My name is Tracy, and I hope by sharing my own story and struggle with Bipolar I, I can provide help and hope for others like me out there.

I was adopted as an infant, and have never been able to confirm if there was a history of mental illness in either side of my birth family (even though I did find my birthmother-but that is another story in itself). I am convinced, due to the strong tendency for Bipolar to be a genetic inheritance, that it didn’t just start and end with me. But thanks to the “closed records” system for California adoptions, perhaps I will go to my grave never knowing my full medical history. But this is not meant to be a rant about close adoption records. On to me and my story...

I was an only child, and a precocious one. I reached all my milestones super-early, like I just was too impatient to be “normal” or something. I was able to read by the time I was 2 years of age, and was advanced straight away at age 5 into 1st grade after I was spotted reading to the other kids and trying to “take over” the kindergarten classroom! I was labeled a “gifted” kid and was often bored with what I perceived to be others’ slowness in class. My parents moved around constantly; I figure I attended on average (from 1st grade to high school) an average of 1 new school per year. I was also raised in a physically and emotionally abusive home, which did not help in my frequent transitions. I always felt I had to walk on eggshells in my home or all hell would break loose. I used to spend many hours fantasizing about my parents getting a divorce, but that never happened. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in the doctor’s office with what I now can tell were psychosomatic illnesses; I used to be depressed and anxious, and then when I hit my teens, I tended to think about death and suicide a lot. I wasn’t liked at school; my home life was chaos - I felt “what good is it to be here?” I tried to kill myself a few times but never came close to succeeding. My parents blew me off, saying things like “What do you have to be depressed about?” and “you’re just being dramatic.” My personal all-time favorite excuse for my mood swings was my mom saying “You have an artistic temperament.” It is true that I immersed myself in music and art to escape my pain.

In 1990, I was 20 years old and had been working hard at a junior college for 2 years - I was going to transition to a 4 year college. I was very excited, not only for the experience, but because it was my first time away from home. My excitement soon escalated. My brain would not “switch off”, I began to hallucinate, I could not sleep, and words were coming out of my mouth quicker than I could say them. I was living in a dorm at the time with a roommate; my behavior became so disruptive that the school gave me a choice - either get some help or leave. I had worked too hard and come too far to give up, even though I was “flying high.” Because my parents (and I) did not have health insurance, I was forced to see the school psychiatrist. I still remember how creepy he was, and how much I resented being there. I was in deep denial there was anything wrong with me. The doctor pulled out a textbook and started reading from it, asking me if I had been having the following symptoms [of mania and/or depression]. Based on my answers, he sent me to get lab work done and placed me on Lithium. My parents learned of all this and became enraged - they felt it was all being made up and that I was B.S.’ing. I took the Lithium, but hated the way it made me feel. My hands shook, I was thirsty all the time, etc. To make it worse, it seemed as if the school doctor really could care less about my concerns. After about a month or so, I stopped taking it cold turkey. I didn’t have any more manic episodes until 1996, but in hindsight, I think there were some stressful life events that could have helped to trigger the next episode.

In late 1995, I had been engaged to be married to someone from overseas, and had done a great deal of immigration work to assist in his transition over here. Without getting into all the details, that fell through for reasons I still can’t understand today. I was shattered and felt betrayed. In addition, less than a month after that, I was laid off my job and had to find new work. About 6 months later in 1996, I moved to a different city and changed jobs, as well as had a new boyfriend. I thought things were going great at the time. I ended up getting a very painful sunburn on my leg and was in unbearable pain. I am not the kind who asks for pain pills EVER, but asked the doctor for something, so that I could function and sleep through the night (it really was that bad). He gave me Vicodin. Very soon after that, the mania started again, but this time it was a million times worse. I could not sleep, could not eat, had racing thoughts, talked all the time, dressed bizarrely, began giving away some of my possessions, had visual and auditory hallucinations, and spent money like there was no tomorrow. Indeed, “no tomorrow” was the point - I came to believe I was a prophet who had a key role in saving the world during the Second Coming. In addition, I placed a restraining order on my parents because I thought they were going to kill me; drove like a bat out of hell; decided to wander around San Francisco for 3 days.....the climax came when I decided I needed to go to the major international airport and make a shrine to John Lennon in front of the Air France counter. I began speaking fluent French to anyone who would listen....I dumped the contents of my purse on the ticket counter....I had to see my uncle in France and leave this place before the End get the picture. Before I knew it, the airport police had cuffed me and took me into a very small cell. This only made things worse as I am claustrophobic! The ambulance people came and took me to the psych ward of the local hospital, where I stayed on a 5150 hold for 2 weeks. This time, my parents could no longer deny the extent of my illness or tell me I had been “making it up.” I was placed on Lithium, Depakote, and Haldol in the hospital, which was truly a nightmare. The Haldol made me feel like a prisoner in my own body - I could not get up from my bed and move around without assistance, my vision became impaired, and I drooled uncontrollably. I had to beg the doctor to lessen my dose! In the hospital ward, everyone was to have shared a room with one other person; I was the only person who had my own room. My roommate the first night was even more psychotic than me, and was yelling at me, accusing me of being a “false prophet.” She was taken to the “quiet room”, and I can’t remember seeing her again. For a while, I was so far gone it was feared I would end up in another, more restrictive setting after the 2 weeks were up if I did not get a hold of myself...quickly. But somehow I managed to be strong and get through the 2 weeks. I spent the next 1 ½ months at my parents’, being weaned off Haldol and trying to get back into “normal” life. Before I went into the hospital, I remember people looking in horror at me because of my I was getting weird stares because I was pale and sickly looking. When the dust settled, I was able to move back to my city and resume working at my job I had when I became sick; no one treated me “different”, in fact they sent me get well cards while I was in the ward. However, the financial toll cause by my mania was a big one...I was over $35k in debt and had to file for bankruptcy. As if I didn’t feel enough shame.

In 1997, right before Christmastime, my employer laid me off; however I had severance to get me through. I regrouped and decided now might be a good time to get my Masters’ degree (I had received my BA in Psych and was interested in a counseling career). I enrolled and graduated in 2 years with honors (3.85 overall GPA) while working a full time job. I also married for the first time around the same time I got my degree, and got a new job in my chosen field shortly after that.

Though I initially cursed Bipolar, I have come to realize it as the strange gift it truly is. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What I would say to anyone out there suffering would be hang tough- you are much stronger than you realize! And TAKE THE MEDS!!! Find a good doctor (they actually exist- I was surprised too) and work on finding the combination that is right for you. And be sure to have a support system, whether that is through online friends, family, or whatever. Bipolar folks are truly some of the most interesting people I have come across, and the world is a better place for them. Last, for anyone who might be contemplating suicide I would repeat a saying that sticks in my head....IT’S A PERMANENT SOLUTION TO A TEMPORARY PROBLEM.



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