“What is going on here?!?”
These were the thoughts that were rapidly firing in my head as I tried to figure out why I just couldn’t be happy and go out with my friends, or why I just couldn’t slow down and relax. For the longest time I hated myself for not being able to fix “it”.
In this society where we are told we should “just smile” or “walk in the sunshine” we assume it is our fault for not trying harder. We assume we are weak or bad for not perfectly controlling our mind and our body. We assume that there is something wrong with our personality as opposed to our chemistry. When I was first depressed to the point of suicide I got into a cycle of feeling agonizing pain of depression, exhaustion and defeat from not being able to fix it and an extreme hatred for my lack of strength and drive to pick myself up. It wasn’t until I was in the hospital on a suicide watch that I was given my first tentative diagnosis, Bipolar II.
Now, I grew up with a special ed teacher mom and a vocational rehabilitation counselor dad. I grew up being taught the importance of being sensitive to disabilities, the equality between every person no matter their difference and the importance of providing access and help to those with specific needs that may be different from my own. I grew up obsessively reading the DSM, diagnosing my pets with various illnesses. So when it came down to it, I knew about disabilities. I knew all about “differences” and the normalcy of said differences. I knew all about what the word “label” meant in that community and knew that one should not use a condition to classify the whole of a person.
Maybe this is why it hurt so much when I was first diagnosed. Maybe deep down in my heart I knew just how little the rest of the world knew about disabilities. Maybe I knew the discrimination and misunderstanding that came with a mental illness label, because I found my mind screaming “No. Not me! I am not BIPOLAR. I am not like that. I’m not CRAZY”. To me, someone who found every disability as simply another thing that makes us unique and special, this diagnosis made me into something I didn’t want to be. It grouped me into a category that was “bad”. And whether or not the people in this category were “bad” or not, societies view and opinion of them was. I was not going to be in this category. I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect, flawless and this was the biggest flaw I could ever imagine.
On the other hand however, there was the small, scared, childlike voice inside of me saying, “its not my fault”. Even writing this today makes me tear up when I remember just how hard I tried to make myself feel “normal”. I tried so hard to control my emotions, but the more I tried, and the more I failed, the more I punished myself. I had two competing voices in my head, the blamer, “It’s all your fault! If you tried harder we wouldn’t be where we are today!” and the blamed, “I try so hard. I’m not good enough. I deserve this pain.” It was a dangerous downward spiral that became even worse when it moved from mental to physical hatred. Finally having a diagnosis validated those “it’s not my fault” cries of the blamed. It allowed me to start being a little bit nicer to myself.
It took me a long time to be nicer to myself, and in many ways it is still a very difficult struggle. The diagnosis, for me, was one of the most life changing parts of my illness. It forced me to come to terms with the blamer and the blamed. It helped me realize who I really am and whether or not a label (BIPOLAR) defined me.
At first I felt that the words were etched into my forehead. I felt that with one word I was someone completely different. Years have taught me that my diagnosis can never define me. It may define some of the traits of my illness, but it will never define my exact reaction to those traits. Through my diagnosis I have been able to take the blame away and realize that this is simply something unique about me. A blessing and a curse that makes my life slightly different from other peoples’ lives. Though the label that accompanies the diagnosis was painful, I have finally found the most important thing of all, the map towards treatment. And with treatment lies stability.