I’m slowly writing a memoir. One choppy, jumpy, heartfelt chapter at a time, (what describes me better than racing, incomplete sentence thoughts?) months in between, so as not to force inspiration that’ll eventually turn into burnout and resentment, I’m doing it.
For a long time, I convinced myself I couldn’t. More than a handful of chapters are already written, but there are two chapters in my life, two chapters that if I didn’t write, would feel dishonest because of their impacts on me. But dang, the idea of putting these two chapters out into the world for people to know about me, causes an array of emotions that can really be summed up as: terrified.
The world will judge me. They’ll connect me with the two. I’d never be fully separated from them again, and if I’m being honest, I like being separated from them. I really like that to the world, I am.
But I’m not seperate from them. They aren’t who I am, either, but pieces, absolutely.
I’ve written one of those chapters, mostly because this is how I get things out. I needed it out. I’m still not ready to share that one with the world quite yet, but the day I publish a book, the world will know. Shit, that’s scary.
Recently one person, one sentence changed these thoughts for me.
I went from ‘I absolutely cannot’ to ‘I absolutely have to.’
They looked me in the eye and said, “I’m only getting help because I’m following your lead – you saved my life.”
Oh my gosh. Me? This choppy, jumbled, struggling person who was petrified to even say the words out loud? I made you feel safe enough to speak up, feel safe enough to keep living?
Seconds after that sentence, I promised myself I’d write this book and tell the world because maybe, just maybe, it would save someone else, too. I hope it does.
Shoot, shoot, shoot. *Deep breath* Okay.
I recently got a mental health diagnosis. After a therapist who sent me to a psychiatrist who gave me a full evaluation followed by medicine I didn’t even think I believed in, I got a legitimate disorder diagnosis. Since then, my life has been exponentially changed for the better.
You know the wildest part about that? This will come as a shock to most people. It came as a shock to some of the people who know me best.
I’m one of those people who has struggled very silently.
It’s not been to put up a front, it’s been to put up a mask. Everyone masks to some extent. When we’re little, girls especially, we study. What are they doing that makes them cool? Okay, got it, there’s the base; the strap. What are they doing that’s considered normal and not weird? K, there’s the eye. What are they doing that’s considered beautiful? Okay, the other eye. You get the point – we form our mask based on either what society tells us or what we convince ourselves we believe we want to be, even when it’s not. We watch what we’re supposed to be and we build our lives around that.
I don’t mask to pretend, I mask to make other people comfortable. I don’t want to be a Debby Downer, a person who complains, someone who puts more on people’s shoulders than they already have. Instead I’m funny, smiley, and always say, “Good, how are you?” I don’t view it as a mask while it’s happening, it feels more like respect for other people’s feelings.
Around other people, my family, my kids. My husband may be the only person I take it off for, and he still loves me through the rawness of that, which I may never understand.
Let me back up, though, and explain what lead me to a diagnosis in the first place.
After I had Porter, I had postpartum depression that slowly faded after several months, eventually it disappeared.
After I had Blakely, I broke in the raw, beautiful way that you do when you have your baby, but I also began to break in ways I grew to deeply misunderstand.
It wasn’t depression, though. Some days it felt like it, other days it was quite the opposite, and there weren’t a ton of in-between. Some, but not many.
It started small and it grew.
Some days I felt absolutely euphoric, like I couldn’t be convinced I wasn’t standing on top of the world.
With absolutely no consistency, no trigger I could track or understand over time, I felt deeply depressed other days. I couldn’t be convinced I wasn’t standing in the middle of a winter storm alone, that things weren’t physically darker when it was summer for everyone around me.
The best way I can describe what the jump between the two felt like, would be the image of a tiny man who would walk through my body and flip a switch. I was at their mercy until they decided to flip it back and there was no amount of spirituality, therapy, meditation, exercise, sunshine, healthy eating, vitamins, water or any of the other natural things I (still do) believe in – would convince him to move more quickly. He was on his own time.
On the top of the world days, I was full of energy. Dance parties, playtime, talking as quickly as I thought, which was even quicker, had crafty ideas, inspiration, was thrilled with everything; the exact Mom I wanted to be.
On the winter days, I pushed through for my kids. That’s my job as a Mom. How I feel is irrelevant to how I treat others, and in that sense, I’m happy to wear a mask. My kids could tell my energy was gone, though. I sat a lot more still and watched playtime more than I got involved. I didn’t talk much and my answers were shorter. My expressions were less, my smiles were less, my feeding their curiosity was less. I still managed to be a good Mom, and I do deeply believe that – but I felt less on those days. More like a failure, more guilty for not being… more, more irritable, less patient.
Noise, simple noise, made me feel like my body was catching fire. With every stimulus after that fire started, it grew and grew and grew. When Kurt would get home I needed a solid hour of quiet, secluded time to bring the fire back down to a flame. Even then, the hesitation was hanging over my head constantly that anything at all would be the gasoline to make it spread again.
I felt inconsistent in the hands of the little man in my body in control of the switch that made no sense, and I was in a war with him.
I kept this to myself.
This grew for 1 year. Then 2. Year 2 I was diagnosed with severe hypothyroidism and began medicine to bring my numbers back down. That gave me hope that was the answer, that I’d feel normal soon after. It grew into year 3 to a point I knew these shifts weren’t normal, and the thing that finally convinced me I needed help was my sweet little Blake.
It was a day I had my mask on and I was quiet. Really quiet. I was teary all day for no reason other than a shift. She smiled at me with her big blue eyes that mimic the 3 year old version of myself exactly, but ones I care about much deeper than my childhood self, and when I smiled the most pitiful, tiny smile I could muster up she asked me,
“Momma? Are you happy?”
Porter looked up to see my answer, too.
I adjusted my mask strap a bit tighter so they wouldn’t see me cry and I convinced them I was.
When she went to bed, I scheduled an appointment to ask my therapist for help.
While I waited for my appointment, I dumped my heart out to my parents. They were heartbroken that I was struggling more than they knew and kept it in.
The thing is, when you have a life you genuinely love, feeling anything other than thrilled on any given day, makes you feel incredibly guilty. Selfish, really.
My therapist’s office looked different but she looked the same; calm, smiley, comforting. I quietly wondered if she wears a mask, too.
She began asking me questions and I spilled all the guts I had that I’d stuffed down deep so no one would see. Suddenly, the questions got specific, as if she were reading my mind.
Questions about my overstimulation, my relations with boys before Kurt, the intensity of my alcohol abuse in college, my impulsivity, my racing thoughts, my anger as a late teen that morphed into irritability as an adult, my creativity.
Questions about my “ups and downs.” Were they ups and downs that every human feels, or were they insanely euphoric and deeply depressive?
How did she know all of this?
I answered everything honestly and she nodded as if she knew my answers already.
She paused. I knew whatever she was about to tell me would have some weight to it. When you tell a therapist something that’s heavy, they respond with a lot of weight, too. It’s one of my favorite parts about therapy.
I stared at her and she stared at me.
“What you’re explaining to me is Bipolar Disorder.”
I searched for a response but I think my face answered for me, so she kept going.
“Does this run in your family in anyone that you know, even several generations back?”
She explained to me the difference between Bipolar 1 and 2; 2 is a number I’ve always loved anyway. She helped me easily unpack the bigness of something I’d gone 29 years without knowing. How is that even possible? She explained that often when women are diagnosed, it’s postpartum; they have the genetics for it, but it’s triggered hormonally to “turn on” in your mid-late twenties.
She referred me to a psychiatrist who evaluated me. Pages and pages, hundreds and hundreds of questions that felt less like questions and more like descriptions of myself. The red that I used to place check marks by what was relevant to how I felt, filled the page like a color by number.
He took his time, we met again, he sent me my final report that confirmed it: I have Bipolar 2 Disorder.
I was confused but also not. Upset, but also not. The best shift I’d felt in a long while was the sudden shift from feeling deeply shameful for the way I’d been feeling, to deeply… proud.
Proud that while struggling with something legitimate, I still managed to be a good Mom. I still managed to be a good teacher. I still managed to be a good friend, a good daughter, a good sister,
A good person.
A gentle person, and kind person, even on the days I had to dig really freaking deep to give those pieces of me. Even on the days I sacrificed my own comfort for the comfort of others. Even on the days any ounce of good I gave was pulled from my mask.
I was proud of myself. I still am.
There were answers for something I didn’t think anyone would ever understand.
I began a medicine, medicine that I once didn’t believe in and took a lot of reading about before I did. Medicine that has somehow had no side effects but has helped me battle the war I was in with the little man in control of the switch.
I’ve promised myself that I’ll never use this an an excuse – not for any piece of my past or future self – but will lean into learning and understanding myself significantly better.
I unpacked it all and settled with peace.
I quickly decided I never wanted the world to know.
Without even wondering, I knew that would always be connected with me, that it’s something I AM rather than something I have, that they would ask themselves questions about me that aren’t true:
Am I crazy?
Am I full of rage? Am I out of control? Am I a bad Mom? Am I a bad teacher?
My biggest fear wasn’t even the stigma, I don’t think, it was that people would answer these questions themselves. They wouldn’t be interested in my side of the story because they already had their own.
The one that would break me the most would be thinking that I wasn’t a good Mom or that my kids weren’t safe with me.
Even the days I felt my whole body was on fire, I did everything to make sure they didn’t feel that heat. I’m so incredibly proud of that.
If I’m being honest, I grieved a little bit that I didn’t ask for help sooner once I started feeling so much better.
Finally, I got the courage to tell some of my closest friends.
The scary thing about people suffering in silence is – even the people who know them best don’t know. Even they can’t tell when your mask is on if you know how to make it blend well enough. They all said something along the lines of: I had absolutely no idea.
The thing is, though, one of my good friends who I told, was struggling with these same things. Almost identical, but mine in comparison were mild. Hers were even heavier and I felt for her so intensely and with such a deep level of empathy that she’d been keeping that in. Our friends, our parents, they wear masks, too. Sometimes we just don’t know how to take it off because we learned at such a young age to make other people comfortable at the risk of our own comfort.
Finally, my friend looked me in the eye and said, “I cannot tell you how deeply I want to thank you. If you had never gotten therapy, never gotten evaluated, never told me about all of this, I wouldn’t be either. I feel like I’m in good hands with you. I’m following your lead – you saved my life.”
That conversation felt like it saved mine, and I wanted it to save other people, too.
Suddenly the purpose behind it all felt vast and made more sense.
I went from knowing I had to keep this from the world to knowing I absolutely couldn’t.
I hope we start making other people uncomfortable, which may be the first step in teaching them that it’s okay to pull the mask down. There’s help, there are answers, there are people right next to us feeling the same things that we didn’t think were human. If you feel like you’re having a hard time – loudly, silently, heavily, timidly – take this as your sign to tell someone you need help.
If it isn’t the brave thing to do, tell me why so few people do it?
Pass a note, type it out, tell them with a voice that shakes and cracks, or scream it at the top of your lungs if you need to. You just have to hold your hand out and that’s it; feelings you’re craving are sitting right there. Feelings of shame that are waiting to make you proud of how you’ve handled it this far. Feelings of grief for finally feeling so much better you wished you asked sooner. Feelings of understanding the biochemistry to your own brain. Let it be sloppy, let it be shaky, let the thoughts be run-on thoughts or the sentences be run-on sentences. Be choppy. Scared. Unsure.
Save your life. Save someone else’s, too.
My twenties have felt a lot like starting all over. 21 was actually 1 and 22 was just 2 – I had to learn how to walk again, start from scratch, re-learn things I thought I already knew, learn things I simply didn’t know existed. I’m wondering if each new decade is like that; starting all over. If it ends with as much peace as my twenties are finally seeing, I think I’m okay with that.
I’ve also come to learn that having any kind of mental difference is a lot like walking through a spider web. No one else can see any difference on you, but you can feel the discomfort of it constantly. Trying to swat it off, figure out where it was, figure out where it even is on your skin still; you can feel it crawling, moving, stuck. To everyone else, it’s invisible. The swatting makes no sense, it may even sound or look pretend or crazy because they can’t see it. Instead of getting it off, though, you just keep walking through the webs. Over and over again. And other people keep staring when you feel the discomfort growing, unable to explain the invisible crawling or the desperation to get it off.
All is fair in love and war.
The “fair” for me turned out to be medicine.
The love and war were tricky, especially when they were simultaneous.
We all have a war we have to battle, and have to win.
And we will.
Love always wins. It always will.
If you’re in the middle of your war right now, there’s peace on the other side, I promise.
I don’t know which chapter this may be in my book – or in my life – but I’m settling in with the peace that I’ve found.
Before I knew what exactly was wrong I couldn’t track much, but I began to learn when I would hit my “peak” euphoria, and would self sabotage. It was too much, too high, I knew I would crash soon. I’d talk myself down, talk myself out of feeling so happy because I knew it was about to nose dive.
But the thing is, avoiding the happiness never made my dark days any better… it only gave me less time to be happy.
I’m giving myself permission to feel the good days to the fullest and it’s a lot easier since I’m not on fire anymore.
I’m not on fire.
That’s enough for me today.
We’re all enough today.