When They Say You’re Sick

I have known for some time now that not all that was happening in my head was the result of trauma. However, I seriously resisted the idea. I convinced myself that it had to be the PTSD alone just wearing me down. I argued that I was on high doses of steroids for another condition, which are infamous for causing mood swings. Kate suggested that it could be something more. It wasn’t until I was sitting at the bottom of a hole – with no apparent reason to even be there – that I realized that she was right. I have been stressed, yes, and the anxiety has been tiring me out, but I should not have felt as low and hopeless as I did.

bipolar-disorder-nosThis week, I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.

When those words came out of my therapist’s mouth, I could do nothing but stare. I had known it was coming – I had seen the signs, the condition runs in my family, Kate and I had talked it over, but…it just triggered this disconnect. We had thought bipolar II was more likely – I had prepared myself for that reality. Bipolar I? That was not something I was ready for.

I kept thinking: that means you’re crazy. 

I can’t say that the days following have been hard, because they haven’t. I’ve been happy, surrounded by friends, and working toward really positive things. There is this uncertainty, though – this fear – that this label somehow changes my identity. I keep asking myself how can a man ever love me? How can they see past the sickness and understand that it is only a small part of me? How will my friends and family look at me?

My palms are actually sweating as I write this. I am terrified that this will create wedges and uncertainty in relationships that I honestly cherish. What breaks my heart is that the symptoms didn’t even manifest until these recent months. I lived a (somewhat) normal life, with teenage mood swings and controllable emotions. This was not something I could have ever pictured.

Ironically enough, I received a text from a friend this week informing me that he had been diagnosed with depression. He shared with me that he could have never imagined this happening to him. My response was that no one ever does, but it happens to a lot of people. Now, he just has to surround himself with the support of loved ones and keep going. This is the same advice I am going to try to take for myself now.

I am not a patient person – not with others, and especially not with myself. It is a virtue I have yet to develop, but in the last month I have come to recognize just how important it truly is. I say that now because the last three weeks of complete chaos has been identified as a manic episode.

I’ve never had one before, so I had no clue what was happening – why my emotions and behaviors were all over the map for periods of time. I felt like one of those toddlers learning shapes, just trying to shove a square peg into a round hole and entirely incapable of understanding why it wasn’t working. I would try to relax myself, but could not. I would try to convince myself to be happy, but could not. I hated myself for the imbalance. I hated myself for the strain it put on others.

I could not be patient with myself and I know that made it difficult for others to be patient with me. The extremes were so intense at times that it felt like I wasn’t even in control of myself anymore. I would just watch this person make stupid decisions and wonder vaguely what could come of them. It breaks my heart to look back on these episodes and see what damage the imbalance caused.

With treatment, I am told that it will get worse before it gets better. There is a myriad of medications and paths to explore. It’s a trial and error process. I am going to need help as I undergo this process. I know that there will be times when it will all feel hopeless. However, I also know that this diagnosis does not change who I truly am. It does not take away my talents, my passions, or my traits. I still love to run, camp, and explore. My fingers still know the strings of the guitar and the keys of the piano. I am still capable of living a good life.

When they say you’re sick, the world can feel like it is ending. That goes for just about any diagnosis – whether it be physical or mental. I just want you to take a second to breathe. When the doctor opens his mouth to give you the bad news, I want you just to pause and take a breath. Things may have just gotten a little harder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do this. You can – I can.

When they say you’re sick, I want you to know that it will be okay. I want you to remember that sunrise we’ve talked about so many times already. Close your eyes, and know that no matter where you are, I am with you. Kate is with you. God is with you.

Keep your head above water. No matter what comes, we can keep going.


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