Part I: The Path to Diagnosis
Editor’s Note: This post is the first of a 3-part series on a Latina woman’s journey to bipolar disorder. We thank the author for sharing this personal and powerful journey, and hope her story will empower, enlighten and bring hope to those who live with bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions.
I knew I was the best at everything. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. Starting at the age of 4, I was on a busy schedule. I had a cycle of activities – church, honor roll, Broadway, field hockey, drama club, piano competitions, friends, and family. To get my name on everything was the goal. I wanted to do it all. And for quite some time – I did.
Childhood was bliss. I made dioramas for fun. I had a binder full of short stories I wrote. At night I hid under my sheets with a flashlight and read books. I could spit out hundreds of Bible verses and knew when to use them. I was non-stop.
It wasn’t until my first drink. I was 15.
My Adolescent Years
I remember like it was yesterday. From then on after I drank. I partied. I lost my shyness with boys. I was popular. No one in my family or church knew of my worldly ways. I was experiencing life. Luckily, my mother still kept me to a schedule. Without us knowing, that was keeping me well.
One night after a terrible breakup I did something unthinkable. I engorged in endless food, regurgitated it, and proceeded to put dotted lines down my wrists. They read, “cut here.” I was making a joke of something serious. I didn’t tell a soul.
Senior year of high school was here and I got into the school of my choice– a prestigious music school far away from home.
Life in College
The best four years of my life began. Because my parents were far, I didn’t have anyone pushing me on a strict schedule. I came and went as pleased. But I had the dark secret. I purposefully injured myself when something wasn’t perfect. I was a failure. At times I would burn myself, cut myself, or even bash my hands. On the outside I looked happy. Many times I even felt amazing. Whenever I needed energy—I had it. I was good at everything and didn’t relate to others who weren’t as gifted. For me, my energy and happiness was a part of me. I was special.
The happiness was shattered. Again, another bad breakup. I went to the usual bar and became inebriated. I threw shots and drinks around carelessly and after my friends took me home I took a knife and cut my wrists. As usual, it felt good. But then I got caught.
Challenging & Painful Experiences
Hours later I remember changing out of my clothes into a hospital gown. I spoke with the other crazies and those two days became nothing more than two days in the Psych Ward without shoelaces and strings in my hoodie. The floor’s psychiatrist diagnosed me with—depression (or so they thought). I began seeing a therapist on a weekly basis and was put on medication. Sleeping was my new hobby being drugged on the medications the doctors prescribed. I didn’t eat. In only a few short weeks, it was like nothing happened. Instead of treating my health, I used my diagnosis for all it was worth.
If I missed class because I wanted to party the night before– I showed them a doctor’s note. My grades began slipping, so I went to the Dean of students and talked my way into a higher GPA. I was such a bright girl and yet so stupid.
Sophomore and junior years passed like a blur and I was on a high. I started dating my high school sweetheart and we lived together. By senior year the depression was gone and the drinking almost stopped. I vowed never to use again. I was once again a straight-A student, in a million and one extra-curricular activities, music groups, and had two jobs. I was back to my normal self and felt special once again. Graduation day came and I moved back to New Jersey. I became a salesperson (what?!) and quickly rose to the top in the company. I was asked to go to Austin, Texas, to open up a new branch. I left my beloved boyfriend of 3 years. Two months after my new decision, I fell into a deep depression. (See a pattern here?)
So after only a few months, I bought a car for less than a grand, packed as much as I could fit (including random dishes into a cardboard box), and drove the 30 hours back to New Jersey. My credit was terrible. I was without a job. I was cutting like crazy. I was a failure.
After three months I went through a new job like water. I slit my wrists again. I was numb. I wanted to feel the pain. And when my scars healed, I felt proud of them. I was in and out of the hospital for the fourth time in the last 3 years and ended up in an outpatient rehab. I had to listen to crack addicts and people with schizophrenia and what not five days a week. My new boyfriend and I were done. The holidays were approaching. I became depressed again.
After some hard decisions, I took a cocktail of medications (about 2 bottles worth) and shoved them down my throat in my car where no one could find me. I apologized to God and waited to die.
In what must have been a miracle, I woke up moments later and felt the urge to call someone. I dialed my sister who lives in DC. I woke up to flashing lights a while later. Black out. Someone gave me coal to drink. Blackout. I was lying in bed in the cardiac unit. Blackout. People came to visit. Blackout. I begged the doctors to let me go home. I threw tantrums and cried the familiar tears that had always worked. I promised I learned my lesson. He said no.
The Psych Ward…
Deliriously I sang Rehab on the long ride to the psych ward I had only seen a few weeks before.
It was Christmas morning. The worst day of my life. I didn’t smile. I didn’t eat. I felt as if I had been run over by a truck. I smoked three packs of cigarettes. I saw my family (2 at a time) for two hours. I had a TV dinner. I awoke that night to a man bashing a chair into the emergency doors. An old woman talking to herself walked into my room asking for a toothbrush. Military men recently from Iraq roamed the hallways. I curled up into a ball and cried myself to sleep.
Two days later I was jumping on the couches, convinced the nurses for me to host a karaoke party in the multi-purpose room. I was exuberant! I made friends at the mental institution (again).
A week later the doctors quietly diagnosed me with Bipolar I. What did they know? Only crazy people are bipolar. I was just depressed here and there. I just knew how to be happy again.
I left the hospital on New Year’s Eve, as my insurance officially ran out that evening – the year I turned 23. It was the end of my old life I promised myself. Little did I know—it was only another chapter.
To be continued on Part II: My Journey to Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
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