Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Walking Through Darkness

by Jen Evans

Twenty years ago, when I was twenty-eight, and after a month with no sleep, I was diagnosed with a major mental illness. At the time this occurred, I couldn’t feel anything. My brain and heart were so completely shut down that when I was diagnosed, I had no reaction to the diagnosis and what the ER doctor was saying to me.

When the doctor told me that I had bipolar disorder, I stared blankly and flatly ahead of me, disassociating from the reality of this diagnosis and the surreal experience of sleeplessness and mania that I was experiencing at the time.

Although I had heard of the illness, I knew next to nothing about it. I certainly didn’t believe I had it, no matter what this doctor was telling me. He must be mistaken. But, something was wrong because a person just doesn’t stop sleeping for no reason.

Years ago, when I was fourteen and got my first period, odd things began happening in my day to day life. Though the circumstances I was living in at the time were challenging, I was a happy kid. I had never experienced either depression nor mania. I was/am a creative person so when the illness struck me and I went through mania, in particular, I thought this was part of my creative process. I thought it was natural because during mania, I wrote and thought and felt so much at one time. To me, this was simply my way of being. I never thought I had an illness.

Bipolar disorder also known in the past as manic depression, is an illness characterized by changing moods and is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders:

People who live with bipolar disorder experience periods of great excitement, overactivity, delusions, and euphoria (known as mania) and other periods of feeling sad and hopeless (known as depression). As such, the use of the word bipolar reflects this fluctuation between extreme highs and extreme lows.

In the ER that night, bipolar wasn’t really explained to me or maybe it was and I simply don’t remember. Either way, I had no clear idea about how this illness would affect me nor could I know the epic, sad and tiring journey I would take with it. Honestly, if I had known what was to come, I might have ended my life right there.

But I didn’t know. I was forced to move back to my birthplace because I wasn’t stable enough to work at the time. I didn’t want to go home at all but, I needed to. After four years, I started therapy and began the work of recovery which will probably take me the rest of my life.

There is a lot of debate about the causes for bipolar disorder. For me, it is epigenetic. That is, it occurred in me because of my genetic make up and because of the trauma I experienced from a young age that continued into my early adulthood.

My dad has ADHD and probably some other psychological disorders. He has never been diagnosed with anything, because he never felt he had a problem. My mom is chronically depressed. So, between the two parents, I had some genes that helped to cause my illness.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t like having this challenge in my life. I hate mania and depression is just as bad. It’s not fun to get up each day and deal with this ongoing situation. But, recovery helps. I have tools and ways to confront the illness when it’s at its worst. I am still learning about the illness and I suspect that I always will be.

But, there are some blessings with the illness that I see in myself and others like me. I have become more compassionate towards others and their struggles. Because there has been a great amount of pain in my life, I am better able to walk with others through whatever journey they are on. I wasn’t always like this. But, my illness can be very humbling. I have been to some dark places on this journey and walking through darkness has given me a lot of strength and resilience. For this, I am very grateful.

Though I wish I didn’t have this illness, I have come to believe I was given it to help others. As I say that, it seems strange. But if I can help future generations in any way with my writing, than I am doing my job. If I can help fellow sufferers on their current path, than I am blessed indeed. It isn’t easy and if you’ve just received a diagnosis, take heed and realize, you are not alone.

 

Photo by Jordon Conner on Unsplash

 

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