Learning to Accept Myself as a Bipolar Teen
I remember grabbing every book in the library on the subject and heaving the pile onto the checkout desk. The older teenager looked at me oddly, but checked the books out without a remark. I read them all, but I didn't find any comfort.
I had recently been diagnosed as having bipolar II disorder after a nearly week-long hospitalization in the psychiatric adolescent unit. What was wrong with me? On top of the other issues, like Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS (which was eventually changed to Asperger's), I had been seeing a therapist since I was 6. Now I had to deal with this?
But I’ve learned to live with it—and with myself. It took many years and eight hospitalizations before I was finally OK with being bipolar. I’ve learned how to function as a productive member of society despite my illness. There are some things I wish I knew back then about being so young and mentally ill.
Remember that you aren't the only one, and that it's more common than you think. The rate of bipolar symptoms among teenagers is almost as high as that of adults. Even though it's more common for older teens and adults to manifest symptoms, there have been cases of children as young as 6 being diagnosed.
Don't isolate yourself, especially in depressive episodes. One of the worst things I did was lock myself in my room (or even just stay home) when I started getting depressed. It was during these times when I'd isolate myself that I'd engage in self destructive behavior. Even if you don't want to go to that sleepover or concert, just do it. It took me a while to realize that the busier you make yourself, the less alone you are with your thoughts. When I felt myself getting down, I'd take long walks or spend weekends at my best friend’s house. In college, I’d throw on rollerblades in the middle of the night, turn on ABBA, and skate in the empty parking lot of the arts building.
Take your medicine. This is easier said than done. There were so many people telling me so many different things that I wasn't sure what was best for me. There were also times when I hated to take the meds because of the way they made me feel—like I was missing something. I wrote a lot and some of my best pieces of poetry and fiction were written when I was in a manic state. I was concerned and afraid that I'd lose whatever creative edge I had. But I didn't. I still create and write as much as I ever did—maybe even more so, now that I have a deeper insight and understanding of myself and how my mind works.
It's OK to talk to someone. I hated talking to people when I was feeling depressed, manic, or paranoid. I felt like I was this terrible person who was bothering people and that I should just deal with it myself or die and get it over with. There was also a constant feeling that they were judging me. That was part of the paranoia, but I didn't realize that. It was just a big circle of reluctantly talking to someone and then feeling terrible about doing so, which made me worried that they hated me or that I would lose this friend with my bullshit. Over and over it went. If you are feeling as bad as I did, don't keep it to yourself. Moral of this story: Take care of you.
It will get better. The me from years ago would have probably laughed at this last one. I didn't see myself getting better; there were times I barely saw myself getting through the week. I couldn't have predicted that I would be here today to write this to you. I am though, and things did eventually get better. There isn't a cure for mental illness and it's always going to be a part of you, but you'll learn to make the best of it. You'll learn that it doesn't define you and, most importantly, it's not going to hold you back from reaching your fullest potential.
By Tiffany Ferrell