** Please be advised, this article discusses suicide and suicidal ideation, which some readers may find triggering. If you or someone you care about is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call the free, 24-hour U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
You never know how far you can extend until you stretch. This August will be seven years since I was stretched—and just like an over-blown balloon, reality popped right before me.
Being diagnosed at age 25 with bipolar disorder disrupted my entire life. At the time, I was working as a caretaker and companion for a 17-year-old boy with the complex genetic disorder Prader-Willi syndrome, a role that proved both challenging and fulfilling. While I grew to love this young person in my care, there was a part of me that felt I wasn’t living out my dream—or applying my expensive mass communications degree.
After I came home from a family vacation with a body full of no-see-um insect bites, a doctor prescribed me a high dosage of the anti-inflammatory medicine prednisone. By day two on the drug, I felt as if electricity was flowing through my body. Voices of chaos flooded my ears on day three, and by day four I had attempted suicide by drowning myself in the bathtub, which landed me in the emergency room. (The suicide attempts felt more like a sacrificial-lamb attempt for the greater good of my family than an actual act of ending my life. At the time, I felt that God had chosen me to save my family and rid us of all hardships and hurt.)
You’d think getting admitted into a behavioral health hospital would be a terrifying experience, but I saw it as God placing me there to help people. I spoke to and befriended everyone with love, listened to everyone’s story, shared mine, and acted out when I felt I wasn’t being heard. While there, I was placed on Risperdal (risperidone), an antipsychotic. The drug did not cause my mania to subside. Instead, I floated somewhere between a medium state of sanity and manic bliss.
Coming Back to Myself, With Some Help
After trying several different medications for almost three months, I arrived at the perfect prescription with Latuda (lurasidone)—finally, I didn’t feel like a tranquilized horse. With the fog lifted, the realization of my actions overwhelmed me as I thought of all of the people who love me and how my death would have affected them, particularly my nieces and nephews. You see, mania is tricky like that: You are on such a high that something as serious as attempting to kill yourself feels good—that’s one of the reasons mania is so dangerous. You have no real sense of reality; every idea is brilliant, every action is careless. But in life, every decision counts.
I’m grateful to my psychiatrist because she treated me as if I were her child. She didn’t try to force-feed me pills during our first encounter—in fact, she didn’t prescribe me anything. Instead, she gave me information to read, along with a list of options as it pertained to medicines. The entire process from my very first visit through treatment felt like a partnership. I felt like a human rather than a lab rat, and because of that, she gained my trust instantly. Not only was she patient with me, she advised me not to focus on the diagnosis, but to focus more on finding what works so that I could get back to living. That guidance made all the difference for me and gave me hope I never thought I’d grasp.
After being released from the hospital, I began seeing a psychiatrist who promptly diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. From there, the hard work began, starting with a fixed, simple routine: eat, take medicine, and sleep. Sleep became my greatest escape from the reality of my situation. For my entire life, I’d worked tirelessly in school to get good grades and make my mom proud—honor roll, principal’s list, student of the month, and even dean’s list in college were accolades I was proud to have attached to my name. So, to now have “bipolar disorder” and “mentally ill” a part of it made me feel worthless. But little did I know, the value of my worth would soon be revealed.
Finding Healing in the Written Word
From a very early age, I knew I wanted to be an author. I instantly fell in love with the written word as soon as I learned to read. And because my dad was incarcerated, we kept in touch via letters, which I always looked forward to writing and receiving. I always knew I wanted to write, I just didn’t know about what—and, lo and behold, the story was placed right before me. Six years into my bipolar-disorder diagnosis, I published my memoir, Half the Battle. Writing it meant reliving my experiences before my diagnosis, researching my illness, and understanding how to change my lifestyle—I left no stone unturned.
Having a deep knowledge of my mental illness settled my fear and worries. Early in my diagnosis, everything terrified me because I felt I was in uncharted waters. But after reading and asking my psychiatrist what seemed like thousands of questions, things slowly started to feel OK. With counseling and medication, everything slowly started to fall into place. My life became more than just eating and sleeping, and gradually I was able to start living again. That’s when I felt my purpose. Writing was right in front of me, and I knew God had presented me an opportunity to use my talent and share my story.
I no longer look at my mental illness as having a negative connotation—it is a part of me, but it doesn’t control me. Some years back at a support group, the facilitator introduced himself, and instead of saying, “I have bipolar disorder,” he stated, “I’m living with bipolar disorder,” and that resonated deeply with me. Bipolar disorder doesn’t define me or my entire makeup as a person. I am multifaceted. I have layers. I have a mental illness, but more than anything, I am living.