When people talk about dragons they are big, and easy to see. This is not always true. The most amazing thing about dragons is how well they can hide. They can change size and color, so they can hide anywhere. Even in plain sight.
Name That Dragon
My mother could tell that something had changed within me. I was overly emotional. I was often volatile. My social interactions were becoming much less relaxed and natural. I was becoming not me.
Mom began to seek information that would help me. Unfortunately, back in the 1970’s there wasn’t very much information on bipolar. It was lumped in with many other mental illnesses with similar symptoms
Don’t Believe It
I went to the doctor many times over the years but was never able to give the dragon in my head a name. I described it as best I could, but that wasn’t saying much. How do you describe something you cannot see?
Doctors told me many things, but none of them seemed to really fit:
- Puberty – You are going through puberty and the hormonal changes are just harder on you.
- Stress – Four college prep classes, marching band, early morning religion classes, youth group and an after-school job are too much. You need to scale down your activities.
- Pregnant – You are pregnant so just be patient with yourself. These emotional changes are to be expected as your hormones fluctuate.
- Small Children – You have small children and are just not getting enough sleep. Try going to bed earlier or taking a nap during the day.
- More Stress – You have way too much going on. Five children under ten years-old. Volunteer hours at school and church. Running a household.
My Personal Favorites
- It is all in your head. – You obviously feel the need for attention, so you are making it up. There is really nothing wrong with you that some exercise and a change in attitude won’t take care of.
- Just pull yourself together and get on with it. – It will go away on its own if you stop thinking about it and focus on something else.
I was told so many things that I began to doubt myself. Was something really wrong with me or was I making it up.
Yes. All the above was happening:
- I did go through puberty. (Doesn’t everybody?!)
- I did high school with a crazy schedule.
- I did get married and have children.
- I did volunteer at school and church.
No. It was not too much because I had down time. Even with everything I was doing.
Yes. I did realize I was stressed and depressed. I studied up on the subjects and took specific actions to deal with them:
- I exercised regularly.
- I did meditation, prayer, and scripture study.
- I wrote in my journal.
- I took “me” time.
- I played the piano.
- I played with my kids.
- I laughed as much as possible.
- I dated my husband.
No. I could not just pull myself up by the bootstraps and make it go away. I’m barefoot!
Yes. It was all in my head. Just not the way you thought it was.
Yes. It was real. I was not making it up to get attention.
After 2 decades of sadness, anger, suicidal thoughts, darkness, fatigue, and frustration, and 28 days of no sleep, I ended up in the psych ward of the hospital for 3 weeks.
The doctor had no trouble finding a diagnosis because I had eliminated everything else. I was already doing all the things that he would suggest and could tell him what the results were. He was rather surprised at all the work I had put in over the years to find a resolution to my problem.
After 20 years I finally had a definitive diagnosis:
- Bipolar Disorder II
- Post-Traumatic Stress
- Severe Anxiety
Now that I had a name for the dragons in my head I could feel hope returning. I could map out a journey to healing because I knew where I was. I finally had a place to start.
My interview with the doctor is the only relatively clear memory I have of the 3 weeks I spent in the hospital.
I walk in and sit down. The doctor is looking over my chart and the multi-page questionnaire that I filled out when I was admitted. We talk about what is going on and why I am there.
Then the doctor sits quietly and just looks at me. Then he says, “I could get fired for asking you this, but I just have to know. Everyone else I have seen in your condition is dead. Why aren’t you?”
I sat back surprised and had to think for a moment. I finally looked at the doctor and said, “For my children, I will do anything. Even live.”
Even at my lowest and darkest times I chose life. It was the hardest choice I ever made.
Was it worth it? Absolutely!
When I was admitted to the hospital I had been awake for 28 days. I wanted sleep more than I wanted anything else.
I was given drugs. Lots of drugs. Enough to knock out an elephant. I relaxed. I felt really good. I was definitely loopy. Was I sleepy? Nope.
The nursing staff kept watching to make sure I didn’t fall asleep unexpectedly. They finally put me to bed when I started showing signs of drowsiness.
It took over an hour for the drugs to put me to sleep.