The following is my epilogue to the first draft of my memoir “The Secret Diaries Of A Manic Depressive Girl.”
It’s a tale as old as time, a girl has a dream and she inevitably falls short of reaching it. Is that all I am? I am the girl who lost out on her dream. I am the girl who put all her effort in what she deemed a sure shot and watched it disintegrate into nothing.
This isn’t a novel experience. We all have “those” dreams that will never ever likely come true, you know the ones, to be a millionaire or the next prime minister. But when you pursue one grounded in reality assuming you have it in the bag, and it disappears quicker than your ex who said “we should just be friends,” it can’t help but seem like the universe is laughing in your face. It feels as though the universe had a personal vendetta against you or at the very least wants to teach you a lesson on presumption.
Well I was presumptuous to assume life was fair, that if you did everything you were “supposed” to do and checked off all the boxes in a neat progressive order things naturally would and were owed to fall into your lap. I’m going to tell you straight up the universe does not give a royal fuck about “your” plans, “your” idea of what is deserved to you, or “your” dream. Quite frankly the universe chews up and spits out dreams. This is “my” story about how the universe almost swallowed me whole. In the process of spitting out my dream, it nearly devoured me, but spoiler alert – if you’re reading these words – I survived.
If I can teach you one thing in this precautionary tale, it’s this: dreams were meant to die to guide you onto your ultimate path and if the dream tastes more like a nightmare then it is time to wake up.
If I could take a magical wand and erase the memories of going insane, or the heart ache of constantly having my dreams thwarted, or more directly wave away my mental illness of bipolar disorder I would of course consider it for a minute but ultimately decide not to. You might wonder why I would express this sentiment after sharing my story of what was clearly a very traumatic experience for me – losing my mind to bipolar’s violent cycles of mania and depression. You might think I am “crazy” to say this (spoiler alert: I am certifiable in case you glossed over that bit in the book) but I would choose insanity over and over again because it taught me resilience, it showed me that I was capable – capable of more in life.
I had to crawl my way back from the depths of twisted fantasy masquerading as reality. I had to fight each day to regain back more of my cognition as a result of trauma induced from psychosis. I argued with the internal voice in my head each and every day that tried to tell me “you are worthless. Give up. You will never succeed. You are unlovable. There is no point in continuing to live.” I battled with a mind that was broken, tortured by self-destructive thoughts. I held on with one sliver of hope that would ever so often alleviate the chaos that raided my brain – “It has to and WILL get better.”
I was mentally destroyed and emotionally exhausted by my three hospitalizations but I believe they needed to occur so I could grow. I needed to be destroyed so I could rebuild stronger. I wasn’t necessarily throwing my life away prior to these breakdowns, but I most definitely was not appreciating life for the beautiful journey it can be. I was numbing my feelings with alcohol and drugs for most of my early twenties rather than confront my issues, most notably my self-loathing, I dived into a constant state of instant gratification. I bought, screwed, smoked, drank and occasionally snorted my problems away. The problem with running from your issues and distracting yourself with some kind of constant form of a “high,” is that you stunt your ability to grow.
It’s easy to be numb. It’s harder to confront and let the pain wash over you but I promise you, you’ll be better off for it. There reached a point where my life circumstances and mental illness collided into a full fledge addiction to avoiding the pain. I dealt with the loss of my father at a young age by becoming an alcoholic, ironically the only thing that ever made me despise him while he was still alive. I processed those negative emotions the same way he had, by avoiding them. I stuffed them down with drugs and alcohol for years until one day I literally snapped.
The death of my father was but one mere stepping stone to the inevitable obsession I would come to develop with questioning my existence. I believe I did not only have a psychotic break but an existential crisis, as well. I questioned “what was the point of it all?” And as the neurotransmitters in my brain began unravelling, I came to the conclusion there was none (a point). As someone who values meaning and actively searches for it in every action and in every word, I was shattered by this belief. I felt the sorrow of my impending death and the new found belief that it lacked any kind of value. This thought destroyed me and I literally coped by mentally checking out – going insane.
My brain was tired from the constant tug and pull of compelling and contradicting thoughts triggered by my melancholia and mania. I thought so hard and long on something people take a lifetime to understand and this obsession with trying to unpack the meaning of life led to a breakdown of my mental faculties entirely. I escaped into insanity as a way to avoid how I was feeling and thinking – that my life had no value and in the grand scheme of things meant nothing. My brain would rather create an alternate reality than face one without meaning. The idea that I was born to experience what I felt was more pain than joy only to die, decompose and leave this life forever, without ever making a difference – devastated me.
When I was a little, I was a girl who was moved by dreams. I believed in happy endings and that everyone was special and had something unique to offer the world. At a young age I was contemplating my existence and how I could make an impact on the world while most were still eating glue. I was an extremely emotional child often analyzing ideas in my mind that upset me and were quite frankly beyond my comprehension. I wanted to know the “why” behind things and was not content with simple or superficial answers.
As I grew and explored the world, I began to become jaded. I experienced unkindness and internalized it rather than letting it go. I picked apart every shortcoming and flaw and very rarely appreciated my redeeming qualities or accomplishments. I took the unkindness of the world (as I viewed it then) and the unkindness of others as proof I was the one lacking. I misguidedly understood circumstances beyond my control as a result of something being intrinsically wrong with me. I developed an extreme perfectionism as my way to cope with the uncertainty and unfairness of life. I naively thought I had to be this unrealistic ideal version of myself who excelled at anything and everything. I believed if I was “perfect,” I would have more control over my life circumstances and the way people treated me.
When the reality of my insanity sinked in I was most shook by the idea that I was “less than.” I had spent a lifetime creating this image of myself as someone who excelled at everything she genuinely set her mind to. Losing my mind was never on the table, it was never a possibility. To acknowledge I had zero control and what control I thought I had was an illusion, was the hardest pill to swallow. Going insane has to be the most humbling experience because it forces a re-evaluation of every preconceived notion one holds on to. You think your mind is and will always be your own until it isn’t.
The most difficult thing to come to terms with when confronted by the experience of losing one’s mind is that it could and might very well happen again. I have been medicated and stable for several years but the fact is one slip up or one variable I am not anticipating could tip the scales of my mind back into a non-reality. The scariest thing about psychosis is not just the trauma endured, but the painful fear insanity may slip through the cracks again. I have been a visitor in my own brain trapped by thoughts, thoughts that tormented.
Delusions of grandeur made me into a self-aggrandized hero, however with the gradual pumping of anti-psychotics into my system, I quickly turned to villain. My thoughts turned from delusional beliefs I was someone else (someone special, to be admired) to the more realistic and self-loathing ones that I was in actuality a nobody. As I came down from these delusions, I realized something – I was worse than a nobody – I would forever struggle with a very serious mental disorder and never trust my mind again. If I were to describe the main emotion associated with this realization it would be shame.
I was ashamed, ashamed that someone who prided themselves on “being in control” lost control of the one thing you always imagine will be your own – your mind. The thing I was most ashamed of, and am now embarrassed to admit, was my new found identity as a person with bipolar disorder. I did not want to be “different,” at least not in that way.
Looking back, there was always an issue with control. I got in and went to University as a result of this need to constantly “be in control.” There was a map I created at a young age in my mind of milestones I believed would manifest undoubtedly with sheer willpower. The plan was to attend Carleton University, earn a degree then build a career as a successful Journalist. I was accepted into the Journalism program at Carleton early because of my willpower to manifest my dreams. When most teenagers were out experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I stayed in my room studying obsessively each course I was taking in painstaking detail, to the point there was no question of me acing it.
I slowly lost all control once I actually got into University and living in a new city away from the peering eyes of my parents. Then I lost every sense of control when I experienced psychosis, not once but twice.I no longer had control over my own mind, the one thing you undoubtedly believe will always be yours.
It took recovering from two traumatic psychoses and one major, suicidal depression, to regain control of myself but also to gain a more healthier perspective towards the idea of control. I went from one extreme to the other, trying to viciously control my destiny to losing complete control of it.
This was a painful story to share. When I sat down and wrote it, I had to dig deep in the dark recesses of my mind and retrieve memories that quite frankly hurt to hold onto. No one wants to admit that they lost the one thing that most of us would never fathom losing – their sanity. Let me be very clear here, “losing your mind” and “losing your sanity” are two very different things. One you have more control over and can recover from quickly while the other is a complete loss of control, a complete break from reality.
When you lose your sanity, you dissociate and your mind fractures into something unrecognizable. I am not saying you cannot come back from that but it’s harder to reconcile – that your mind was not your own. You’re scared shitless then reality slips back through the cracks and you wonder, “will that happen again?” Unfortunately for me it happened not once, but twice. You start to feel like a visitor in your mind and wonder when the darkness will come again and consume you.
I know in my heart of hearts this is something I was meant to do – to share my journey in the throes of mental illness so that someone trying to navigate those same waters may have a guidepost of hope to look to and understand that it does get better. I am living proof it does get better. I am not saying I do not still struggle with the inevitable ups and downs of this disorder but I have come to realize you need to give yourself grace. You need to understand healing is a process, a journey unto itself. I simply want to show that you can go from falling apart on your bedroom floor to managing your symptoms and picking yourself back up.