Living With Bipolar Disorder – My Story

20110912-094615.jpgWant to know the truth? I have experienced depression so dark that I tried to end my life. I have also endured mania so extreme that I doused my life with gasoline and flicked a match just to watch it burn.

This is not something I usually broadcast, or share lightly. But I think it’s time we lift mental illnesses out of the darkness. We are not pariahs to be locked away in asylums, or shunned because of our invisible illness. No, my illness isn’t like Cancer or Autoimmune Encephalitis, but it is every bit as dangerous and deadly.

I am Bipolar Type 1. I have a severe and debilitating mental illness.

I am not crazy, and no, I am not a monster… although sometimes I feel like one. The only reason I have survived this is because I take my medications and because of the incredible support I have received from people who truly love me like my mother and my wife.

Bipolar is not an excuse. It’s not a lie. I can’t just “shake it off.” My brain is physically different from yours, and it works differently. I suffer from extreme chemical imbalances, and my synapses often don’t fire correctly. My pre-frontal cortex (the portion of our brains that house our personalities–the area that makes us who we are) doesn’t work like yours. That doesn’t mean I’m broken… just wired differently.

I can’t just “suck it up” and get over it anymore than someone with a broken leg could jump up and run a race. I wish I could.

Here’s the honest truth about my illness:

I have hit bottom so hard that I have tried to commit suicide several times. Twice I was hospitalized and handcuffed to my bed. Twice… I almost died. Without getting into too much detail, I damaged several of my organs so severely that I am still dealing with the repercussions years later.

I have regular swings of hypomania and full-blown mania where I don’t sleep, barely eat, my thoughts race wildly, I act without impulse or conscience, engage in risky and often stupid behavior, and during extreme bouts I have experienced psychosis, psychotic tendencies, and even hallucinations. Because of the mania I’ve lost jobs, friends, loved ones… and my daughter. Once, recently, my Serotonin was so skewed that I had a stroke.

During these bouts of depression and mania my brain “malfunctions.” This causes me to have huge gaps in my memory. Therapists and loved ones often ask me how I felt, or what I was thinking… and honestly I don’t know. Aside from a few fleeting glimpses of what feels like a movie about someone else, I really don’t remember what happened. And often because of the gaps my sense of time is so skewed that events seems to fall in the wrong order, or are entirely disconnected from my timeline.

For those who are Bipolar like me I want you to know something very important: You are not alone even though you may feel like it.

You aren’t crazy, and there is always a reason to keep going. Please take your meds. I know it sucks. You feel weird and I know you miss the mania, but here’s the thing: Sure, you don’t feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof, but you aren’t kicking the crap out of the people you love or setting your life on fire or so depressed that you can’t function. Isn’t that worth it?

I am Bipolar Type 1. I have a rare and serious mental illness, and yes, it is who I am, but I am not a monster. I will never be what society considers “normal,” and you know what? I don’t want to be.

I am sometimes a little unwell, but I am loved and thankfully I am not alone in this.

And neither are you.

If you need to talk, email me any time. terencewest@gmail.com.

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