In high school, I was really good looking and I could have almost any girl I wanted. However, I trusted God with everything back then. Then, my first psychotic episode happened along with a Bipolar I/schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I started taking meds. I assure you, the trauma, the stress, and the meds all together caused me to gain a lot of weight. As a result, I’m fat now.
I don’t call them battle scars, but wounds that can heal. It’s been top 5 in my worst struggles in life I’ve ever had, that is, being fat. I remember how good it felt to feel good about my body and have all the energy and health and ability to do the things I want to do. Now that I’ve managed the trauma, the stress, and the meds, I sense a reckoning at hand soon!!! 🙂
It provides a genuine glimpse into the mind of someone with undiagnosed schizophrenia. Connections were everywhere in the book, from colors to Facebook posts to random music on his iPod shuffle to people and events. All of them may be small and insignificant to the naked eye, but in his world, everything has meaning, often a double take, behind it. Every move he makes is watched, every thought monitored and the government is pulling the strings around him. A sense of desperate purpose and an unknown mission drives him blindly forward.
It’s a terrifying, fascinating world that Mike Hendrick brings the reader into. I could relate to a lot of what he described right before my two psychotic episodes, and it brings out the schizoaffective part of my disorder along with my bipolar. It is a vivid illustration of another person that was like me!
It’s truly inspiring to see a work like this published. I will be rereading it for sure, and it gives me a lot of things to think about with my own work.
“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” -Chaos Theory
I watch the neatly-kept houses and vibrant green lawns pass by my open front passenger side window of Dad’s sky blue ‘93 Intrepid. The gentle aromas of freshly cut grass, leafy trees, and vivid flower gardens breeze by in the sunny suburban neighborhood. We are on our way to high school during late summer for freshman orientation. The radio show host announces a commercial break and I tune out the bombarding advertisements so I can enjoy the beautiful day. Suddenly, a concerned female voice draws me in on the air speaks to me. The words make my mind unsettle and my heart sink.
“Do you have times where you feel extra productive, and periods where you can’t seem to do anything?” I often do all the homework I can for weeks or months in advance to work ahead, then fall behind when I don’t feel like doing it later. I tend to take advantage of my energy when it is there. When it’s nonexistent, I need to recharge, and I prepare for this. Rarely do I work at a steady pace, and I have the tortoise and hare syndrome, but that doesn’t make me abnormal!
“Do you have times where you feel euphoric, that your mind is sharp, or you have so many ideas and thoughts you don’t know what to do with them?” I often ponder the meaning of life, and if God really exists, or if I exist, and what about each atom? Does anything really exist? Then I just get tired, and then it all comes back again. I think about many things at once quite a bit. But isn’t that normal for everyone else too?
“Do you sometimes feel down, blue, low on energy, or hopeless?” There are times when I wish whatever this pain, this cloud, this guilt is, would just go away for good. When it’s there, I can’t seem to get any of my school work done, or anything done for that matter. I don’t want to get up in the morning for days on end. I cry myself to sleep over the littlest things that seem to mean the world to me. But eventually, it goes away. Isn’t that all part of life?
“These are symptoms of what is called ‘bipolar disorder.’ It is a severe illness, but very treatable with medications.” Bipolar. Isn’t that the mental illness that’s almost bad as schizophrenia? I’m a normal, functioning human being, as hard as it can be sometimes. My instincts tell me the problems I have are beyond normal, and I have been hiding this suspicion from everyone including myself.
“People can lead normal lives with treatment. Can you or a loved one relate to these symptoms? There is help.” Bipolar? Me? That’s crazy! I’m normal and just entering high school! My journey in life has just begun! I’m only hearing this and getting overly concerned, acting like a hypochondriac reading a textbook on mental illness and self-diagnosing. People would think poorly of me if I’m labeled bipolar. My heart gives me the notion that I’m bipolar, but I dismiss it in horror.
“I guess we’re almost there, Dad. Is there anything else I need besides what you said?” I said, as the radio voice reads the website address, contact information, and sponsor on the air…
Three years later at age 17, I find myself in a Crisis Stabilization Unit for two weeks of hell, completely psychotic, wandering an evil reality from beyond the other side. I’m transferred to the mental hospital after becoming stable enough, with an admitting diagnosis of schizophreniform. Dad explained that means schizophrenia-like symptoms and I need to be observed more before I’m considered chronically schizophrenic or something else.
I find myself at the mercy of the men in white coats at the hospital. They are my judges. I am on death row, awaiting my diagnosis. Schizophrenia is a crippling disease, and I show many signs of it. The medications turn me into a living zombie. They numb my heart, mind, and soul, yet I’m painfully aware of it all. I’d rather be dead, and seriously ponder suicide often. I overhear the staff talking about how tragic my situation is. How did I get here from having such high hopes and great potential?
The hospital has observed me for over a week now. The doctors call a meeting with my parents and me and we all sit down on cheap chairs in a small gathering room. One doctor introduces himself and explains what this meeting is about. I hang on his every word. “We want to hear your input about what you think may be going on here. You’ve had a traumatic past few weeks, and things seem to be settling down for you. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions.” He continues, “While you were growing up, do you remember having periods where you felt up and others down?”
My throat closes tight. “Y-yes, I think?” I stutter, unconvincingly.
I feel a panic rising inside of me, but the question he raised pierces through the numbing medications and points to that moment in the car three years ago, when I dismissed the notion from my heart that I have bipolar. It comforts me, and I throw my pitch. “I remember hearing a radio broadcast about bipolar and I thought that I had it… but that seemed crazy.” I stammer through everything I remember hearing and thinking about on the radio three years ago, pleading my case for bipolar.
I brace myself for his response. I have spent the last three weeks in a very dark place. I’m admitted essentially as a schizophrenic and I would think the same if I were a doctor, considering what unspeakable horrors must be in my chart from the crisis unit. What if they diagnose me as that and I’m stuck on these God-awful meds for the rest of my life? Am I doomed to be psychotic or a zombie forever? Will they think I am bipolar and not schizophrenic after all?
“Because you believe you had mood swings, and your thoughts are connected though loosely associated… and what you have just told us now… we don’t believe you have schizophrenia. You have bipolar, a disorder that is very treatable with medication. As you have heard, people who have it often lead normal lives.” There is a long pause. The unexplainable expression on his face with his glasses and dark hair, my open chart in his hands, becomes ingrained into my memory as he looks up at me. Words fail me.
Tears begin to trickle as I rapture straight from this hell in a steady crescendo. I never cried so hard from within, and I soon find myself going someplace else, feeling my front shirt collar and chest becoming damp. I am confused beyond my understanding, experiencing so many emotions at once I never thought possible at the same time. Shock, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, relief, clarity, and joy overwhelm me. My thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories well up in small streams flowing from my broken soul out of my eyes. My head becomes silent for once and my pale, bleeding heart warms up and settles down inside my chest, the throbbing infection washed away with saline from my soul.
Slowly, my mind speaks: “I’m bipolar… and I can lead a normal life someday.”
To be bipolar is to be controlled by my illness. To have bipolar is to have control over my illness. The subtleties of language have great differences in meaning. I imagine to be diagnosed with any mental illness, the initial tendency is to slap the label on myself, saying I am ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar, BPD, schizophrenic, <insert mental illness diagnosis here>. Likewise, the initial tendency for a person not educated about mental illness is to label those people who have it according to their illnesses.
I suspect this is the case because mental illness has an effect on the mind, which is very near to our core being. When it spins out of control, it is magnified and shows up prevalently in the forefront of that person. In order to become diagnosed, this must often happen. In my case, I couldn’t help but look out through a looking glass shaped by bipolar, interpreting a lot of the turmoils I was experiencing along with my past according to what bipolar is and does. My family did the same thing.
However, just like someone who has diabetes doesn’t say he is diabetes, or AIDS, GERD, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, COPD, whatever illness you can conjure up, he HAS that illness. It’s something he becomes educated about, receives treatment for, and he learns how to manage and cope with it.
Mental illnesses are no different. I imagine them to be more challenging than many physical illnesses as they are much more abstract and hard to understand. For John, his recent diagnosis of bipolar may feel like bipolar is him at first, right at the core of his being, but it isn’t. It’s simply got a grip on him.
So please, keep that in mind. To label mental illness as not an illness is incredibly destructive, and so is labeling the afflicted as the illness. In time he or she will take ownership of it, manage it, and cope with it just like someone who has type 1 diabetes, say. Help him or her along by referring to the illness as something he or she has, instead. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, tell yourself you have it, not that you are it!