Hospital discharge papers said bipolar 1 so they must have seen something I don't understand. It fits comfortably so I'm wearing it, for what a label's worth. For now I'm just glad to be home.
I have also variously and unofficially been diagnosed with social anxiety and PTSD. I try not to define myself by those labels. I see myself more as someone who's always been especially sensitive to the world and wanted to do things right but sometimes got carried away. Diagnostic labels are just one more way to describe the me who loves colorful tights, running marathons, and anything New Orleans.
I think I've always had the blueprint for a mood disorder. I had a hard time fitting in as early as elementary school, preferring to sit on the grass and read during recess over playing with my peers. I had strange obsessions, such as the TV show Carmen Sandiego, the book Great Expectations, or the game Monopoly. I wore floral stretch pants to school in 7th grade and while I didn't care what my classmates thought, I was painfully aware of not really having friends and not knowing where to start. Looking back, I spent most of middle school and the beginning of high school depressed. I didn't come out of my shell until college. Then I ran marathons, enjoyed long dinners in the cafeteria, and learned how to sail. I graduated with honors in history, spent the summer working in a warehouse, and started working for the Red Cross as an AmeriCorps*VISTA on August 29th, 2005.
Katrina Day. And from that day forward my life would not be the same. I often wonder what direction my life would have taken if I would have taken the urban gardening job instead, but I'll never know.
I traveled down to New Orleans to volunteer in March of 2006, and that was the seed for my emotional collapse 3 years later. Seeing the devastation up close every day for three weeks was more than my emotional sensitivity could handle. Out of necessity I pretty much shut down and ran on adrenaline. I got home and should have headed straight for therapy but I figured the exhaustion, the startle reactions, the inability to concentrate and remember the simplest things, was what everyone went through. I finished out my AmeriCorps year in August, started feeling better, and didn't think much of it.
July 2006 I'd traveled to New Orleans again, to gut houses this time.
Starting October 2006 I began substitute teaching.
By Thanksgiving I had convinced myself I needed to move to New Orleans.
February 2007 I traveled back for the third and final time, to work in a community kitchen.
By August 2007 I had moved to New Orleans. I spent the next year going to school to be a teacher, drinking too much all over the city, and eventually doing some more substitute teaching when the money started running out. By August 2008 I'd found a full time teaching job. I was just starting my first year of teaching when Hurricane Gustav, predicted to be another Katrina, forced the city to evacuate, and there I began to fall apart.
I can attribute the totality of my falling apart over the next 8 months to many things: the fallout of the messy evacuation, gunshots on my street, my unstable, volitile, and aggressive roommate, the stress of going to school while working full time, the unreasonable demands the charter network placed on us teachers. By January I was in therapy and I survived the rest of the year on Xanax, Calms Forte, and whatever relaxation strategies I could cobble together. I hoped that maybe just maybe I could hold out until the end of the school year, apply for jobs elsewhere, and recover over the summer. I made it until the beginning of May and then the anxious hypomania that had lent me confidence crumbled and left a crippling depression in its place and that's when my friends found me a psychiatrist, stat.
I started on antidepressants and finished out the school year and left on vacation. I drove from New Orleans to New Brunswick because I needed that much time alone to straighten out the mess in my head. I drove through rural Maine at night and wanted to drive my car off the road-no cell coverage, no traffic, no one would know where to find me. I made it to New Brunswick, where a friend's mom had an apartment and spent one Sunday morning trying to convince myself not to jump off the 7th story balcony. So much for vacation helping me recover. I made it back to New Orleans to start the new school year and didn't even make it three days with the kids before I was an anxious mess who couldn't string together a complete thought, much less lesson plan and manage a special ed classroom. By that point I wanted nothing more than to overdose on all my medications, hoping that since I lived alone no one would find me until it was too late. Instead I resigned after emergency appointments with both my therapist and psychiatrist and a friend kept me safe on her couch until my mom could fly down and help pull me out.
So here I am, back in Maryland and wishing this wasn't my life. I want to be back in Louisiana, sitting on the couch of that friend who is actually now my girlfriend, eating chocolate chips and watching TV shows on her computer. I want my life back. I want whatever medication and therapy and support groups and online mood charts it takes to get me my life back because there has to be more to life than debilitating anxiety and waiting for the next mood swing.
October 26th, 7 months later
Since I wrote that I've discovered that 1200 mg of lithium works to stave off the next mood swing and any less does not. I've been up and down and stable and then up and down again and it is still not any fun. At least now I have a steady job as a job coach at the ARC and I'm planning on moving back to Louisiana in March. Planning for the future, even though right now the down is down enough that I can't really see it.
July 19th, 2011
I just got out of the hospital and I'm on enough medications that it should knock anyone out or at least keep the mood swings at bay. One thing that I learned is that contemplating moving to Louisiana was causing me extreme anxiety so I will happily be staying put in Maryland. I'm drained and glad to not be on a locked ward anymore, happy to be trusted to handle a pair of scissors and my handful of daily pills all by myself.