I have bipolar disorder. There I said it. I don’t say it often and maybe that’s because I still feel a great shame attached to it? And when I do say it, I make sure to follow it up immediately with ‘but I’m okay’ or ‘it’s type 2 though...’ or something else to lessen the stereotype and fear of people thinking, ‘she’s bipolar so she must be crazy.’
I was raised with the expectation of always having my shit together. On the outside I was calm, cool, and collected. Even as a small child, I was always praised for my autonomy and maturity. But on the inside, I was an anxious, nervous wreck - always worrying about not letting people down or making sure that everyone was happy and accommodated.
I had an eating disorder for as long as I can remember and throughout high school and college I was bulimic. This was how I maintained control. I was also anxious and a little depressed but we chalked it up to adolescent growing pains. The alarm bells in my family had sounded but not loud enough to wake everyone up. As I got older and into my 20s I slowly started to realize that having my shit together was becoming harder and harder to manage.
Life went on, however. I met my future husband, Nick. We dated and got married. I switched careers a few times, still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. Things were good overall but really I was just barely skating by. I filled the emptiness inside of me by tending to the needs of others. I solved others’ problems so that I didn’t have to deal with my own. I opened my tool box of solutions, support, healing and wisdom and started gifting them out to those in need.
Then one day, I looked in my tool box and it was empty. I had nothing left to give. And I decided that I wanted to die.
Leading up to this decision, I had started experiencing extreme lows speckled with days of minimal function. Often times I felt like I was floating out of my body, going through the motions and watching from a distance. When I felt ‘feelings,’ I felt them so intensely it was hard to explain. It was like my entire body was vibrating with an electric rage and terror and I had no way to expel it. On the outside, though, I still managed to keep up appearances. It was only those who were close to me who started realizing that my tool box was empty and I was in trouble.
On the day that I decided would be my last, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, sobbing and praying. I asked so desperately for help, feeling so completely empty and ready to die. It was in that moment that Nick walked in the door. He wasn’t supposed to be home. He was at work but all of the sudden decided that he should pop home and check on me. It was in that moment, my prayer was answered and I was gifted a chance to keep going. To keep living.
Shortly after I entered treatment at Renfrew in Philadelphia for five weeks. I started on my journey of self discovery and self care. Of healing. Of working through trauma. Of figuring out my needs and asking for help.
As I healed, I was still having a hard time managing my emotions and was experiencing bouts of extreme depression. Taking to the bed was easier than ‘doing life’ and when I felt feelings I felt them hard. My husband was scared because he didn’t know how to help me. I was scared because I felt so out of control and didn’t know how to help myself.
When I was diagnosed as bipolar, I didn’t know how to unpack it (and I guess in some ways I still don’t know?). Part of me was relieved to have an answer, part of me was terrified, and part of me was ashamed. Me? Bipolar? No. I’m supposed to be the one who has it together, who can handle anything, who doesn’t need medication to function. Wake up call. Reality check. Lord, was I humbled.
Fast forward to now. I am healthy, I am happy, I am thriving (COVID aside) and I am on medication to help me manage. I have never felt more like myself than I do now and it’s pretty awesome. Of course, life isn’t perfect and I still have really shitty days from time to time but like I said, I manage. And I love my life and all that it’s worth.
I guess there are a few things I was hoping to achieve with this story:
To empower others to seek help.
To establish myself as a resource to those who are struggling and let them know they’re not alone.
And to take ownership.
I am Alana. I am smart. I am kind. I am strong. I am capable. And I’m bipolar.