Carrie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 28, though she experienced clinical depression for the first time as a teenager. She knew something was seriously wrong but wasn’t able to get help at that time. Carrie wrote the following letter to her 17-year-old self as a part of the Say It Forward campaign for Mental Illness Awareness Week. She was in her senior year of high school at the time and had been experiencing a depressive episode for more than a year.
Right now you’re in the midst of depression. You’re feeling lonely and hopeless. You’re contemplating suicide. I totally get what you’re going through. I’m here from almost 30 years in the future to tell you that you’re still around – that is, we’re still around – so hold on for now. College is around the corner, and things will get better.
However, this isn’t the last time you’ll be depressed. It will be a repeating pattern throughout your life. In a little over 10 years you’ll be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I won’t say anything to try to change your destiny – we’ve both seen Back to the Future enough times to know that can have unintended consequences. And even if I could give you a “bulletproof vest” that would prevent bipolar disorder from getting to you, I probably wouldn’t.
I also won’t assure you that everything will turn out just fine, as I’ve seen in other people’s letters-to-their-younger-selves: you’ll get a college degree, you’ll go on to get graduate degrees, you’ll become a psychotherapist like you’re thinking about now, you’ll meet a great guy and get married. All of that is true, actually, but it’s not going to solve your problems. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but you can never find lasting or complete happiness in outward attainments.
So rather than try frantically to change your destiny or reassure you that you’ll get many of the things you want, I’ll tell you a few things that may smooth the path as you go down a very rocky road.
Everything you’ll go through has meaning, though unfortunately you probably won’t discover it until much later. It may be really, really hard for you to believe, but this depression will eventually benefit you. It will incite you to embark on a journey you probably wouldn’t go on otherwise. It will make you a wiser and, quite frankly, better person. And it will allow you to help other people. That may not sound too consoling now – or any time you’re in the throes of depression – but you have to believe that you will come to see value in your difficulties.
After you find out that you have bipolar disorder, one of the worst things you’ll struggle with is shame. In fact, I’d say the shame of having the illness will be worse for you than the illness itself. Don’t define yourself by the fact that you have bipolar disorder. Yes, it will shape who you are in both good and bad ways, but that doesn’t mean it is who you are. You’re a smart, creative, loving young woman. That won’t change. Also, try not to envy other people who seem better off. You won’t have a run-of-the-mill life – I think you can sense that even now – but that’s okay. You don’t have to try to prove anything to anybody. Find your own unique path.
You’ll also hear about how horrible it is to have bipolar disorder, that it’s incurable, that everyone who has it goes from bad to worse. Don’t listen to it. Even if it were true, it does no good to think that way. Look for evidence to the contrary – there will be more and more as the years go on. Before too long there will be this amazing thing called the Internet (you will love it), and you’ll be able to read firsthand accounts that aren’t available now. Oh, and by the way, Carrie Fisher (i.e., Princess Leia) also has bipolar disorder and she’s doing well.
I know you want to get help, but you can’t right now. I’m really sorry about that. I commend you for being willing to seek help (a lot of people in the same boat are not), and I assure you that you will find it eventually. In the meantime, remember that you are never alone. Whatever you’re going through, someone else is going through too. Without exception. And even though you go through a brief period in college when you call yourself an atheist, you are not. God is with you now and always will be.
It’s not going to be an easy path for you. But keep going. Don’t give up, ever. Keep fighting and learning and growing. You’re a stronger person than you think, way stronger. There will be days when winning the fight means getting out of bed, or going for a 5-minute walk, or making it to a therapy appointment when you really, really don’t want to go. Those are true victories, and I give you permission to celebrate them.
With love and hope,
You can find the rest of Carrie’s IBPF posts here or read additional articles on her Addiction.com blog. You can also visit the website for Counseling and More, her private practice, or Bipolar Beast, a company designed to empower people with bipolar disorder.
Learn more about #DearTeenageMe and #SayItForward at http://sayitforwardcampaign.org/