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Discovering My Bipolar Disorder at 19: “I Had to Save My Life Before Changing Anyone Else’s”

Lifestyle

For this author, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at once clarified and disorganized her life. Below she writes of the struggles and intricacies of dealing with her diagnosis, and how she emerged from the desolation...


For as long as I can remember, thoughts while alone were a strange phenomenon to me. As a youngster, I was barely ever alone. I loved being with my older sister. I studied and copied her every move, as most younger siblings do. I loved and appreciated my time with my family. I always wanted to be with them as their affection, attention and company felt good to me.

But then, there was the small alone time I had as a child. My sister was my play-date on a daily basis, and my cousins of similar age as well. I was certainly well-liked by my peers and had wonderful times playing sports and ordinary child-like fantasy games. Alone time was not routine, but on the rare occasions I was alone, I’m knew I did not like it.

" I was alone in this. All I had in my alone time was to reflect how alone I was in my depression."

I distinctly and vividly remember the ants. Every Sunday, my family was up very early for mass. My mother would wake me up and I would begrudgingly walk to the bathroom. Our duplex in Elizabeth, New Jersey was charming in its own right, but there were adorable little ants that lived in the cracks of our bathroom floor. I remember always thinking about their little ant lives, who ran everything and made the rules? Are they happy little ants? Are we cool now since they watch me pee sometimes? Much like the Tootsie Pop slogan, the world will never know.

Our church was huge, had a concert-like appeal, red carpet and tacky wine fabric covered chairs.

The music was far too loud for my young, sensitive ears. My sister and I played hangman a lot. Similarly with the ants in my childhood bathroom my mind wondered in that church too- why was a lady speaking “in tongues?", and why did some people just fall asleep at the altar when Pastor touched them? However, I never dared to ask. I just thought about it on my alone time.

As I started to grow and mature I was still very curious. Alone time was a good enough time to reflect on many things, but my thought patterns seemingly were a bit different. My thoughts were much darker, and the questions were no longer about curious existentialism in ants. My thoughts became more distraught, like why am I alive if I am suffering so much? I was a very happy person when surrounded by friends or family. Which is why I wanted to constantly be surrounded by people. I smiled more, I was a part of a team, I was eating and laughing regularly and got exercise like every other kid my age.

I know it began earlier, but the memory that stands out the most is when I woke up one morning and I just couldn’t do it that day. ‘It’ meaning being a sixth grader. I wasn’t sure why- but I lied to my mother and said I felt sick. I named every symptom in the book. So I stayed home that day. And I laid in bed pretty much all day, feeling this feeling I could not explain. I just know it wasn’t sadness anymore. It was my body rejecting me.

"Women are about 40% more likely than men to develop depression. They're twice as likely to develop PTSD, with about 10% of women developing the condition after a traumatic event, compared to just 4% of men."

It was telling me that I could not do this any longer. This meaning life. I started to hate this alone time, as it did not feel good. But pretending to not feel this way in public was a bigger hurdle to overcome. This is when I discovered what facades and hiding behind them were. I did it often and I did it well, but I could not hide my truth when I was alone. My thoughts and feelings of depression would overcome and take over me much like red ants when you step on their property.

This went on for years. Along with my fear of my depression being discovered. I hid in my depression closet for so long, but you would never know it. I attributed my mood swings and bouts of depression to being a teenager at times. I was a popular teen, attractive, well dressed, confidently changed my hair style twice a year, and was very social amongst my peers. In middle school, I was Class President and involved in many groups and organizations. That followed me in high school as well, I was in student government, nominated for homecoming queen, won Prom Princess and Prom Queen, and won many superlatives in the year book. I participated in school plays, musicals, talent shows, and always had genuinely great experiences. I truly loved High School and was very interested in making friends with everyone, not just the well known popular students in all grades.

But again, when I was alone, my thoughts were all around self depreciation and came from such a deep place of true depression. I attempted suicide in 9th grade after lying to my mother yet again. It was all too much for me and I did not feel as I was worthy of this life. Describing depression is truly one of the hardest things for me, because you cannot see it. Its so difficult to put into words how it feels to experience true joy, the anthesis is even more difficult. After failing that attempt, I decided I would continue to try my best. I honestly did not know anyone who felt like me, there were no assemblies in school that informed us about depression or mental illness. There were no books in the library. I was alone in this. All I had in my alone time was to reflect how alone I was in my depression. That was the worst part, feeling completely alone while surrounded by people who love you. How was that even possible in my life? I had it all.

"Women are about 40% more likely than men to develop depression. They're twice as likely to develop PTSD, with about 10% of women developing the condition after a traumatic event, compared to just 4% of men."

I lost interest in finding a University for me by Senior year of high school. I knew we couldn’t afford a theatre conservatory or university, and just like that, I gave up. So I decided to go to the closest university by our house which was Kean University. My depression went on a whole new level there. There were layers, colors, and songs of desperation I never thought were possible to hear feel and see while attending this university. I gave up to the point where I wouldn’t shower for days and would sleep in my car instead of going to class. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. But again, I hid it well. I wasn’t living, I was surviving.

My manic episode began at age 19 when I decided I had enough and needed to take a semester off. A manic episode is a mood state characterized by period of at least one week where an elevated, expansive, or unusually irritable mood exists. A person experiencing a manic episode is usually engaged in significant goal-directed activity beyond their normal activities. My thoughts were so grandiose I went from thinking I would be on Oprah, to I AM Oprah. Mania is the strangest thing because while you are manic it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world. I wrote extensively long and wordy poems and performed them at open mic. People were in awe of them, and my highs just kept getting more and more euphoric.

Fast forward to Newark Beth Israel Hospital, 2011, about 2 months later when my episode finally reached psychosis. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder. I went home, did not shower or speak for three days. I was submerged into such a bad depression, worse than ever before. There was so much I remembered but there was no way I could have done those things. And what's worse, people were telling me things I said or did that I wasn’t aware I had done. It was terrifying and I couldn’t believe this was my current state. I knew I was never to pick up a pencil to paper and my days as an actor were over.

I did not write for seven years. I did not share my story or my illness to anyone who did not see me when I was manic. My illness was my constant elephant in the room, and it consumed me and became such a huge part of my identity. I let it become my crutch and I let it speak for me before I could utter a word. I gave my illness a worst stigma than society bestowed upon those who suffer from mental illness.

All the while, I knew that somehow there had to be some reason for me being on this planet. I didn’t know what it was, but I always felt like there had to be someone else, someone my age who had suffered and went through mania, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, someone to relate to. Then something happened.

One day I was searching through quotes on Google just for inspiration to make it through the day. I stumbled upon a quote that literally saved my life: “You were assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.” I started sobbing the most effortless and liberating tears. It was in that moment where I realized what my purpose was. I knew that the only way to find the people like me, was to write about the people like me. I had to come out of my bipolar closet. But, I had to save my life before changing anyone else’s life.

Social media is the best platform we have today. I decided to use Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube to come out as a person living with mental illness through my poetry.

One in three Americans struggles with a mental illness, but the rate is much higher in women. Women are about 40% more likely than men to develop depression. They're twice as likely to develop PTSD, with about 10% of women developing the condition after a traumatic event, compared to just 4% of men. Yet most people do not know this. So many people affected (women, men, teens, families) that need to be educated.

Mental illness does not discriminate against age, gender, or race. My journey is never-ending for me. I hope my story and way of coping and how I still live a fulfilling life will inspire many girls and women and I can be the person that I so desperately wished for back in middle school. It is so incredible to say that the weight I carried for so long is now lifted and I can be free to be me, unapologetically. I want everyone with a mental illness to feel this way. But we all must take the first step, we must bravely come forward in our truth. Thats where the magic lies.

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Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.