Living with Bipolar

Photo of letter tiles spelling out bipolar; there are two sets, one upside down

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – what used to be called manic depression – since 1995. And it’s only for the last couple months that I’ve been getting the treatment I need.  

Bipolar disorder can feel very lonely, but you are not alone. About one in 100 Americans has bipolar disorder, according to the Mental Health Research Association. That’s over two million adults.  

And I can tell you what my life was without treatment, and since I got treatment. When I was young I would have episodes when I would be so depressed, I would stop going to school and miss assignments. Many thought I was a dummy, including my family, who never understood mental illness.  

But just taking a shower or cleaning my room was a major accomplishment. The only relief I seemed to have from depression was marijuana or a drink. It would stimulate me and motivate me – only to leave me feeling like crap the next day.  

I was impulsive and impatient, and I had a hard time doing anything but sleeping. My depression would hit me in the winter like a dark cloud. I would think of suicide and hear voices trying to kill me. I was miserable. I wanted out of my hell. I was tired of people telling me I was weird and not having true friends.  

The only friend and peace I had was a pint of vodka and some music so I could dream.  

Then one day I went to a dance and I found a girl who liked the way I danced. We practiced and won a dance contest. I would love to say life went happily ever after but, being bipolar and undiagnosed, I would binge, have unprotected sex and not sleep for days.  

I was so arrogant and insensitive that she and everyone else left, which sent me into a major depression. I ended up in a psychiatric ward in New Jersey for mixing vodka and some pills. The doctor said I tried to kill myself. They observed my behavior and said I was bipolar. They gave me some anti-depressants, which I thought of as happy pills. 

I felt good and I left the hospital but soon I felt like I didn’t need the medication any more. I got a good job at a Shop-Rite and worked my way up to supervisor, but then got fired for stealing liquor. I was making good money there and the shame got me into another depression.  

I isolated myself from my family for almost 16 years. I didn’t brush my teeth, bathe. I would just watch TV or play video games.  

Cocaine and alcohol were the miracles for my depression. I was up, energetic, doing exercises. I thought I could conquer the world, but unfortunately, I had no job to pay for such an expensive drug.  

After my run with drugs, I checked into a mental health facility and got a drug called Depakote. I hated it. It made me a zombie, so I rebelled and stopped taking it.  

Then I went to a shelter in Philadelphia called Ridge Avenue. I got counseling with someone who would listen. They stabilized me on Tegretol. But soon, I stopped treatment because I didn’t qualify for Medicare and my anxiety wouldn’t let me go through the long waits and lines.  

I went out in Philadelphia for a month straight, had unprotected sex and gambled, all just to fill any void so I wouldn’t be alone. I came to Washington running from my past but bipolar disorder is the baggage I always carry.  

When I came to Street Sense, I had symptoms of grandeur. I would insult people, feel privileged and be very arrogant. I also had rage that never was addressed. I was depressed and I would drink to sell papers. I would drink to be happy and I could not quit. I was bipolar but I never thought I could be helped. It wasn’t until I went to detox and then the psyche ward that I finally realized I needed treatment.  

I am trying to follow my doctor’s recommendations and I don’t have episodes. I no longer have anxiety and paranoia; I do my chores, take showers and feel better.  

I realize bipolar disorder is the most misunderstood of mental illnesses. It’s not like schizophrenia, but both can leave you empty. 

Many great people are thought to have had bipolar disorder – Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and many others. So don’t despair. You are in the company of great people who have had this illness.  

There is treatment if you are diligent and you are determined to follow up. I sought treatment because I got tired of using substances, being homeless and jobless because of my disease.  

And to my bipolar buddies – don’t let the disease beat you up. 

Issues |Addiction|Health, Mental

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