Coming out. It wasn’t so difficult the first time. Before my last major manic depressive episode, I didn’t think my mental health diagnosis was anything to be ashamed of. I shared my diagnosis willingly with friends, family, first dates… I claimed my diagnosis on stages in front of audiences. I began speaking about it before I fully understood it (or believed it was really real for that matter). It took me almost a decade to find the right doctors to prescribe me the right medication and the correct doses. It took me almost a third of my lifetime to learn the nuances of how my illness manifested through my particular neurochemistry and personality, my biology and astrology as well as my traumas and triggers. Even though I was lucky — in some cruel and unusual way — to have been given the correct diagnosis of Bipolar 1 disorder at age 18, it was only until age 26 that I found enough stability and clarity to wrap my mind around the whole ordeal.
You see, up until now (unbeknownst to me) I was riding the rollercoaster of highs and lows. Typical of the Type 1 profile, I experienced more mania than depression. Most of the time, I didn’t think anything was wrong. I just felt SO GOOD. I was naturally high from my own brain buzzing with excess dopamine. I had endless ideas, inexhaustible energy. In college, I over-performed academically, won fellowships, choreographed work I danced in, directed artistic productions, co-founded a multicultural international student club and the list goes on… and on… and on… Was I sick? No! I interpreted the awards and accolades as success! Not illness. I was medicated for crying out loud! And getting 8 hours of sleep most nights. So what was the problem?
Hypomania. The trickster. The state of mind that allows increased performance and perceptiveness, more energy and creative ideas, a deepened intuition and sense of connectedness with others, myself, my purpose, and the Universe itself. This mild form of mania felt so good, I thought I was healed! But I wasn’t. I was hypomanic on my way to full blown mania and psychosis. Because what goes up — according to the laws of bipolar gravity — can keep going up! At least until I reached the nth degree and came crashing down in the darkest depth of suicidal depression. It probably didn’t help that I went off my medication without medical supervision when I was feeling “well.” But that’s exactly how the trickster works. Hypomania beckoned like siren enticing me to abandon the idea that I have a mental illness. It convinced my that I am my symptoms and I wouldn’t be me without them.
As painful as the whole experience was, the climb and crash was what I needed to relearn what stability and wellness felt like for me. During the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was gifted the time and space to learn the difference between my symptoms and myself. Oh and not to mention, I gave birth to an entire human during this whole recovery process. Actually two humans if you count me! I gave birth a myself as a mother as well as the little girl that became my reason for BREATHING when I felt I no longer had the strength to. Recovering from a major manic depressive episode postpartum was not easy. The shame, the flashbacks, the round of apologies for my bizarre behavior and broken relationships. The inability to read or orient myself in my environment and not knowing if or when I would regain my cognitive abilities. These were all excruciating to endure. I removed myself from all social media and took refuge in my new little family as COVID-19 and police brutality was turning the world upside down.
Instead of speaking out about my experience, I hid in my shame and almost lost faith in my ability to be me. A budding scholar. A poet, dancer, writer, and artist. A thought leader. A way-maker. An advocate. Although I had gotten into top-tier Anthropology PhD programs and accepted an offer at NYU, the trials of my mental health recovery and postpartum experience almost made me quit before I had even started… Fast forward to today; I have completed one year of grad school. My baby is now a rambunctious toddler. We are still in a pandemic, but I’m thankful to be fully vaccinated. If there is one thing I have learned having endured what I have been through since 2019 during my last major manic depressive episode, the beginning of 2020 when I gave birth and then entering postpartum during a global pandemic, it is this: I am everything I aspire to be and more. And it’s not because of the mania; it’s in spite of it. And showing up in the fullness as who I really am, bipolar and all, is a nonlinear journey, an evolving process. At the end of the day, if I can survive my mind, I can surely thrive through anything. And that’s worth celebrating. So here’s to coming out of the bipolar closet. Again!
A photograph of a leg wearing a red heeled shoe and red sheer tights sticking out of a white closet. The humor and quirkiness of the image encapsulates how it feels more me to come out on the internet after a two year mental health recovery hiatus.