I HAVE BIPOLAR DISORDER
Learning to live with Bipolar Disorder and accepting that as your diagnosis can be quite difficult. Over the years, I have come to accept my diagnosis.
I was diagnosed at age 13; and put on a plethora of medications. Each medication had its’ own worse side affect. Most of them turned me into an emotionless zombie that I didn’t recognize. There was no joy, or sadness. Just a monotony of days that passed by.Most of the medications destroyed my once healthy liver. It was horrible. Throughout that experience, I learned that medication is not the treatment for me – so I began searching for another option.
Bipolar Disorder is more complex than most people think, and everyone’s lived experience with it is personal and different from the next person’s. The word “bipolar” is sometimes interchanged with “crazy” and that’s both incorrect and offensive. People with mental illnesses are not crazy, they are ill and need treatment just like any other sickness. There are two extreme sides of Bipolar Disorder. Extreme suicidal depression, and energized mania. I’ve had to suffer through both.
During my adolescence I suffered through extreme depression. I experienced more of the excessive sadness of Bipolar. It was a very dark time in my life. I felt worthless and like a burden on society. I truly felt the world would be better without me in it. I was suicidal. I hated myself, and I hated being alive. I saw no future. I went through a time where I never left the house. I had severe social anxiety. I didn’t want to see anyone, or for anyone to see me.
In my teenage years/young adult life I experienced more of the energized mania feelings. My behavior became very erratic. Some episodes I don’t even remember until my husband and friends reminded me of them.
Some of the symptoms/signs of my mania during my manic episode included:
- Speaking really fast, non-stop.
- Thinking that the radio/songs were sending me messages, directly. And that I could communicate with other people through songs/radio.
- Not sleeping and barely eating, but full of energy.
- Waking up at 4 am to do yoga, and doing yoga numerous times a day, obsessively.
- Obsession with religion – specifically reading the Quran throughout the day. I also had this weird urge and felt like I had to go to Saudi Arabia.
- Severe migraines – and thinking that a hair cut would help. I started cutting my hair daily, and eventually shaved my entire head. I later learned that mental anguish can cause real physical pain.
Now as an adult, I thank God daily that I survived that period in my life. If I hadn’t, I never would have lived to see my life today, which is beautiful. I’m happily married with two beautiful kids. I often wish I could go back to a younger Ayesha, aged 13, and tell her it does get better! I credit Electroconvulsive Therapy for literally saving my life. I don’t know where I would be without it. More on this in a bit…
During my manic/depressive episodes I did a lot of things that hurt my family and friends. And I still feel guilty about it. But at the same time I know I shouldn’t feel bad, because I had no control over my actions or words. The brain is an amazing thing. It’s basically a hardwired machine that operates 24/7. But one little glitch, and your entire world is turned upside down. My world was turned upside down multiple times and in my younger years, I couldn’t tell anyone why.
When I was younger I felt like I had to hide my illness. Being South Asian, mental health issues were never really talked about growing up. Even now, there seems to be a stigma or embarrassment over this topic. I saw how people laughed or made fun of people for being sick. I’m choosing to help change that by being vocal and unashamed about my own experiences.
While there are more downfalls of being bipolar, Bipolar actually does have some awesome side effects as well. I know – that’s not something you hear everyday, ha. But it’s true! I’m really creative. I love to paint. I can multitask really well. I love to read and learn new things. Being bipolar doesn’t define who I am, but it is a major part of who I am. I acknowledge my illness, and hope to always strive to better myself and take care of my mental health. I am bipolar, and I’m a lot of other things, too.
Today I am 33, and I’ve gone through many manic/depressive episodes. Being manic feels amazing. You have endless energy. You don’t sleep for a week. You have so many new, exciting ideas. You have extreme self-esteem. You feel so happy. And then, the sleepless days turn into paranoia. You think people are out to get you. You become delusional. You don’t trust anyone. And then, if you’re like me, you become hospitalized. Being locked up in a hospital and not knowing when or if you will make it out is – terrifying. The last hospitalization I had, lasted two months. Being away from my son and husband for that long was horrible. I missed them everyday.
I had decided that I had had enough of not being in control. Medication wasn’t the right treatment for me but I knew there was something else out there. After researching options, I discovered Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), also known as “shock” therapy. It sounds scary because it kind of is, but like I said before – it changed my life.
While under anesthesia, the doctor administers shocks to certain parts of my brain. Being bipolar means that my brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine. It also means that certain signals my brain tries to make to the rest of my body, don’t go through. ECT makes my brain grow new synapses over time, so that my brain can properly send and receive messages. It also increases my dopamine levels.
Throughout my entire life, I have never felt as stable as I do now. And the anxiety that once controlled my life seems to have vanished. There are moments, although rare, that I do get anxiety. But now I am able to better manage it with my coping skills. I no longer have extreme mood swings. It just feels like smooth sailing. I have control now.
ECT isn’t painless. Besides having to get poked for an IV every visit and going under anesthesia every time; I’m left with muscle soreness that can last up to two days. My jaw feels so tight from clenching down. The shocks cause your body to have a controlled seizure. So, when you wake up you’re sore. I get extreme headaches, sometimes migraines after a treatment. And unfortunately for some people, it can cause memory loss. I already had a crap memory, so the memory loss hasn’t seemed to affect me that much, yet.
Choosing ECT might seem like a crazy idea to some people. But even with all those side affects, I’d rather go through all that pain and risk than to have a manic episode again. I really hope that my mental health continues to get better. Every day in a new day. A new day to grow. A new day to be better. A new day in control.
Everyone is different when it comes to ECT. Some people need it monthly, or weekly. Other people can go a year etc. When I started Electroconvulsive Therapy in January of 2016, I had to go 3 times a week. Then, it was cut down to once a month, and then once every two months… and then once every 4 months. My doctor kept spreading my appointments out. I now only have to go once every 9 months. After my next appointment which is scheduled for this December, my doctor said he’d like to change my treatment timeline to now only once a year! He feels that I’m in a healthy and stable place. And so do I.
I will have to receive ECT treatments for the rest of my life. And, I’m OK with that. For me personally, it’s much better than being on medications that were so harmful. I’m so grateful that with ECT, I no longer need any mental health medications. But that’s not the case for everyone. ECT affects everyone differently, so some people still do need to be on medication. And that’s perfectly fine as well.
In addition to being thankful for my treatments, I’m also extremely grateful to be married to such a loving, empathetic, caring man. My husband is a caretaker by profession; and he also takes care of me. He’s been there for me during my highs and lows. He was there before I was hospitalized, and he was there when I was released. I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve his love; but I’m truly grateful for it. Having a partner who is unconditionally there for you is a major blessing. I wish everyone with a mental illness had the love and support I have. I know without it, life can be very scary.
Bipolar Disorder is hereditary, sadly. I often think of my children, and I pray that they don’t grow up to be bipolar like me. I would hate to see them suffer like this. But that is ultimately something that is out of my control. Bipolar Disorder can be triggered by stress and anxiety during your younger years. So I’m doing my best as a mom to just keep their lives stress-free.
Being bipolar means I’ve lost many friends over the years. It’s hard to maintain friendships when you have a mental illness. And while it hurts that I’ve lost so many friends along the way; I’m truly grateful for the wonderful, loving friends that have remained in my life. I don’t think they will ever know how much I truly appreciate their friendships.
I remember visiting Pakistan when I was younger, and I remember mental health issues being a hush-hush subject. Lots of people didn’t take the psychiatric community seriously. I heard people call those doctors “quacks”. Mentally ill patients were just locked up in hospitals and forgotten about. It seems wild, but then again – it happened here, too. People used to (and still) say just pray, and everything will get better. But prayer is not enough to combat mental illness. People need to seek help. And take medication if needed. You wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to just pray that their cancer went away without chemotherapy and medical assistance. Mental illness should be treated the same way.
I wish more people were vocal about their mental health issues; so that more people would have the courage to ask for the help they need and deserve. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I was born with the genes to be Bipolar. It wasn’t my fault. When I was younger, I felt sad and angry that I had to suffer through these rough, dark periods in life. I felt alone and unsupported. But now, as an adult, I have come to accept my diagnosis. I have an incredible support system – and I want to educate others on the endless possibilities they have even with a mental illness. I want to let people know that your mental illness isn’t a death sentence for a normal life.
I have Bipolar Disorder, and I am flourishing with it.
Post Photograph by: Photographer: Eva K. Salvi