Editor’s Note: This is a 3-part series under our “New Latina Voices” column. Click read Part I, click HERE. Part III will be published tomorrow.
Part II: A New Chapter: Washington, D.C.
After all of the hospital craziness, I was a mess! My sister and her partner offered me a temporary home in their apartment; my sister found me a consulting job. I accepted the nice gestures. Even though we were crammed, we created a family. Within the first week I lived there, my sister and her partner told me I could only stay with them if I followed by their rules.
- Find a therapist. See him at least once a week (and participate in family group therapy).
- Eat healthier. No fast food/delivery every day.
- Maintain a strict budget and pay off debt.
- Find a psychiatrist and continue medications the mental hospital prescribed.
- Most important: No self-mutilation.
I always dreamed of living in a city again after living in NYC as a teen and Austin for just a few months. D.C. would feed the craving. I loved the city and everything about it. It was loud and fast like me. It was diverse and fun. It had so many people to befriend.
What I didn’t like…
Therapy. My psychiatrist. Our family contract. Budgeting. Being told what to do. I was crazy a few months ago. I was fine now.
But in the end of May 2008, I was officially diagnosed with Bipolar I.
[Definition: Bipolar I disorder is a mood disorder that is characterized by at least one manic or mixed episode. There may be episodes of hypomania or major depression as well. It is a sub-diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and conforms to the classic concept of manic-depressive illness.]
Latinos’ upbringing is somewhat tricky when it comes to mental illness. Many Latinos seem to suffer the same – you must be strong. There is no depression – you need to pray and go to God. Everyone gets depressed, but you have to change your thinking. Only rich or crazy people go to therapy. You don’t need medication. I ignored the problem. I ignored all of the early signs.
The only problem in changing your thinking with a mental illness is that it is almost impossible to do it alone. It’s like having cancer and never seeing a doctor hoping it will go away on its own.
I should have known with the cutting, but I didn’t know anyone else who did the same. I should have gotten help when I couldn’t sleep for weeks and then crash and not get out of bed for weeks. I didn’t know any of these things were problems, as I had never had professional help before my first real suicidal attempt in college. We aren’t educated in mental illnesses as we should be.
I took the diagnosis for what it was and took a different approach. I embraced it. I quickly became obsessed with my diagnosis. I bought books on it. I wrote songs about it. Everything started making sense.
I researched famous people who suffered (or are strongly believed to have) from bipolar disorder. Beethoven, Van Gogh, Plato, Picasso, Napoleon, Isaac Newton, Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Taylor, Robin Williams, Patti Duke, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Carrey, Amy Winehouse, the list is endless. Most of the people who suffer(ed) from bipolar are extremely creative and at times seen as geniuses. Many of these people lived extremely difficult lives, were institutionalized, or died young. Bipolar is a mental illness keeping doctors still puzzled and there is no cure. You must learn to deal with it the rest of your life.
Because of this new diagnosis, the medications were switched, but they weren’t sure which ones would work. They overmedicated me. I had pink ones, blue ones, yellow ones, peach ones, green ones, brown ones, and big white ones. The special feeling was soon gone once the meds kicked in. Within the first few weeks I was exhausted. The pills were working their “magic” and in only a few short weeks I was numb.
There are bits and pieces of the year 2008 that I don’t remember. What I do remember was the drinking and smoking and caffeine and everything I was strongly advised against having.
My sister began recognizing my signs of mania and depression. I didn’t see them because I wasn’t paying attention.
Mania for me is racing thoughts, no need for sleep, constant ideas, extreme amounts of energy, overtaking conversations, being the life of the party, drinking, making new friends, learning new instruments, exercising twice a day. It explained a lot of happenings in my life.
These things felt normal for me. I didn’t know any other way. All I knew is it was getting worse as time progressed. Many people don’t believe it exists; they think it’s an excuse or possibly immaturity. Unfortunately if you’re not getting the right treatment, you break down. You act on unthinkable things.
I still didn’t care. I knew I was bipolar, but I figured it’s never going to go away. I am going to do what I want, when I want, and how I want. My sister and her partner could only control so much of my life. I was draining their every second of love for me. I couldn’t see their love for me. In February of 2009 we all agreed I should move out. It had been one year.
Everyone I lived with couldn’t stand being with me after so long. It wasn’t my fault; I was misunderstood.
The day I got my new house keys I felt free. Family and friends helped me move into my small efficiency in the heart of the city. In my eyes, I was perfectly fine and ready to be on my own.
Three days later the nausea started.
Every room felt like a merry-go-round. Maybe it was the medications. Just to be safe, I went to Target and bought four pregnancy tests. Pregnancy showed two lines; negative showed one line. I peed on eight sticks and had a total of sixteen lines.
In those grueling two hours of my life I cried. Hysterically. How was I going to break the news to my ex-boyfriend?
I had a choice lying in front of me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the baby, but I knew that I couldn’t end up with a baby with four arms or 11 toes. I made a quick decision and researched all of the medications I was taking. All eight of them
I went outside to my smoking crew and told them I quit. They laughed. On my way home, I threw my last pack of cigarettes to the homeless man on the sidewalk always begging for one. He looked puzzled. I went to my favorite hookah bar and told the owner I wouldn’t be back. He asked why. I didn’t respond. The entire time I carried the pee stick in my bag.
I went to my psychiatrist the next day and told him I was going cold turkey on my medications. The room was spinning from the nausea. I had a headache from no cigarettes. I could feel shooting pains across my brain from the withdrawal of medications. I craved the caffeine from no soda. I prayed for it all to end.