I guess I have always known something was wrong with me. There were small suggestions when I was younger when I would laugh uncontrollably at nothing apparent, or throw inanimate objects at family members when I didn't get my way. When I was 14 I was diagnosed bipolar in the adolescent unit of a local psychiatric hospital; it was apparent that I had been undiagnosed for several years and all of a sudden things started to make sense. My parents finally understood why I had always been raging furious one minute and content and kissing people the next. When I was released from the psychiatric hospital exactly one week after I had been admitted for slicing my wrists, I started to use marijuana with some friends at school. I clearly remember telling some people at school that I smoked pot, when really I didn't, only to hear the words, "Ok, Jenny is cool now." Once those words were out I felt that I had to live up to a reputation. It was my goal to become the biggest stoner anyone knew. When I had neglected to tell the hospital that I had been experimenting with drugs a bit, they never told me how detrimental it was for my new bipolar medications to interact with mind-altering substances. As my marijuana use increased, so did my extreme mood swings. They were more intense and lasted only minutes between cycle changes. One night as I was experiencing a mixed state (Mania and depression at the same time) I took a handful of ibuprofen in a manic rage. It is hard for people without bipolar to imagine what being manic and depressed at the same time feels like; let me tell you, it is so very dangerous. I often scared myself when in these mixed states. When I was depressed I wanted to kill myself, but couldn't find the energy; when I was manic I was euphoric and everything was beautiful and wonderful. When I was in a mixed state, the mania fed into the suicidal thoughts and I finally had the energy to try and kill myself. I found myself back in the psychiatric hospital, this time for two weeks. The second time around, the drug test caught my marijuana use and everything, once again, made sense. My medications were changed and increased a little more; to the point where after I left the hospital, nothing was worth crying about, but nothing was really worth laughing about either. I was a flat line on a hospital monitor; I felt nothing. I felt nothing to the point where all I wanted was to be able to feel again, so I continued using marijuana. At least the marijuana made me feel like I wasn’t trapped inside a defective body; while I was using I was able to be freed from my bipolar cage for a few hours while my mind ran wild with a high that I thought was unsurpassable in the real world. After I knew that medications and drugs wouldn’t coincide, I stopped taking my meds. I would pretend to drop one in my mouth, drink water and when my parents would walk away, throw the pill down the drain. Giving up my illegal pain-killer was not an option at this point. A few months later I landed myself back in the same psychiatric hospital. I tried to pretend I wanted to get better, but the truth was that mania always felt better than feeling “normal” and drugs always eased my emotional agony, so why would I want to give those things up? Once out of my third stay at the adolescent unit, I promised I’d stop smoking marijuana to please the people around me, but the next day I was at my dealer’s house picking up another eighth of marijuana to blissfully smoke away. The summer before my sophomore year in high school was unlike any other I had experienced. I had gotten into meeting mysterious men online, and hooking up with them for a one night stand mere hours after we said hello. My bipolar raged out of control as I stopped taking my meds again and I did whatever I felt like before ever thinking through consequences. I lived in the moment, and I lived for whatever felt good in those moments. Drugs, indiscriminate sex, and compulsively spending money was what felt good to me in the moment. At the end summer break and heading into junior year of high school, I had been accepted into a peer-counseling program at my school. I have always wanted to be a therapist and help people, but I didn’t know that I had to take care of myself first. I told a girlfriend about my wild summer, and she told my peer-counseling teacher who in turn kicked me out of the program. I was furious, and if I couldn’t help people, then I just wanted to die. I went home that night and let the angry and suicidal thoughts ruminate within my head. I was in a violent mixed state and I wanted to hurt myself. I wanted to feel my mother’s steak knives slice my arms, and I loved watching the blood drip; it fascinated me. I cut my arms in several places numerous times that evening while I cried myself to sleep. The next morning, I was ashamed and angry at myself for cutting my arms, I didn’t want people to see or ask questions. Thankfully for me it was a chilly morning; I threw on my favorite oversized hoodie and mentally berated myself for being stupid enough to cut my arms. Later that day, I had forgotten about my cuts and the school’s heater system must have been turned all the way up that day, because I was getting hot. I sat next to my best friend in English class and pulled my sleeve halfway up my arm before realizing the mistake I had made and quickly straightened the sleeve back out. The damage had already been done; she inquired about the red scabs all over my arms. I told her not to worry about it but she cared, and went to my school counselor. He called me into class and asked to see my arms. I broke down and told him the story behind the cuts, and showed him. He told me that my dad would need to come in and we’d all have a chat. Once there, my dad and I collectively decided that the psychiatric hospital would not be beneficial a fourth time and he told me about an adolescent treatment center/rehab in Salt Lake City, Utah called LifeLine that he wanted me to give a try. That night I went home, packed my bags and was in the car the next morning on my way to LifeLine. I spent two grueling years in LifeLine. The two hardest years I have ever had to overcome; every day I wanted to quit and confirm to myself that I was a failure, I wanted to give up and walk away with my head hung. I did not do that, though. I spent my first four months in treatment on the first phase out of five. It was hard for me to admit that I hated mania and drugs, and I wouldn’t be able to advance in my treatment to second phase until I admitted I was truly powerless over my addictions and compulsions. I wanted for so long to believe that I could have quit smoking pot at any moment, and that I was put into treatment before I could even try. It has been two years since I have left treatment, and it is so rewarding to look back on all the trials of my journey and see how I wouldn’t let them break me down. Overcoming bipolar is a life-long journey; you will never just “be” there. We have to work every day to remember medications and coping skills. We have to know ourselves well enough to be able to catch the onset of a manic episode, or a depressive one. We need to be able to look our illness in the face and say, “You don’t own me” There is not an ending to this story as of now, but I can say that I am doing better today than I have ever done since I was diagnosed. I feel like life is enjoyable and there are things to be learned and opportunities to grow through trials. I believe it is because I am now consistently taking the medications that work for me, I'm going to a therapist, and I'm coping with my problems in the most beneficial of ways. My bipolar journey has been one of many hardships and life-learned lessons that I won’t soon forget; it has been a rewarding experience to have bipolar and I believe that through my journey, I have learned what it takes to be one hell of a therapist when I am finished with school.
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