Crazy. Introverted. Bitch. Angry. Over-thinker. Drunk. Inappropriate. Antisocial. These are just some of the words people use to describe me. Words that, although accurate most of the time, never suited me completely all the time.
Throughout my life, I watched as friends and family participated in events that felt painful to me, things as simple as parties, appointments or going to work every day. Things that others did seemingly with ease, felt excruciating to me. I loathed small talk, and the monotony of my job and because people typically did not interest me spending time with them felt uncomfortable and laborious. Although I wanted to be included, my cancellation rate grew with each invite so many people stopped asking me to do anything. Although grateful I wouldn’t have to make up an excuse to cancel, my feelings would still be hurt by the exclusion.
As a child, my mother told people I was “sensitive” when I cried through the night or slept for days on end. I had panic attacks oversleeping too much and would then be guilt-ridden for both the tears and my lack of productivity. This pattern continued into my twenties and thirties, but it wasn’t until I was arrested when I was forty-one, that I realized maybe I wasn’t like everyone else and maybe “sensitive” wasn’t the right word to describe what I had.
Maybe I was crazy?
After the fourth visit to my doctor in a year for punching everything from the garage to the storm glass window to a toolbox, I listened with bandaged knuckles, as he explained bipolar disorder to me. He spoke slowly and gently as he explained that although I was angry, he believed my punching was a way to harm myself and my temper was more than me “getting my Irish up.” My best course of action was lithium and an awareness of my triggers, he explained. Although not surprising, it didn’t completely make sense to me either.
“My highs aren’t very high though,” I explained.
“They often aren’t in women, and can also present as irritability,” he countered.
Great, I thought, I couldn’t even get that right.
I refused the lithium but accepted the diagnosis. While this news probably wouldn’t be shocking to my friends, I decided to tell only my sister. In the event of another self-harm episode, or worse, I wanted my family to have the facts if only to understand and cope. I was never suicidal but now my recklessness and anger would have a name. A name I kept a secret for five years.
I still cancel events. I still drink, and I am still sometimes, a bitch. I recognize my environmental triggers and when they present I find comfort with my dog Clancy under our blanket fort, something that a “normal” fifty-year-old would be considered too old for by most standards.
I do not cope with bipolar disorder or suffer with it. Instead, I live with it as I do the scar on my forehead or the limp in my walk. I accept the part of me that requires peace, creativity and solitude, and when that doesn’t happen I accept the part of me that becomes irritable, angry or inappropriate. Recognizing this side of myself has given me a deeper understanding of not only the disorder but my Self. These days when I feel like throwing a punch I hit the gym instead or go for a walk. Most times that helps and when it doesn’t I batten down the emotional hatches and ride out the storm in the safest way possible.
I am all the things that people labelled me and none of them. I am simply, me.