“Hey, how are you?” Oh man. Yikes. Whoa. Here we go again.
I pause and consider my options in response to this question. If you have bipolar or experience any other form of mental illness, you probably understand why this question can be so tricky to answer. Do I answer honestly? Do I lie and say fine? Do I tell them my depression is flaring up or that yesterday I couldn’t fall asleep until 5 a.m. because my hypomania kept my thoughts racing? Do I tell them I’m worried about reading a book in my class on William Faulkner because one of the characters commits suicide, and I’m afraid that might trigger me? Do I say anything? Should I even engage?
All of these questions flash through my mind in the appropriate amount of time allotted for an answer to a question, and now I have to say something. Oh man. Usually, I avoid anything that might be considered “excessively dramatic.” And I adhere to that guideline now. I say everything’s fine and continue on my merry, bipolar way.
This is just one case of when my disorder reveals itself to me. But this happens time and time again, like with so many people living with mental illness. With a fresh diagnosis that is approaching its two year anniversary, my disorder still leaves a lasting impression on my mind in terms of constant emotional awareness. I’m actively watching the ins and outs of my days to make sure nothing wears on me too much so I don’t risk going off the deep end in either direction of the bipolar spectrum.
Now that you know a little bit about how my mind works with bipolar, I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Mark Maiden. I’m currently a sophomore at the University of Kansas studying Sociology and American Studies with a focus in gender and sexuality. I am queer, and I have bipolar, and I do my best to embrace those identities with love.
My “little” journey with bipolar type II rapid cycling disorder began in March of 2013. I went to my pediatrician at the age of 18 (a little goofy, I know), and I described the emotional, motivational, and social struggles I was experiencing at the time that had been ever-so-present since middle school. Four years later I finally ask for help - smooth. My doctor quickly prescribed an antidepressant for depression and recommended a psychiatrist to better suit my immediate needs. Fast forward two months to May 21st, 2013. It was a Tuesday afternoon. I had graduated high school not even a week beforehand, and now I was given a bright, shiny, new label of “mood disorder” from my new favorite person in the world, my psychiatrist. Horror and panic struck in a timely fashion. I’m supposed to go to college now, but how did a mentally ill person even survive high school?
Eventually that thought process calmed down, and the meds definitely helped for a little while. My first year at college was surprisingly easy academically. Socially, emotionally, and mentally are all different stories. But in no way did I come out of my first year unscathed. With medication that changed almost monthly and newly introduced alcohol abuse, my time as a freshman could be described as “less than satisfactory.” My mood swung, and I kind of did my homework, and my mood swung, and I slept through three classes, and my mood swung, and I yelled at my friends, and my mood swung, and I cried myself to sleep because I didn’t feel comfortable calling my mom, and my mood swung, and I stopped taking my medication voluntarily. Whoops. After a less-than-pleasant conversation with my psychiatrist, we avoided antidepressants and tried antipsychotics. Much better. Going in to second semester I was still reeling from the rapid changes that college brings on. I had yet to develop a good grasp on how to handle my illness, which resulted in withdrawing from all of my classes in April of 2014 and going on an All-Expense (Un)Paid Trip to… (drum roll)… the psychiatric treatment center at my local hospital! Through a few months of intensive outpatient treatment, psychiatric care, and therapy appointments, I came out… stable? Relatively stable, for someone with bipolar.
I have officially been out of the hospital for nearly ten months, and I’ve been stable almost the entire time. I re-enrolled in school the following fall, and I’ve succeeded in my classes thus far. Sometimes I’m on the hypomanic end, but overall, I’m pretty okay. I wanted my first post to give any readers out there a good sense of where I’m coming from. I encourage anyone who reads this to know that stability will come. It may be fleeting, but when it’s there, it’s beautiful and refreshing and comforting and loving. You’ll get there, and I’ll be here to write about my own stability (or lack thereof) so we can share our stories.