Alice in Wonderland hails from Durban, South Africa, and she writes:
What it’s like to be bipolar
This isn’t going to be pretty or nice or forgiving so stop here if you can’t or don’t want to deal with it.
Being bipolar, at least my version of it is pretty much like having a fully functioning mind and emotions that is stuck in a body that can’t walk, talk or do anything. No that isn’t quite right, it’s like being in the body of someone horrible. Someone who does things that you don’t like, agree with or even understand and there is NOTHING you can do about it.
Your thoughts race 24/7 and I mean all the time. You cannot sit still, slow down or even try to rest. Concentration is impossible and work even more so.
You feel intensely and so when the meds kick in you feel like nothing . You get depressed because you feel like a nobody.
You start getting fat because you are taking “weight neutral meds” that 7 years later you discover are anything but weight neutral.
People wonder what’s wrong, why do you need medication? Why do you now weigh 100kg? Why don’t you just shake it off? Why are you angry, upset, dead on your feet and Why can’t you work?
I am tired. I am exhausted. I feel like I have fought a battle and the war crimes payment is to keep living. Living a “normal, controlled, well-balanced life”.
I have been alone since the day I went to that school. I didn’t understand them. I tried and I failed every time. Nothing was EVER good enough.
I hid and I hid well. Occasionally a teacher would find me and make me go back to break but there were so many spots to hide.
By grade 11 I would randomly burst into tears in science and my teacher would get angry and tell me to go sort myself out. My Maths was atrocious at 51%. I felt huge because I didn’t measure up to the weird ideas of normal those girls had. (If your thighs touched together when you stood straight you were fat). Later I learnt that thighs are only apart when you stand up straight when you are anorexic. Again I got even that wrong. I chose Bulimia. Because eating your food then throwing up at least gave you the comfort first and then there was the matter of control – that in fact you could choose to throw it up and maintain the ever elusive skinny-factor.
I thought I was hugely overweight at the age of 16. A size 12 was huge. Well now I just find that entertaining because I am a size 16.
Subject choice was fun because “BA’s, art, drama etc just isn’t good enough”. I did science, accounting and biology. I am creative. And we paid someone to tell me that I should work with children, we then decided Bcom was a better route. Well fact is last year I recovered purely due to the fact I worked with a child.
I was shy and had no self-esteem, berating myself for every unpopular, awkward comment I made in public.
Hating myself for the fear I felt doing normal sports/ slightly adventurous activities.
Loathing my inability to play sport and feeling so embarrassed when I knocked the hurdles over because we never did that at my old school.
Religion really confused things up after that. It promised “ Forgiveness” for all the sin us humans have. Well no matter how much I prayed or begged or served that guilt never left.
University promised a freedom I never let myself experience. A student job that let me earn a little bit and a guy I thought really loved me (he obviously did but how can you be lovable when you can’t even face your own reflection without thinking how ugly it is?)
Religion continued to wrestle with my emotions and caused enormous guilt over normal teenage issues such as sexuality etc.
I passed university. Second year was when I couldn’t hide any more. The emotional walls holding all the years of hidden anxiety and fear began to crumble.
And then the doctors started and the psychiatrists started. What did I know about this world at 19? I was largely on my own. No one really enquired much except to say I don’t know why you need a psychologist.
Medicine was recommended. Medicine that stole my personality and very being. People watched either too scared to move because “Doctors know better” or just because …. I don’t actually know.
I searched endlessly on the Internet reading other peoples experiences, poetry and all sorts of things to try understand what was happening.
I eventually chose to study Honours in Bcom. My concentration was so bad that I couldn’t at that stage read a page of text. That’s why it took 2 years to write 80 pages – a mini thesis. I have not to this day read more than 10 pages of a book since honours.
So I continued like Alice falling from one day to the next, each medical Cheshire cat promising the world and pointing me in completely the wrong direction.
IN the mean time concerned on lookers offered great advice such as
“ Pull yourself together”
“Medicine is bad”
“You are spoilt”
“Your honours was underperfomance”
“Why do you hold onto the past, just let it go”
“You are so lucky, count your blessings”
“You need to be more independent”
“You look like you’ve put on weight”
“ Get over it”
Kind of like telling a cancer patient that their hair is falling out after chemo and they should grow it back. Yip about as useful as that.
So eventually after honours, 3 failed jobs and all that I couldn’t take it anymore.
I tried to end it all. And yes it must have been traumatic for those around me and yes I am aware it was a very stupid way to go about it all.
I then went to a drug rehab which supposedly dealt with bipolar – having never been exposed to Weed more than once – seeing people who had lost themselves to heroin and living with them was extremely traumatic.
Of course hating being restricted I freaked. I tried to be nice but was threatened with court-induced admission to a government institution and told I was “lucky” to be there. So after 6 weeks they let me go, after realizing no progress was going to be made there.
I had to get away from home after that so I got the only job that provided accommodation and a small salary. It was a garage but for that year it was my garage. I worked often from 5 am to 9 pm as a special needs au pair.
It was the cheapest therapeutic year I have ever had. I survived it.
Because I had to.
I came back home and I started working for the family business, I know this was generous of dad considering my disastrous history with desk jobs.
“Running shoes” on I left. Well … answering a phone call every 1 hour and putting data capturing into a computer when you have a mind that races wouldn’t ever quite work.
I then started the piano school to try keep myself sane. I literally had no capital and owed (still do) a lot of money from the end of last year when I had no job.
I also have graphic design clients and its going really well with them. I am trying to exercise everyday. I work an 6-8 hour day most days of the week and some Saturday mornings. I know I ask for help – my business is only 5 months old and yes I shouldn’t have left the desk job but it was that or literally start screaming at the top of my lungs or moving to pack fish in the Nevada desert.
My great boyfriend( who has been with me for the the last 8 years on and off) is now back from the USA. I’m in love again.
I am so excited. I am less dependent emotionally. At least 80% more financially independent. And happier with who I am. Good ingredients for rekindling a life-time relationship.
I am a loner I have learnt. I suck at small talk especially with the depth of emotion, heart-ache and happiness I have felt. I find people shallow and self absorbed often – however perhaps this is their coping mechanism and perhaps its ok just to enjoy simple conversation sometimes.
I will try to be polite and thoughtful as I recover more and more.
After rehab it took me 3 months to stop waking up at 3 am in a cold sweat with my pillow wet from crying so hard. But here I am. And I am well.
I get through each day.
I work hard.
I get by with an 1/8th of the medication I used to (changed psychiatrists).
I am done with that. I am done with hearing people judge me for what I have been through and how I “behave” or have reacted.
You can think you know understand or even just shrug your shoulders and say everyone has issues.
You can say I have failed.
You can say I am a leech.
You can make me feel bad for the help I ask for.
Judge me for eating out or having coffee (um… check my cigarette, club entrance or drug bill for the last years R0.00 – its how I socialize and get out)
You can believe I am spoiled.
You can say any thing you want to justify the fact that it is all my fault.
Call it responsibility. Call it what you want.
The fact is I fought 90% of this on my own.
I have survived and the price of 10 years is paid.
I refuse to let my self-esteem suffer one more day.
Or maybe this letter will help you see what I got up and faced every day.
I don’t want sympathy. I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me. I just need you to understand that I did not choose this. It happened.
It is the equivalent of a slow, destructive kind of emotional cancer. And I will never be healed. Remission is the best we can hope for.
I can’t walk on egg shells. I cant feel guilt anymore.
I am grateful for what you have done.
I am grateful that you never threw me out or told me to get lost.
I feel a bitter sadness because I feel like this ten-long war is coming to an end but as in war there is never a winner – only desolation and casualties.
My wish for the future is to not owe anyone anything.
I don’t want to pay emotional interest ever again.
I would rather live alone in a caravan than have all the luxuries of the world and live in the hell I have been living.
I want someone to believe in me again.
I want someone to believe I am capable.
Then I realize there is someone who believes this – me.
And whilst loneliness arrives at night again its enough to keep me going another day. I will survive. Then I will do well. And then I will spread the word about the illness that nearly took my beautiful, amazing life but didn’t.
I want to say to you, never give up. In the darkest night. In the bleakest day. There is hope but it is the fight that will equip you and send you into a healing path.
God is strong. Gods mercies are new every morning. May He bless and keep you as you face tomorrow and smile a bitter sweet smile, knowing with this decision to face your fears the worst days are over and better ones are to come: it won’t be perfect but you will survive and live and eventually thrive.
Alice in Wonderland