My issues came to a brutal head at the beginning of my senior year of high school. While I appeared to be having the time of my life, everything was spiraling into a black hole. I couldn’t sleep at night, wasn’t doing homework, couldn’t pay attention and my body dysmorphia was in full swing.
After a severe anxiety attack while coming home from school, I was diagnosed as manic-depressive, a form of bipolar disorder. I was so blind to my own issues and in denial that I didn’t understand why I was being evaluated. I wasn’t depressed, so I didn’t understand.
I was sent into treatment and recovery on a two week medical leave. It was the most terrifying thing that had happened to me. All I wanted was to not be scared.
Getting back to school wasn’t any easier. It was worse. Vicious rumors, ones that I still don’t know how they got started, were circulating. Every day at school became a brutal task.
I remember sitting on my bed and looking in the mirror. Here I was, 18 years old, 20 pounds underweight and physically run down. I lost several friends from the bipolar stigma, which broke my heart more than getting diagnosed. I knew at this point I had two choices. I could either let myself collapse into this black hole, or I could push to give myself the full life I deserved.
I found out that it was up to ME and nobody else. If I wanted to finish the year, and go away to college, that fire had to come from within. I was determined to kick this stigma in the ass.
I worked and worked everyday to complete assignments as best I could, to keep up on my medication and to take care of myself. Despite what some people predicted, I graduated high school (on honor roll too) and accepted admission into UP.
And today? My four year remission mark is coming up on Oct. 12 and I couldn’t be happier about it! My hard work is paying off and I have reinvented my life completely. I’m doing well in school, interning, have amazing friends and family to whom I am eternally grateful and my dreams are becoming a reality.
I’m never one to discuss personal things, especially this. I’m always scared people will run and call me crazy. It is always in the back of my mind when I make new friends.
However, when I tell people, if anything they say, “You’re bipolar? But you’re so normal!” I always laugh and say yes of course I’m normal, so is everyone else who suffers a mental illness! Just how someone has asthma or has diabetes is normal!
At the end of the day, I’m not a bipolar person. I’m Janie first and foremost. It is something that I HAVE and deal with, not that I AM.
Is it still frustrating sometimes? Of course. Once in awhile I’ll have bad days, but I remember that those bad feelings pass. And they always do.
I am getting less and less guarded emotionally since my diagnosis, but I am still a work in progress.
Above all, I have learned that resilience and kindness are everything. If I consciously make an effort everyday to do the next right thing and be the best I can, even when it is really hard, that is the truest testament to character. If you want something, by all means fight for it, damn it! That is what matters, with or without mental illness.
We all struggle. Let’s struggle together.
Active Minds Podcast[audio mp3="http://www.upbeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Lets-Talk-10_14_15-10.35-PM.mp3"][/audio]
Janie Higgins is a senior communications major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Janie is a member of Active Minds, a group on campus dedicated to educating our community about mental health and demonstrating that people are not alone in their mental health struggles.
Mental Health Resources:
UP Health and Counseling Center: 503-943-7134
Multnomah Mental Health Crisis Line: 503-988-4888
Active Minds: email@example.com or facebook.com/activemindsatup