych Central)
Mental Health Care Awareness Month is closing, but we should always be aware and working to obtain equal and affordable mental health care for everyone without stigma.