Many words mean abnormal or mentally ill. Most of them have negative connotations, but I like eccentric. I also think of myself as “emotionally unstable” and while that’s also something I don’t suggest calling me in the middle of an argument, it’s pretty accurate. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, social anxiety, general anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, and some physical stuff. Diagnoses change over the years, not all mental health problems are life long. Some, however, like bipolar are forever.
At sixteen, my mentor died from a heart attack at the end of the school year. I couldn’t go to his funeral because I was in Germany (three month private exchange). I cried so hard that I couldn’t even explain to my host family what was wrong for two days. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t write it down. That fall, I started having severe crying fits I couldn’t explain, couldn’t stop, couldn’t understand at all.
During one such bout of misery, as the rain fell, so did my tears. Apparently a couple hours had passed. My parents thought I was in my room. They didn’t realize I was outside, I didn’t realize it had been hours. This was the day psychiatry entered my life. I was immediately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. No one was surprised, not friends, especially not family.
I was put on medication and took myself off pretty quickly. I wasn’t ready to know I would be on medication for the rest of my life. I made myself a deal: If I got so bad my family, my work/schooling or my relationships were severely affected, I would get professional help. At 24, I had a breakdown. I just started crying at work, for two hours with no reason we could find. One of the girls there asked me about every aspect of my life we could think of. Everything was fine… except me.
I went back to psychologists, psychiatrists. The bipolar was joined by borderline when I was inpatient at 27. I had also become agoraphobic. I couldn’t leave the family property without someone close to me. There were more diagnoses, and suicide attempts. Luckily they failed – well, some of it was luck. One of them I had my mother call an ambulance because I realized I would be hurting my brother and sister if I succeeded.
I’m not ashamed of any of this. This is my past. This is my path and how I got to be who I am today. We will revisit my mental health repeatedly. It is a major part of my life and who I am. On bad days, I might not feel like this is who I want to be, but on good days I know that I am who I need to be. I invest effort into bettering myself, and helping others and that is important work.