* For confidentiality reasons this author would like to remain as unknown *
I lead a healthy and vibrant life, but that doesn't make me the poster-child of mental health. I don't even know who that person is. Oprah, maybe. It certainly isn't me. In all brutal honesty, despite how fortunate I am, I haven’t been emotionally stable until this past year. I have screamed until my throat was raw. I have stayed in bed crying for days. I have broken glasses. I have felt lost and worthless. I have lost friendships. All on account of my mental state.
Since I entered the pituitary madness of puberty, I woke up every day and chased after my emotions like a kite in the wind - reeling them in, but never ceasing full control. I'm moody. I always have been. I used to attribute it to the fact that I'm sensitive and empathetic. I experience a wider spectrum of emotions than the average person. While that may be true, the winter I turned twenty-one, my life was better than it had ever been. Through talk therapy, I had learned to set healthy boundaries with people and turn the volume down on some of my negative inner-dialogue. I met my fiance - a man who swept me off of my feet and took me on tropical vacations - like something out of a movie. I developed a passion for healthy eating, versus the horrifying diet/pizza-binge cycle I had been in. My life was a dream - from the outside.
Even though I was doing all of the right things, I was still experiencing the violent mood swings I had been plagued with for my entire life. Why weren’t all those things enough to make me feel okay? Why did I still get inundated with gut-wrenching sadness for little or no reason? Why did my nervous thoughts ricochet off of each other and leave me tossing and turning at one in the morning? Why was I impulsive, rageful, and inconsiderate? Why was I still wrecked with panic for no apparent reason?
The only difference was that I had excellent coping mechanisms. When I was depressed I (attempted to) muster up the strength to go for a run. When I was manic, I hid my credit card from myself and did yoga. When I was anxious, I meditated. Those strategies allowed me to find my foundation, and plant some seedlings of self-love. In fact, it's that budding self-esteem that forced me to look honestly at myself and ask the question: is the ''emotional roller-coaster'' (to quote a very accurate phrase) I've been riding for twenty-one years allowing me to be my best self? It wasn’t.
Before I ever even asked the question, I could feel the truth in the marrow of my bones. I began to fight for my equilibrium. I would conquer it on my own. I would reprogram myself. I would find stability within. I started to dissect my emotional patterns. I learned that anything more than a beer or two would leave me hopeless and heavy-hearted the next day. Lack of sleep sent me shooting into la-la land, overcome with euphoric and dangerous ideas. All things from cramming for an exam to picking out a dress to wear could send me into panic-mode. I avoided it all. I danced to the disorganized rhythm of my temperament and dodged land mines of despair for months. It almost worked.
Most people that knew me would consider me very stable and dependable. I was always on time. I had a near-perfect GPA. I was considerate of others, and pretty good with money (for a 22 year old, at least). The problem? I was so drained. For me, feeling my emotions catapult in seemingly random directions while maintaining a normal life was very possible and empowering, but also exhausting. I often came home at the end of the day, and I heard my phone vibrate. My Grandma, a classmate, or even my best friend would be calling and I couldn’t pick up. I was completely devitalized. Depleted from simply showing up for my obligations, and I had no choice but to take the time I have to recharge. But while I am recharging, I never actually get a break because there was always more self-monitoring and regulation to be done. Constantly pulling myself back to center. Desperately digging my heels down into the earth. In the marrow of my bones, I knew it. I needed to see a doctor. A "real" doctor. I brought the subject up to my cognitive therapist. ''I think, maybe I should see a doctor... like a psychiatrist. Just to get a more traditional, like, medical perspective, you know?'' I stammered. I felt awkward, like I was betraying him or something. I also felt a little like I was betraying myself. I used to swear up and down that psychiatrists were drug-company puppets who marginalized people for having intense emotional experiences. I used to remind everyone who would listen that we were "the most medicated country in the world". I cringe to remember a younger me actually encouraging my friends to try a more "holistic" approach to their mental health and forego medication. Not anymore. It was time to open my mind. I wanted to learn about my brain. ''It could be useful.'' He said without judgement. And so it began.
I googled ''psychiatrist'' and took the first available appointment. I didn't really take it seriously. I considered it information gathering. Nothing more. I wanted someone to describe my experience medically, perhaps show me some diagrams of neurotransmitters like the ones I had seen in my General Psychology class. The psychiatrist was a middle-aged Egyptian man in a swivel-chair with a kind face. His office buzzed with a white noise machine. There was a mini-fridge full of Mountain Dew. "Want one?" He asked, opening one for himself. I politely declined. I do not belong here. I thought to myself. But then I chose to relax and open my mind up to a new experience. He interviewed me for about forty minutes. I saw his questions form brackets and branch off from each other. I saw my entire existence getting whittled down to medical jargon and diagnostic criteria. He talked a lot about dopamine and showed me the exact types of diagrams I had imagined he would. At the end of his rapid-fire questioning, everything he said could be narrowed down to this: I either felt very happy and impulsive, very sad, or very anxious. Well, I could have told him that. I contemplated asking for my copay back. But then, he told me there was a word for it: Bipolar II. He then said something that changed everything for me. ''Chronically feeling upset and out of control for no reason for a year or two will disrupt a person's life. What about a lifetime of that? Which, from what you're describing, has been your experience. Think of where you are now, compared to where you could be?'' Some people would be offended and leave. But for me, the words rang so true my arms broke out in goosebumps and my eyes stung with tears. He was right. I had done well. I had done a remarkable job, in fact. But my relationships were suffering, my self-esteem was fragile, and I wasn't reaching my full potential. Not by a long shot. And then he did what psychiatrists do. He told me there was a pill for it. For some reason, I was a little startled. "You actually think I need medication?" I exclaimed, feeling defensive. "It is my job to prescribe medication" was his reply.
I walked back to my car armed with a new perspective. I thought about our brains. They make us fall in love, the make us breathe. They make us sleep. They make us cry. I had never thought of my human experiences so biologically, and I was glad I had taken some time to approach my suffering from that direction. A new perspective. That's it. It was just one of many ways to interpret my experience on this planet. If I had gone to another doctor, they may have said something entirely different. And it doesn't matter to me. It doesn't matter what happened after that - if I filled the prescription or chose to continue a more natural approach. That part is far beside the point. The point is I had options, and I gave myself permission to consider all of them.
As I mentioned above, we are the most medicated country in the world. Some disorders are over-diagnosed, or diagnosed too quickly. Some medications are over-prescribed. That doesn't mean taking a look at our brain and the way it functions is bad. It's pretty helpful, actually. It's up to us to decide what to do with that information. We all have a right to choose the best route to stability and contentment. A few people have recommended that I don't share my emotional struggles or this visit with a psychiatrist, but that's their shame, not mine. It's not unusual to reach out to a doctor because you're hurting, whether that pain is in your knee or your mind. Everyone has experienced varying degrees of excitement bordering on foolishness, nervousness and despair. If anyone would judge me for those things that's not a person whose approval I'm going to concern myself with. I know who I am. I know I am not defined by my emotions. I am a responsible, caring person. Because I am a responsible caring person, I know that it is my human responsibility to do everything in my power to become the best version of myself. How can I radiate love and light into the world if I'm burned out by my own battles? How can I support the people around me if I'm struggling to hold myself up?
If you take anything away from my story let it be this: you have choices. You have a billion choices. Every day. I don't want anyone to feel like there isn't a way for them to feel okay. There always is. It's different for everyone, and it will evolve and change throughout the course of your lifetime. But once you find it, don't ever apologize for it.