This post is personal in the sense that I wrote it for a personal reason: not to forget. I don’t want to forget what my mental illness did and made me do. I don’t want to forget how unwell I can get. My brain sometimes erases memories and no, I don’t want to forget. Then, when I finished writing, I thought it might be helpful to others, or even inspire them to do the same – to which I say do it, absolutely do it! It is painful but so liberating and mindfully useful to understand more about your illnesses (it happened to me).
This is obviously a very harsh and honest post, so here’s your TRIGGER WARNING. But there’s a positive ending! 🙂
My credits for the inspiration go to Marya Hornbacher because I got inspired while reading her Madness: A Bipolar Life.
2000? 2002? (Age 7-9?)
Hysteria. They say I should try and control myself. I scream that I can’t. They say I’m self-indulgent. I break down and scream I am crazy. I scream I need to be hated because I am crazy. I don’t even remember the first time I’d say those things, so that’s why there’s no fixed date.
2002 (Age 9)
Primary school. Lunch break. I have had a huge fight with my best friend some days ago, so I am sitting alone. Suddenly I see all the other girls walk towards each other. Suddenly they are all there together in a circle. I try to join the group. One of them leaves the group, she stays in my way, half-smiles at the others and says to me: “No. You can’t join us. Not you.” I walk back to where I was seating, frozen. When we leave to go home I leave school alone. My mother is waiting for me and the moment I see her my body start to shake uncontrollably, tears running down my face. “They are evil! Please just take me home”, I scream. I feel like I am going to pass out from all the pain. Now I know that’s called a panic attack. I’d been a bullying victim since the age of 6. I so wish I could talk to 9-year-old me right now.
2005 (Age 12)
“I’m just a crazy shit. What a shitty sister I am. You’ll just have such a horrible memory of me, you’d be better off without a sister like me.” My brother is 7 and tries to tell me it is not true. But I’m still haunted by the ghost of me screaming like that in front of him – and doing that again again and again as the years went by.
2007-2012 (Age 14-18)
High school. A panic attack at every oral test. Insomnia takes over by my fault – I choose to stay up to write (because I wouldn’t let go of my passion) or to study what was still left despite studying all day (my high school is a high-ranking one with the highest performance rates in the whole region… and the lowest rates of good mental health of students in the whole region, but who knew that at the time?) and I keep doing it, I keep going without sleeping more than 3 hours. In the end, my body isn’t just able to sleep at all. “It un-learned how to do it”, a doctor would tell me years later.
In April 2011 my best friend’s father dies. Trauma still haunts me – he was like a father to me.
My last year is hell on Earth. I can’t get up in the morning and when I do I always, always cry from the very second I throw my feet on the floor from my bed to the very second I open my classroom’s door. The anger and worry in the voice of my mother when she finds me in bed and screams “Do you want to fail?”. I would never manage to explain to her that failing was my most terrifying nightmare, because it would have meant spending one more year in hell.
I often think I’ll kill myself if I really happen to fail the final exam or worse, to get refused the admission to the exam. I won’t be alive to repeat the year. That’ll be my way out. Nothing’s worth staying anyway.
I think I owe my life to the manic perfectionist me who managed to get me out somehow. And I think hell is when you find yourself forced to be thankful to a sick part of you.
2013 (Age 19)
2013 is pure, deep mania. I am the most excited, elated, uncontrollable version of me. The maximum grade at uni in Italy is 30 and my grades are all 30s and some 29s (sporadically). Like having all A+s and some As sporadically, if you know what I mean. Of course, those 29s were failures to me.
My mind had decided that my academic career had to become some sort of a redemption compared to my high school one and mania took over.
My uni mates ask me “Ellie, but when do you sleep?”. My answer is always a laugh. “I just don’t!”. I really don’t get that it isn’t normal, let alone healthy. And I can’t sleep anyway, so why bother?!
2014 (Age 20)
What the fuck is happening? Why am I even alive if I can’t get into a shop to get groceries? Why is my mind doing this? WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING!
Panic. Terror. I cry to my mum on FaceTime: “I’m going crazy”. Fury – I am furious with myself. I am in Ireland, I am living here – in the Country I call Home – thanks to the Erasmus study programme. I am living my fucking dream and my mind sometimes doesn’t let me leave my bed. Oh, but sometimes everything is just so perfect and shining and exciting and – why can’t I control myself to make it like this all the time?! Am I really going crazy?
2014 is also cancer year. Melanoma. Lymph nodes. Surgery. Surgery again. The wait – the wait to know if I am NED. I am, in the end: 2014 – the year I get cancer and the year I beat it.
Thanks to getting cancer, 2014 is also therapy year – the first time I entered a therapist office and, a few months later, a psychoncology psychiatrist office. “Please stop this for 5 minutes. I only need 5 minutes” I cry to my therapist referring to the anxiety. She is still a student and I see her eyes fill with tears.
2015 (Age 21)
If in 2013 I was manic and in 2014 I was ultra-rapid-cycling, 2015 was pure, angry, terrifying depression. Not surprisingly, I am misdiagnosed with MDD. My brain tends to erase memories of it randomly so here’s what I remember of 2015. I don’t want to forget. Ever.
• Fighting with my girlfriend. A lot. I was not able to leave my bed and she went out with friends (we live in different cities, of course she did). I was a jealous shit, I really treated her badly – she will say no if you ask her, but I’m done with self-indulgence.
• Constantly crying desperately with my face hidden in my pillow.
• Constant panic attacks. Constant anxiety.
• Constant anger. Screaming at my girlfriend for minutes and minutes and minutes because one of my earrings got lost in our hotel room in Dublin and according to my mind it is “her fault” because she hasn’t been too careful while moving our clothes from the bed to the wardrobe. And so I’m there messing up all our room while screaming, and then throwing myself at her feet to apologise while having a panic attack and crying. She bought me back my earrings. My illness was abusing the two of us, but I still feel like I abused her.
• Not wanting to get out of my bed. Not wanting any light to get in.
• Not being able to go shopping because of the agoraphobia and panic.
• And finally, the part whose existence no one likes to be reminded of: wanting to die. I am a burden, you will get on just fine without me. The refrain of the suicidal chorus got me. And I believed it.
September 2015. My best friend tells me my illness is too much and our friendship is over – after ten years. I want to take my life, I can’t see a reason to go on like that. I have started pouring one of my meds into a glass to OD on that – it was a bottle of Xanax and now I know that luckily benzos alone don’t kill anyway – but my girlfriend senses something is wrong and calls me. It was one of the countless time she saved my life.
2015 is breath-taking pain as well. Excruciating pain all over, in each little unknown muscle tissue and bone, like my body were tearing itself apart on its own. Fibromyalgia, they say in May. I had known that since March. I have always been a medicine geek since becoming a patient, and I like self-diagnosis. Yeah, I know that’s a taboo, but you know what? None of my self-diagnosis was ever, ever proved wrong.
(A little moment of sweetness: 2015 is couple mental illness year as well. It is the year my girlfriend is diagnosed with BPD due to family abuse, which I helped her realise and notice in the first place. We got through an awful lot of excruciating pain, but we still rock our techniques and strategies to cope, and soon we “won’t count the years on one hand that we’ve been together”. Who said a Borderline and a Bipolar couldn’t rock? <3)
2016 (Age 22)
They all hate me. They will never want to have anything to do with me again, I’m just a crazy shit. They are surely talking behind my back, I can feel they are. They hate me. I’m left alone with no friends because they all hate me and want me out of their life like She did. And my girlfriend deserves so much more, why she would ever want to sacrifice herself all life long marrying me? She surely wants to break up but she doesn’t know how to tell me. Oh yes that must be why she doesn’t tell me. She is talking about that with her best friend right now. I’m sure of that. My life has no meaning whatsoever. I have to end it before I have to go through that pain. I know things are like that, so what’s the purpose? Why am I still here?
I save myself because my phone, on silent mode, buzzes in my pocket. While I read all the texts my girlfriend had sent me without me noticing the buzzing, I realise I am at a huge road crossing near my photography school, where I was supposed to be at, and about to cross with the red light of the traffic light glaring through the darkness.
That psychotic, terrifying night was the second time my girlfriend actually saved my life.
I think that psychotic episode sums up a rollercoaster year like 2016 was: up down mixed up down mixed A&E up down up down med change up down down up med changed mixed A&E med change…
…and here comes another part of the story. It started, and ended well, thanks to what my parents once defined as “obsession towards my illnesses” and thanks to me being a medicine geek. Because I had studied, I had studied for days and days and hours and hours. And I loved my psychiatrist, but if there was one thing I was sure of, it was that treating a patient with Bipolar with three anti-depressants and no mood stabiliser was to be considered at least weird. Plus, I wasn’t well AT ALL. I was constantly on a psych A&E corridor crying for help. I was getting up, down and mixed more and more rapidly.
But then a catatonic depression hit me in mid November, two weeks before my graduation date, and I thought enough. I phoned the only Mood Disorders Centre we have here, asked for some names and numbers, phoned the first of the list and said that I was going to check myself in hospital unless the psychiatrist I was on the phone with was up to see me in a few days time. She said yes. I’ll never forget her face when she saw the list of the three anti-depressant I was taking, which she immediately started to get me off of. I successfully graduated – with the compliments and awe of the whole commission – with a dissertation on Bipolar Disorder on November 30, 2016.
2017 (Age 23)
January 26th 2017.
I’ve been seeing that new psych for two months and a half now. I’m not completely okay, I’ve been needing frequent med adjustments, but I’m better for sure. I’m finally heading towards stability.
When I got to my first appointment my psych was shocked by the meds I was on. Later she told my mother that “quite honestly I was really in a bad place when we had our first session”, so hey. Let’s take some time.
I think 2017 will be named Lithium year, haha. She started me on Lithium and Aripiprazole immediately and she saved my life, honestly. She also managed to treat my fibromyalgia getting me off Duloxetine (I’m on Pregabalin now), and she’s trying to get my sleep to become natural again (!!!!!!!!!). I can’t believe how lucky I got to find her.
As I edit this (Jan 29th), I’m on four meds and have been almost always stable since my last session with her – which was on the 17th. My first twelve stability days. Maybe it won’t last, but at least now I know how it feels like. My girlfriend has been quite stable for months. I’ve got tears in my eyes, because well, the Doctor would say… that “just this once, everybody lives“.