Personal Stories

Maddie's Story

In the summer of 2018, Maddie posted about her struggles with bipolar disorder on Facebook as a means of both informing her friends and apologizing for her erratic/sometimes destructive behavior. Here is her message

In case you didn’t already have your suspicions, yep. And Kanye’s right, it is awesome..sometimes. It makes me who I am. Yet I can't deny it has endangered myself and others and led me to make a lot of stupid decisions. I want to openly apologize to anyone I have wrongfully lashed out at and/or hurt in any way. I have a crazy temper, I’m impulsive as hell, I’m indecisive and inconsistent, and feel everything way too intensely. 


Before you continue, *TRIGGER WARNING***** I have been severely depressed and come close to death on several occasions. I have been super functional and extremely dysfunctional, and been on both sides of a psych ward. I can be a lot of fun or your worst nightmare. I can be a mess of insecurities or delusionally over-confident. I can make you feel like the most special person in the world or tear you down and bring you to tears with everything I’ve got. I struggle to find balance, to say the least. 

I write this post to raise mental health awareness, combat stigma, and honestly, because I owe it to myself. I have always felt very misunderstood. I have been mislabeled or accused of being “trouble,” a “bitch,” “attention seeker,” “psycho,” “overdramatic,” a “tease,” having a “big ego,” or more appropriately but still offensively, “bipolar,” and “overly sensitive,” behind my back and to my face. I internalized that I was inherently just a bad seed, which only made me hate myself more. I learned to keep most people at a distance, or prematurely end relationships I valued to prevent foreseen abandonment once they got to know me well enough. I minimized my emotional problems to myself and others, blindly arguing against medical professionals’ diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time because I had so much self-hatred that I blamed myself for being the way I am. Wracked with insecurity, I’ve stayed so quiet until now because I was afraid no one in their right mind could love me once they got to know the real me. (Check out labeling theory!!) I now know this not to be true. I have had many very close friends. I have also lost several friendships--some of which I have thankfully been able to mend or maintain.


If you ask any of these amazing people, I know they’d say I can be painfully shy, am introverted (different from shy, look it up), and pretty damn weird. Yet, they’d also say (and have said) I am very genuine, introspective and insightful, have a good read on people, have a huge heart, and love to help others, even when they know I can’t be there for them. These people have not only seen and accepted, but loved unconditionally, all sides of me. I want to thank you all so much. Your love and support have meant more to me than I can adequately express here. 


What the rest of the world sees are most likely either symptoms of a quite severe disorder (bipolar) OR of my social anxiety (which is unsurprisingly dependent upon my mood state). 


I’m also aware that not everyone can handle people like me and that’s ok. What’s NOT ok is judging someone like me from afar for things they can’t control.


I am fortunate to have been born into a time with increasing awareness and resources regarding mental health in comparison to previous generations. I think of the blame and shame I have felt for being me (on and off) these past ~21 years and imagine this is how my grandmother felt her entire life. My dad’s mom was merely dismissed as an alcoholic with a lack of willpower, reflecting the lack of information and understanding at the time. It breaks my heart that she must have felt so alone and misunderstood her entire life. She lost custody of her children early on and had to live with that remorse and self-hatred, all while trying to maintain appearances at a time when not only divorce, but also excessive drinking and disruptive behavior by women was extremely taboo. My grandma never received the help she needed. To further exemplify the deficit in research on mental illness, my (paternal) aunt, who faced struggles similar to mine, wasn't properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder until she was in her 40's. Clearly, mental health awareness and research are just starting to be included in societal conversations. There is still a long way to go. I would like to help make a difference going forward by being more open about my own experiences and sharing resources intended to open people’s minds.
This is why I cannot stand, and strongly advise against, making assumptions about others before getting to know them. You absolutely cannot judge a book by it’s cover. We know this people!!! And if you are reading this and can relate to anything I’m saying, have been misjudged before, have questions about my personal experiences and want to talk or anything, feel free to reach out to me. I’m not saying I know better than anyone but, as I said, I genuinely love to help people and to connect with them on a meaningful level. However, I admit I can get overwhelmed easily, and I am not the best with communication, so I apologize if I take a while to respond.


As much self- exploration and discovery as I have done through my own research, reflection/documentation of notable episodes of mine in the past, aided by a bipolar (ex) boyfriend’s opinion, and combined with mental health professionals’ diagnoses, I am still learning. For example, I haven’t settled on which type I have--though if you’re curious, I currently believe type 1. This, to me, is less important than the peace, comfort, insight, and self-forgiveness I have found in the acceptance of my diagnosis.


On another positive note, I do not wish to be any different than I am. My bipolar has spurred works of creativity I take pride in, allowed for the creation of some of my favorite memories, by allowing me to feel love and happiness in its most extreme forms, and has only made me stronger, smarter, and increased my empathy towards the struggles of others. 


Anyway, as always, the best thing you all can do to fight ignorance is to educate yourself and others. For me, this has opened the door to more self-discovery, enabled better recognition and management of my symptoms, and provided ‘membership’ to a supportive community of people struggling with symptoms similar to mine. There are many different types of bipolar disorder, and it manifests itself differently in everyone. As I said before, it runs in my family, and even expresses itself quite differently in my aunt, cousin, late grandma, and myself. The disorder can also become more severe or transform as one gets older. I left a few links below. 


And to anyone reading, here is some personal advice. I think the best thing you can do for YOUR own health, no matter what you’re dealing with—I truly believe everyone has their own demons—is to go back and analyze patterns in your life. I aim to better understand myself and others, to ‘reap the benefits’ of my disorder, while avoiding chaos and disaster. Recognize your flaws and strengths, and work on and enhance them, respectively. And most importantly, be your own best friend. This will make you more resilient, self-reliant, and instill trust in yourself. And please stop intruding and gossiping about those who don’t fit in to the college mold. Not all paths are linear. Never risk your health to conform to society’s expectations. And stop feeling shame for parts of you that you can’t control. Find people who can love and accept you without trying to change you. And trust yourself above anyone else. Own it.


I realize this post is full of contradictions but SO AM I.

 

Some things to increase understanding and empathy for bipolar and other mental health issues:

 

Quotes:

·       “Memory is not all that’s lost to madness. There are other kinds of damage, to the people in your life, to the sense of who you are and what you can do, to your future and the choices you’ll have”--Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life

·       "I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." --unknown; often misattributed to Marilyn Monroe because it’s so fitting

·       “Imagine meeting someone who wanted to learn your past, not to punish you, but to understand how you needed to be loved.”--unknown

·       “I’m not faking being sick. I’m actually faking being well.”--unknown

Books:

·       “Madness: A Bipolar Life” by Marya Hornbacher

o   I absolutely love this book. Marya Hornbacher is both an exceptionally talented writer and a huge inspiration to me. Her memoir helped me realize the severity of my condition, understand things in ways I never have before, and appreciate that I was not alone. I resonated with many of Marya’s thoughts and beliefs, and have had many similar experiences--though again, everyone experiences the illness uniquely. *Potentially triggering* Marya has ultra-rapid cycling Bipolar 1 (with psychotic symptoms).

·       “Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities” by Claudia Kalb

o   Really interesting book for anyone. Also inspiring! I could relate to Marilyn Monroe and Charles Darwin the most. Marilyn is believed to have had Borderline Personality Disorder. Some of the symptoms in bipolar and borderline overlap as well. They are, however, very distinct. See below for explanation on the differences between bpd and bipolar disorder!

o   The brilliant observationalist and father of evolution, Charles Darwin, is proposed to have had, among other things, social anxiety, getting so severe as to be considered agoraphobia, “an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks. ... ‘fear of open spaces.’”(9)(10)

o   Incredibly, in spite of his debilitating anxiety, he survived a five year overseas expedition to the Galapagos Islands while successfully collecting evidence for a revolutionary scientific theory. When I’m not doing well, a warning sign of my oncoming depression is the urge to isolate. If I give into the depression and social anxiety, it can develop to the point of rarely leaving the house/dorm/apartment at school.

·       “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk

o   I have been meaning to read this--haven’t yet, but have heard amazing things from people I trust.

·       “WASTED: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia” By Marya Hornbacher

o   *Potentially triggering.* Eating disorders get really ugly. Read at your own caution.

·       “Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America: A Memoir” By Elizabeth Wurtzel

o   A memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel published in 1994. The book describes the author's experiences with atypical depression, her own character failings and how she managed to live through particularly difficult periods while completing college and working as a writer. Prozac is a trade name for the antidepressant fluoxetine. Wurtzel originally titled the book I Hate Myself and I Want To Die but her editor convinced her otherwise.” (8)

o   I was told I would love this book just the other day.

 

People who helped inspire this post:

·       Marya Hornbacher-- author of books Madness: A Bipolar Life, WASTED: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, and many more inspiring pieces. Yes, she did accept my facebook request and I did reach out to her 

o   http://www.maryahornbacher.com/

·       Kanye West---

o   If you haven’t been paying attention, Kanye was diagnosed with, and came out very publicly. As having bipolar disorder. He has created controversy, however, by calling it his “super power,” potentially discouraging people from seeking treatment. I don’t condone this. Kanye is an inspiration because his new album ye isn’t the first time he’s addressed his mental health, and I think his openness about his personal struggles with mental health can help others... Def check out the two articles just below.

o   https://open.spotify.com/album/2Ek1q2haOnxVqhvVKqMvJe 

o   https://theweek.com/articles/776740/how-kanye-battling-embracing-bipolar-disorder

o   https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/sorry-kanye-west-bipolar-disorder-is-not-a-superpower-1.3532043

·       Pennie Pollard Alvarez --

o   I have great admiration for my aunt Pennie’s strength and the healthy life she leads now. She is continuously learning more about herself, has her symptoms under control, and is a strong advocate for mental health awareness as well. Although we aren’t very close for various reasons, I’m proud to call you my aunt!

 

Educating Resources, Opinions and More:

·       https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

·       https://www.bipolar-lives.com/bipolar-symptoms.html

·       https://www.bipolar-lives.com/types-of-bipolar-disorder.html

·       https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/bipolar-disorder

·       https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml

·       https://www.bipolar-lives.com/bipolar-personality-disorder.html

^“Bipolar personality disorder” is not a real thing! Dangerous misunderstanding. 

·       “Bipolar (manic-depressive illness) is a mood disorder. It is characterized by abnormally high moods (mania) and abnormally low moods (depression). It is because of this cycling that bipolar disorder was previously known as manic-depressive illness. One of the core features of bipolar disorder is that it is an EPISODIC illness.” (2) “People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and unusual behaviors. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” --(3)

·       “Personality does not come and go – it is far more stable.” …”Personality disorders are a class of mental disorders characterized by long-lasting rigid patterns of thought and actions. This is a stark contrast to the episodic nature of bipolar disorder. Further, bipolar usually does not develop until late teens/early twenties whereas personality is formed much earlier in life.”(5) ***I disagree with this part of the blog, and believe it to be incorrect. This site, https://www.bipolar-lives.com/, is not as reputable, nor scientifically supported, as the others, so take caution; don’t believe everything in it. I chose to include so many of their pages because I think the site has a lot of valuable and correct information too, and offers countless resources. Anyway, I don’t believe this part to be true, though, because I was told by former cardiologist, and presently psychiatrist, Dr. Kobti, that while temperament remains quite stable throughout the lifetime, personality continues to develop and change until around 30 years of age. In your 30’s, it becomes more stable. To see more of his credentials, see below (6). Furthermore, According to the New York Times, “New studies have shown that three basic aspects of personality change little throughout life: a person's anxiety level, friendliness and eagerness for novel experiences. But other traits, such as alienation, morale and feelings of satisfaction, can vary greatly as a person goes through life. These more changeable traits largely reflect such things as how a person sees himself and his life at a given point, rather than a basic underlying temperament.” (4)

·       According to a blog written by Ken Duckworth, M.D. on the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI)’s page, “classic Bipolar Disorder Type 1 is easier to differentiate from BPD than Bipolar 2. True manic symptoms (often with hallucinations)...”(2)

o   --**correction: (*sometimes with psychosis*) .According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Sometimes, a person with severe episodes of mania or depression also has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions. The psychotic symptoms tend to match the person’s extreme mood. For example:

§  Someone having psychotic symptoms during a manic episode may believe she is famous, has a lot of money, or has special powers.

§  Someone having psychotic symptoms during a depressive episode may believe he is ruined and penniless, or that he has committed a crime.

o   As a result, people with bipolar disorder who also have psychotic symptoms are sometimes misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.”(3)--Returning to the NAMI blog post,“[these psychotic symptoms]... are the hallmark of Type 1 and(...) are not seen in the same way in BPD. Bipolar Type 2 is a more challenging diagnosis to differentiate from BPD, because the classic manic episode is absent. So, on the surface, it can appear more like BPD. Here are a few ways to help tell the difference between bipolar and BPD:

·       People with Bipolar Type 1 have cycles that switch from a depressive state to a manic state. Manic symptoms sometimes include flashes of deep depression within the manic episode (called rapid cycling).”(2)

o   --**correction: rapid-cycling is, according to WebMD, “a pattern of frequent, distinct episodes in bipolar disorder.(...)a person with the disorder experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression in one year. It can occur at any point in the course of bipolar disorder, and can come and go over many years depending on how well the illness is treated; it is not necessarily a "permanent" or indefinite pattern of episodes” (7)--

o   ”Between cycles, people often have periods of true symptom-free wellness. This period of wellness can last weeks, months or years depending on the person.

·       People diagnosed with BPD typically have more persistent day-to-day emotional symptoms which can impact everyday life. BPD mood changes are more persistent, short-lived and reactive to environmental factors, like stress at work or home.”(2)

o   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labeling_theory

 

·       Supports:

o   https://childmind.org/myyoungerself/

 

My sources:

1. “Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher”

2. https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder

3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

4. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/09/science/personality-major-traits-found-stable-through-life.html

5. https://www.bipolar-lives.com/bipolar-personality-disorder.html

6. https://weillcornell.org/nabilkotbi

7. https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/rapid-cycling-bipolar-disorder

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prozac_Nation

9. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/agoraphobia

10. “Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities” by Claudia Kalb

Please comment any other sources you may have found useful …

Only love!! :)<33333