Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pills and Problems

A big reason why I wanted to start blogging again (as in creating a new blog and not necessarily my blogging again after a month) was to have a place on the internet where I could share my thoughts about mental health and mental illness. With Robin Williams passing away yesterday and the aftershocks, I can say that a blessing out of this is the chipping away at the stigma behind mental illness. Everyone is talking about it and it seems to be the consensus that "you should not be ashamed, there is help available for you if you are struggling."

I talked a little bit about my own experience with my own illness, bipolar disorder, on my old blog but I've never gone very in depth. I think I will over time. I've been diagnosed for almost four years come September. Part of me embraces this part of my identity, and the other part feels completely trapped. I'm stuck with it for the rest of my life, unless science keeps working and miracle drugs appear in the future. My main struggle is manic episodes, which have happened four times in varying degrees of severity.

The facts are these:

Episode I: March/April 2010

I was on my second or third round of Accutane which had helped clear up my severe acne but also could have been the trigger to cause my first episode and following diagnosis. I remember reading that the drug can cause this to happen if you have a genetic inclination to the disorder (which I'm pretty sure I do.) I was in 10th grade and pretty much all of a sudden my energy skyrocketed. I had struggled for a few years with a range of anxiety, and for the first time in a long time I felt free from the pressure. I had so many new creative ideas and I was connecting with the world in a brand new and wonderful way. I definitely did not want it to end. But eventually I started to notice that the people around me were not on the same page. I have kept a catalogue of what were then inhibiting and exciting experiences to what became my long list of embarrassing moments. I would definitely say that one of my biggest struggles with the illness is embarrassment and knowing that I upset the people around me.

Episode II: August 2010 
(Plus side of extra creativity: motivation to do a photoshoot)
The aftermath of episode I was mostly confusion, and my mood stabilized again and we just seemed to move on slowly from it. August came and with it the winds of change as I was going in to a new school year. My mood peaked again, just in time for my only sister's wedding. It was a busy and stressful time as my whole family was staying in our house, I went to the Michael Bublé concert two nights in a row with my generous best friend, and an amazing girl's camp was all squeezed into a period of five days. I could obviously not sleep very much because of the general excitement and the surging chemicals in my brain were not helpful. The wedding turned out really wonderful and my family's visit, but I hate knowing that I was "acting crazy" for most of the time. Isolation goes hand in hand with any illness, but no one can be in your mind at the same time as you and know exactly what is happening and how you are feeling. After tests and interviews with my parents and myself, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, just in time for a brand new year of high school.

I was episode free for almost two years. I only was taking a small dosage of sedative at night to make sure that I was getting a full night's sleep. I fairly regularly was going to visit my therapist/counselor and was the token patient with smooth sailing and little to report. Then, frankly, my brain exploded.

Episode III: May 2012
(May 6th, the calm before the storm a brewin')
Senior year was coming to an end. I had starred in a play about Starbucks, gone on my dream trip to San Francisco with all my friends and choir, gone on another dream spring break with my two best friends to Phoenix, and was in the midst of planning a killer grad party and my last rounds of tests and classes. A brief explanation to help shed light on maybe what in the world my brain was up to: I've never been in a relationship, been asked to a dance, held hands, kissed a boy, or anything. I've had some guy friends and a big friend group that we would double date with. I've always been a romantic and dreamed of the day a boy would like me back. But as my mom would try to reassure me, "you're just a big fish in a small pond" meaning that maybe there weren't that many boys around that would be good for me to date, and patience can help.

Back to the story, while my brain was churning with all of the exciting changes soon coming my way with graduation, my mind latched onto the idea that I was in love with a boy in my English class and that oddly enough he liked me too. Before my brain started taking over, I would talk to him when he was talking to my friends because they knew him, but nothing really because I barely knew the guy. But my love starved heart combined with a brain that now desperately needed adult medication added up to an infatuation. Everything began to revolve around this "romance that I've invented" (in the words of Mother Gothel from Tangled). I skipped the year end choir concert because I was hanging out in my car in the school parking lot. I wasn't just hanging out, I was expecting a grand romantic gesture that should have come my way. I'm trying to somehow explain everything else that I had come up with, but I can't. I wasn't just falling in love, I was also becoming famous. One day I will try to go into detail as to how amazing I thought my life was becoming, but there's time for that later. Things kept escalating and my anxiety and desperation grew as fast as my family and friend's worry. After a series of unfortunately hilarious antics, I was being escorted to the emergency room via police car (not because I had broken any laws but because I called 911 on my sister because she was trying to protect me and not letting me leave the house when I was trying to get out out of the house) (I love my sister very much and she was doing what she thought she could do to help me.) When I got there I had no idea that it would be two and a half weeks until I would leave. I could write an entire novel on my experience there because it does hold a special place in my heart. But know that I left with 900 mg of lithium a day in hand and went back to high school.

Good thing I was still in a daze and heavily medicated otherwise I would've been mortified. Thinking about how uncomfortable I must have made that poor fellow haunts me to this day. Just knowing that someone is unfamiliar with level headed me just makes me feel defeated. But on the bright side I made it to graduation, passed all my exams, and started BYU in the fall.

Episode IV: January 2013
Fortunately, this is a mini episode but still has repercussions. When I went home at Christmas time we switched up my medication cocktail. I slowly transitioned off lithium to divalproex, or Epi-val. My first semester, lithium really weighed me down. I had a real difficult time with reading comprehension and concentration, and with just starting college that was not helpful. I went back to Utah and had several serendipitous running into's with a guy that I grew to believe could be perfect for me. With just a little degree of allowance my end of lithium offered, I was swept off my feet into another one-sided romance. Luckily, my family caught on and I was reigned in with the help of a psychiatrist in Utah as well as collaborating with my psychiatrist that is back home. I was put back on lithium and then moved to 2 epival/1 lithium a day that I have now taken everyday for a year and a half. Good thing was I got to stay in school and my life was not completely interrupted. Bad news was that the guy was a good friend of my brother's and I'm afraid I made an off putting impression on those in my new dorm.

It's been a year and a half since my last episode, but I still deal with my illness everyday. I've gone into some detail about the manic stages of bipolar. My certain kind of bipolar disorder favors the manic highs and I have not yet experience severe lows, of which I am grateful. But every couple weeks I'll have a rough night and accompanying journal entry full of self pity, but usually when I wake up after a good nights rest I can come back and have a better day. Sometimes it carries on for a few days, but it evens out again.

Again I'd say my biggest struggles are my feelings of deep embarrassment and shame of my actions while manic. The complicated thing is that I am not ashamed of my choices because while I was making them, they felt right and exciting, and were fueled behind an every growing anxiety that my communication was failing with those around me. I also feel for my parents and friends who were so worried, nervous, and sometimes scared for and of me. What is hard to reconcile is that I can say "oh I was just manic and I didn't mean what I said while I was high" but what I did say and do was a conscious decision and is part of who I am. I can never distance myself from the disorder because it's part of me. What I hope to do is to be fully able to forgive myself and not have a pit in my stomach when I remember the details of those days. My problem is that I have always been playing very close attention to my relationships and the feelings of those around me that when those around me think I am crazy and weird and scary it is one of the worst feelings in the world. I just hope that those people who saw me then will be able to see through to what was really happening and know that I am sorry that they were stuck in the crossfire.

Here's a takeaway beginner's guide to bipolar disorder:
I am not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder.
It's as simple as that. I did not expect to write this much tonight, but whenever I write or speak about what I've been through and am going through, it makes things that much more manageable. I hope in the wake of a tragedy caused by mental illness, we can continue to fight for those who struggle and fight to become educated allies. People have suffered and will continue to suffer, but things are easier when you are not alone. Though I'm stuck with an illness, I have hope and I work to be kind to myself, and more understanding towards others.

"Yeah I got bipolar disorder, what of it?"


  1. I love you Megs... This was beautifully written insight into what it must feel like. I know who you are and I love who you are. :) it's brave to put it all out there, but I think you are right because there is a lot of mental illness in the world and the stigma needs to be broken down even more. Love you!

  2. So awesome! Please, please keep writing and never feel ashamed of this. I know you've probably heard this before, but you did not choose this, just as a diabetic wouldn't choose his diabetes. If I could offer one (unqualified) bit of advice I would say to not dwell on the embarrassment you say you feel about your manic episodes. You have to know that everyone involved loves you so much that they aren't embarrassed for you, they're just happy you're ok. If you're like me, piling on guilt, and replaying awful scenarios on your head comes naturally, but you shouldn't feel any shame at all! Please call/text/email/smoke signal/pigeon mail me anytime you want! Love you. Carly

  3. Beautifully written, Megan! I am so blessed to be your mom! I love you!

  4. Wonderful post Megan! Thanks for sharing with us. Love you! Xo

  5. You're such a strong person Megan! Thanks for your shining example, love you.