Been hoping for a diagnosis and that is what I got.
The moments I thought I was myself, free from depression and anxiety, I was hypomanic.
I’m not really cheerful, confident and optimistic. Depression hasn’t been keeping me from being any better. I’m not a low key superhero who is held back by depression and fear. The good stuff, the “me” I love – the me who makes people feel great and inspired. The me who makes people laugh hard and the me who charmes men and woman. The me who creates and imagines and dreams was a creation, an imagination, a dream.
She doesn’t exist. She’s a byproduct of mental illness.
The psychiatrist, for who I waited two and a half months to meet told me so.
No, she didn’t.
I lept to that conclusion once I did five minutes of reading information on bipolar II.
I’ve had doctors suggest bipolar may be a possible diagnosis in the past, but I’ve always redirected their focus (as you can with doctors who are new to your case) away from the idea because I knew bipolar and I wasn’t it.
I met “Jessica” in seventh grade. She was beautiful and stylish, smart and fun. We would be friends all through high school even though we ran with different crowds. My crowd were attractive and entitled, the Trendies. We were so clueless, we didn’t even know that label was a jab. Jessica’s was the artsy side of the nerd crew. She divided her time between the great minds of our school and the burnouts. One of the cool kids of the honors classes, Jessica seemed destined for interesting things.
Jessica and I would meet everyday in our photojournalism class. Away from my crowd and her crowd, we formed our own crowd out of the camera geeks and made memories that would last through today.
As we progressed through high school, our little worlds would collide in delightful and sometimes not so delightful ways at parties as our crowds would intermingle, both relishing in each other’s differences. The same differences we allowed to divide us before and would again allow to divide us later in life.
Jessica and I lost touch when she went on to begin her road to medical school at college in another city. I was beginning what would be (so far) a twenty year relationship with the mental health field.
As a patient.
Destiny (or Facebook, rather) would bring us back together in our late twenties.
I was no longer trying to keep up my friendly, happy-go-lucky veneer. I had already been hospitalized and through every antidepressant and mood stabilizer combo that was physically possible at the time.
When Jessica and I met up for the first time after high school, I was fifty pounds heavier than the last time she saw me. My dark desert tanned skin was now pale and my formerly clear complexion was marked with cystic acne, pock marks, scarring and hyperpigmentation. I was drinking during the week, smoking a ton of pot, getting no sleep and phoning in my job at a discount laser hair removal company where the boss delighted in bullying her subordinates.
She had finished school with a degree in bio-something, had been married to a musician, divorced the musician, moved to LA lived with family in the Hollywood Hills, then got her own place where she had a manic episode. She moved back to be with her family and then got pregnant with a guy from her childhood neighborhood. Our reunion took place after they had broken up, but before she became a mother.
She told me about her episodes, her diagnosis. She told me all about having mental illness and being pregnant – from the medications to custody noise.
I listened closely, mimicking what I knew to look like surprise. I never once mentioned my own mental illness as I was still trying to cover it up. Badly, it seems. Jessica would later tell me that she knew right away that I was in the grips of illness.
However, as our friendship resumed (this time without the distractions of high school cliques), I opened up to Jessica. I told her about the doctors and the meds and the weight gain and the booze. I told her how my so-called friends dumped me once I stopped being cute and fun and an asset to their image. I told her I am in not in a relationship because I dump guys that I like and only date guys who mean little to me. I told her about my parents’ disappointment and how they struggled to understand that I was ill and not lazy.
She was the first person I trusted in a long, long time. It felt great to have someone in my corner for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime before. It was so lonely in my walled up mind.
She didn’t care that I wasn’t the old me. No longer pretty or interesting or fun. She had friendship to give and she wanted to give it to me.
And I wanted to give mine to her.
Even in mental illness, Jessica was an achiever. She knew her diagnosis well, was diligent about her meds and kept very self aware. She had that baby, got a job and rented an apartment all with little help.
At the time, a lot of our peers seemed to have most of life figured out. They were in stable marriages or relationships, were having kids on purpose, finding their way through their chosen professions, buying homes, taking vacations…
We were just trying to make our own way, with laughter and kindness and support.
With Jessica’s help, I peeked back into life a bit. We went to a couple of concerts and bars and made friends with her apartment neighbors. I watched her become a doting mother and started to date men and giggled together over them like we were back in the photo-j lab. Like kids, excited about life.
Jessica did really well, for a long time. She kept up the single mother thing with what looked like ease.
Then, things started to unravel a bit.
Jessica wasn’t much of a drinker. She never really had been, so I was surprised one day when she and a guy she liked helped me drink an entire case of beer in an afternoon. That wasn’t the only guy she had been seeing. The men never seemed to overlap, but they were frequent in coming and going. The apartment she was once so proud of was a mess and she was leaving her kid over at her parents house a lot more often.
She was skipping work a lot, getting sick a lot. Sleeping. A lot.
I was worried about her and then she started dating my cousin.
They soon formed a happy little family and I was in a relationship that was looking serious. Things for the two little sad girls were looking up.
And then, they weren’t. My cousin and she had an explosive break up that involved police and restraining orders and I felt forced to choose my cousins side. No more Jessica. She and my cousin would later reunite and break up and reunite and break up… until, they didn’t.
A few years passed and I missed Jessica, but my life was moving on. I became a home owner. I was in another dead end relationship, but I was achieving some financial goals. Oh, and now I had goals. Early thirties was turning into mid thirties and after wrestling with endometriosis for five years, I was looking at a complete hystorectomy. I couldn’t afford to freeze my eggs, so you know, no kids. I used to think I didn’t want kids, then the choice was taken from me and I didn’t know what the hell to think.
The day I heard that I would need to have my reproductive organs removed, an old friend text to let me know my high school boyfriend was having his first baby with his wife. The day after, another friend, who was one of my only childless friends left, told me she was pregnant. She hadn’t told anyone yet, and I think she wanted to make me feel better. It did a little. I was happy for her. She wanted children for so long and came from a big loving family. She was going to be an amazing mother.
My youth went from slipping away to slipped.
My cousin was in and out of my life at the time. She was struggling with some demons of her own and was looking for her way. Jessica contacted me, her friend feelers alerting her to the fact that my cousin wasn’t a constant in my life anymore and that I would be ready to forgive and forget.
Or, that I should be.
I’ve never been great at forgiving or forgetting, but I was pretty good at faking it. I had already forgiven a few friends that had abandoned me when I was slipping into darkness and otherwise not living up to the Stand by Me standards I had set long ago.
I have come to realize of course, that I never forgave or forgot the Great Friend Evacuation of 2002. I wanted to mend what broke when I lost myself. I wanted to go back to being that popular and energizing being and I thought if I was friends with the people who I was friends with when I was those things that I could get it back.
So, when Jessica and her son needed a place to live I welcomed them into my home. I was now pretty excited to come home every day. The house was filled with life now. The television was on and the kitchen was being used. The cats even seemed happier.
I had someone to talk about my mental health with again. Jessica thought I was bipolar also and that I was being misdiagnosed. I wasn’t taking any medication at the time and was running on what I now understand to be hypomania fumes. Jessica knew. She had been there.
I wasn’t going into debt or having casual sex, but she could see it anyway. It was the first time I had ever heard there were different kinds of bipolar. She informed me that I was probably bipolar ii, that know-everything way she used when showing off that she knew everything.
Despite her spot-on armchair psychology, life was improving for me. I had laughter and kindness and support again and it felt fucking great.
Until it didn’t.
Jessica and her son moved in sometime in July. I told my BFF things were going great, but it was still summer and Jessica was always great in the summer. She got sick again in the winter and our friendship dissolved. I know it sounds like I’m blaming her illness on our friendship breakup, because I am.
But, it’s not the only thing I blame. I blame both our illnesses.
Always more knowledgeable about my own mental health, Jessica spoke about how her declining mental health and the stress that came with her life could affect me. I ignored her. I was feeling strong.
Until I didn’t.
Those were a sweet few months though.
My experience with Jessica and the differences in the degree of severity in our symptoms gave me reason to cock block any bipolar diagnosis.
“I wish I was bipolar!” I would tell the doctors. “I would love to have an up moment.” Something that could pull me from the dark, murky waters of depression and suicidal thoughts.
I didn’t really wish I was bipolar. Quite the opposite. Because for every high, there was a devastating low.
Jessica would have weeks and weeks of fun and creativity. Then, she would destroy someone’s life. Most often, her own.
So, no. That wasn’t me.
Until, it was.
As with any momentous occasion in my life I turn to the internet for information and advice on my new diagnosis.
Here is what I learned from WebMD, my knowledge source for everything medical and for a few years while being uninsured, my GP.
There are different types of bipolar. I knew a person who is bipolar vacillates from depression to mania. I didn’t know there was hyper and hypo mania or manic depression for that matter.
A person affected by bipolar II disorder has had at least one hypomanic episode in his or her life. Most people with bipolar II disorder suffer more often from episodes of depression. This is where the term “manic depression” comes from.
In between episodes of hypomania and depression, many people with bipolar II disorder typically live normal lives.
Random factoid courtesy of WebMD or Doctor Web, if you want to be super respectful.
Virtually anyone can develop bipolar II disorder. About 2.5% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of bipolar disorder – nearly 6 million people.
That’s a lot of Americans.
So, there it is. My diagnosis. Jessica was right. Again.
We don’t speak anymore, Jessica and I. I called to tell her that my cousin had died last August. Just to tell her. I didn’t want her to find out through friends or online or something. She deserved that.
She deserves a lot more that the hand she was dealt. Most of us do, I suppose, and I hate myself for not being her friend when things got rough. For turning her away when she needed me; in order to save myself. Like so many of my friends had done to me.
For the sake of self preservation, however, this is the last time I’m looking back. I’m going to take my new mood stabilizer and focus on unicorns and rainbows. Wish me luck.