You’ll Be Flying Again Soon…

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“You are not trapped, you just need to relearn a few things. We all have doubts that make us feel trapped at times. If you doubt your ability to make a life-altering decision, to take on a new chapter in your life, or to fend for yourself after years of being overly fostered, consider this: Surely if a bird with healthy wings is locked in a cage long enough she will doubt her own ability to fly. You still have your wings, but your muscles are weak. Train them and stretch them slowly. Give yourself time. You’ll be flying again soon.” (p.60 “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently”).

I included this quote in the beginning of my blog post because it inspired me to write about how I feel like I have been a bird locked in a cage for years, half a decade or more. I did not recover swiftly from my first and then second manic psychosis. If I could fly before than I could not even walk after my psychotic breaks. My brain with all its chemical imbalances, shock and trauma, and inability to accept what had happened to me, firmly locked itself in a cage and refused to fly. I once was a bird who not only flew but soared in the open skies that was life. I had it all then I lost it all (same old story I know its a cliche for a reason).

After my first psychotic break I was unable to continue school which is where I truly learned to fly. I fell into a depression deeper than I could ever have imagined possible. Hours were spent laying curled in a ball clutching my head begging the tormenting thoughts to stop, “Your life is over now, you might as well end it too.” I cried all the tears I had and then some and when my tear ducts were dry, I shook uncontrollably. I was in misery. My brain had broken down and decided it had taken enough. I could not wrap my head around the idea that my dream of being a professor was over, that I had a mental illness and was not “normal” (whatever that means but I struggled with the definition of normal for awhile), that my brain devoid of all alcohol and drugs in its system hallucinated and deluded itself. It was too much to bear because deep down I realized my life would never be the same and that I was always going to be different (I had not yet learned that’s okay).

I would be hospitalized two more times after this for depression and another manic psychosis. I felt like an alien, like “less than.” My brain started to self-destruct and simple things like reading I could not do. I literally tried reading a paragraph in a book during this time period and could not remember even the first sentence after reading it, let alone processing it. I went from being an A student in a competitive program based on reading and analyzing texts to not even being able to read. Y’all I cannot even describe how heart wrenching this was. The thing I had been doing since I was a child and that came so easy to me became unfathomable. I began to panic and wonder if I could ever revert to myself, if I would ever be able to fly again.

Years went by on Welfare and then disability. I did not attend school and I could not hold on to employment and rarely sought it out for my mood was detrimentally low. My wings were not used for years and I definitely was and am still doubting my ability to fly. That being said, the past two years or so I have begun to flex my wings, trying to train them to move again. It has been a slow process and this blog has helped a lot. I can now read books (several at a time) and write coherently about them. I may be doing this on my own and not in a formal academic setting like before but it is still a major triumph in my books. This year, as of 2020, I have faced my fear of being unable to learn in a formal setting anymore following my psychoses and have registered for one course at the local college and am auditing one. It might not seem like much but it takes everything in me to do this because I have convinced myself from being in the cage so long that I can never get out. I have also just started (one shift down) volunteering at the local food bank and am exposing myself to the community which I have shied away from since becoming psychotic (I feel I am too different). I am also now deciding to set and attempt goals. Before I decided I could not possibly succeed at anything and so why try and why set myself up for failure by focusing my energy on a goal.

The point is I may have been locked in the cage for a long time doubting my ability to fly but I now see the possibility of it. I am still weary but I believe there is more potential within me. This WILL not be IT. I have more to give. I will fly again. But for now I will stretch my wings until  they are ready and you know what, that’s okay!

You Don’t Always Get What You Want But Perhaps What You Need

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“Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you to reevaluate things, opening new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked” (58) is a quote from the book I mentioned reading in an earlier blog post titled “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. This quote really got me thinking about my life and how it took a complete detour from my original route.

As mentioned before I was a star student at a prominent University and felt I had nowhere but up to go (“up” being an eventual Undergraduate degree, Masters, and then PhD).  I was defiant in my belief I was born to become a University Professor, specifically in the field of Art History, when all my ideas of who I was and who I was becoming came to a grinding holt with my first manic psychosis and diagnosis of Bipolar Type One. I had studied bipolar in brief as part of  my psychology minor (an element of my undergraduate degree) and as part of a neuroscience course – which I aced, despite the professor continuously warning us that this course was no “cake walk.” The point is I had a foundation of understanding when it came time to being diagnosed with this lifelong affliction but had no clue the ramifications it would have on my life journey and the deep feeling of loss I would feel as I mourned my pre-diagnosis self.

It’s one thing to study bipolar but it is an entirely other thing to live it. Prior to my mental break and diagnosis, I had completed three years of my Undergraduate as a double major in English and Art History with a minor in Psychology. People often joked how did I stay sane with a course load that thick and now having lost my mind. I find this question ironic. I remember reading about cycles of mania and depression in those with Bipolar Type 1 in my neuroscience textbook and thought how eerily familiar that concept seemed and wondered nervously whether I could possibly have it. I would ultimately push this idea to the back of my mind.

The summer upon entering my fourth and final year of University, I had a psychotic break with reality in late August. I experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, as well as paranoia. I would be treated quickly and relatively effectively within a week to two weeks with anti psychotics and the mood stabilizer Lithium. I requested I be released in time for the first day of school and the hospital happily obliged with the promise I would return for a follow-up. The problem was when I left I was still struggling with some residual paranoia and found my brain couldn’t keep up at the pace it was at before while on Lithium. The best way I can describe it is my brain felt like it had melted. I understand they were slowing me down but they may have dosed me too high and I swung into slug brain mode. Also hindsight being 20-20, I now know years later I do not respond well to Lithium in general.

It was disheartening to find I could not remember facts or hold on to them in my brain for very long – being a history major who excelled at this normally I felt devastated. I was also entering the hardest year of my Undergraduate and worried I would not be able to maintain the grades needed to enter a Masters program of my choice at the rate my brain was working. My brain was regressing at a time when it needed to be at its peak. I panicked and ultimately decided to leave school in hopes of returning some day when I was ready. The problem with this decision which led to my deepest depression ever was that I highly identified with being not only a student but a successful, overachieving one.

I had to let that go. It took my years of being at my lowest and reading a lot of self-help books and quotes about failure to eventually do this – truly and utterly let go. As the quote in the beginning of this blog post suggests I was put into a position to reevaluate my life and my choices. A door firmly closed on my face but it opened another one – a deeper and better understanding of me as I am as a person. I was so busy with school and getting the best grades, and having the best leadership roles on my resume, that I never stopped to consider WHO I was becoming. And quite frankly I was becoming arrogant, selfish, naive, and closed off to the world around me. I lived in the universe of Academia but anything outside it I deemed as unimportant or irrelevant. I was working towards real and ambitious goals but I wasn’t doing the work on myself. For example, I lost many romantic relationships because I refused to make more time for the other person if it conflicted with my study schedule and p.s. my study schedule was overkill but hey it got me on the honor roll!

I was introduced to and became addicted to drugs as a way to escape the fact I never ever truly loved myself while at University. It is through recovery from psychosis that I am now sober and am attuned with myself. I may be more depressed than when I was in University, but I still love myself ten times more because I’ve had the time through recovering (which I still am and might always be) to reflect on my choices and how to make newer better ones but also to let go and stop holding on to the not so great ones I made in the past. The past is the past folks! Let it lie there, turn your back and don’t look back. Forwards is the only direction you need to be going. I also have grown to accept myself for the positive aspects and the negative ones. I take each day as a challenge to grow and  for self-discovery. I used to shy away from trying to get to know myself better now I buy and fill out workbooks dedicated to doing just that!

I may not have gotten what I wanted, a fancy degree and career I could be proud of, but I got so much more from my psychotic detour – I found myself. I realized I am an insightful person with an opinion that matters. I now give love when I get it. If you are one of my friends I don’t judge you regardless of your journey and choices. I stand by people when they are at their lowest and try to lift them up. I found out I am the LEAST judgmental person after having experienced several psychotic breaks and struggles with my mental health. I understand each person’s struggle is unique and though I may not understand it, I can relate. I value writing and sharing stories – stories of hardship are my favourite for we’ve all been there. I also am aware that I am less motivated on medication, less prone to “put myself out there” and that on my worse days I forget all my good traits and decide I’m not even worth getting out of bed for. But the most important thing I’ve learned is I have a voice and that voice will be heard. I have experiences now, with bipolar, that are worth talking about so others can feel less alone.

Though I may not have gotten that degree, I got something I needed – something to write about and since a child I have been looking for content that inspired me to write something worthwhile, something that meant something to me. I now have the confidence and self-esteem to say my story is worth telling and it’s worth telling because it might just mean something to someone else too.