This 28th year in my life, I would have to say, I have learned the most about myself. Most importantly I have learned how to love and accept myself, flaws and all.
It has been a rather difficult year. I had very high expectations for my new career, relationship, friendships, and life in general. Very little of what I dreamed and hoped for this year had worked out the way I expected. What I thought was my dream job turned out to be a nightmare. My two and a half year relationship ended. Friendships were broken and I became misunderstood. Sitting back now, approaching the 9th month of the year, it is hard to say whether or not I am happy about any of this. I do know, that through all of these struggles, I was able to find some inner peace and feel a sense of purpose in my life now.
Before, when I looked into the mirror, I could not even look myself in the eye. I did not recognise that person anymore. Where was the joy? The childlike sense of wonder and curiosity about life? It was not my physical appearance that bothered me the most, but the lost and sad look in my eyes. Not knowing who I was anymore, or what I wanted. I had made goals, and I had achieved them though hard work, studying and perseverance though physical and mental illness and their side effects. But I was not happy. I was not satisfied. I had moved to a city I had always wanted to live, but I still felt alone. It was not my partners fault, he truly tried to show his love for me. I had been very open from the start about my past and my troubles. I am a very complex person, and I didn’t know or understand at the time that you must truly love yourself first and foremost before loving another.
When I was a child, I was very shy and withdrawn. I was very sensitive to others around me. Starting in Kindergarten, I remember being very sad. I was sad and afraid that the other children did not want to play with me. I remember sitting alone in the corner playing with puzzles no one else wanted. I was confused and jealous when the teacher gave students extra attention. It made me feel more sad, like I was invisible. Throughout the rest of grade school years, I developed self esteem issues, anxiety, depression and sleeping problems. I remember being bullied on the school bus by a younger boy, who liked to bash my head against the window every morning. I could never stand up for myself or tattle.
I had a couple of friends and that helped, but I always felt uncomfortable and sad if I spent too much time away from home. Middle school was difficult because of puberty and changing schools. I was starting to feel many more emotions. It wasn’t fun being an ugly duckling–braces, glasses, pimples, flat chested, lanky limbs. I was lucky to make some friends who were just as awkward as I was, and that made things easier and more fun.
At the age of 14, I felt increasingly lonely and reached out to someone, anyone, online. That did not end well. At the age of 15 my depression was very severe. I began drinking. I drank just about every weekend and sometimes during the week for almost all of high school. Despite this, I maintained my 4.0 GPA, extracurricular activities, and even started college early.
It was during a college course, Abnormal Psychology, that I had realised that I fit the mold pretty well, according to the DSM-IV, of having bipolar disorder. I always thought that the mood swings and depression were a normal part of being a teenager, so I didn’t seek help at that time. I controlled my emotions by sometimes writing poetry and making artwork, and listening to music, but mostly when I was really down I would sleep and sleep, cry and not come out of my room. I had quit drinking for a while, because I had gotten in trouble with the law, and I wanted to make wiser choices after that, but also lost a friend along the way.
I made it though some college, obtaining an Associate’s Degree, but I had no idea what I would do next, so I enrolled in Cosmetology school. It had been something I had always been good at, and interested in learning. I was 19 when I started. Before the end of the 1800 hour program, I had to go on a leave of absence, because I felt like I was actually going crazy. This was the first time I had experienced such severe racing thoughts, extreme highs and lows, fluctuations of energy and temper. The thoughts in my head were racing so fast, it sounded like a million voices talking to one another, and nothing could quiet them. After my leave of absence, I had to face going back to school, when my whole class had already graduated. It was the start of the worst depressive period of my life. I had panic attacks and crying spells driving to the school. I did not want to see or speak to any of my hair clients, who had always looked forward to by bubbly, exciting personality. It was very difficult, but I graduated. I did not even want to go to the graduation ceremony or leave my house. I had no desire to apply for salon jobs, because my self esteem, and joy for life were gone. I worked at a gas station and would not leave the bed or bathe unless absolutely necessary. I had no appetite and cried every single day, for about 8 months, wanting so bad to die.
I went to a doctor and they put me on an antidepressant and very soon, the most severe, life threatening manic episode occurred. I will not go into details about what happened, but after that I was put on many, many combinations of drugs, and hospitalised many times. Nothing worked to calm the mania, except lithium, and I was on it for about 6 years, along with many other antidepressants, and anti-anxiety pills.
I graduated one year ago and started a professional career, but my mental illness was back to haunt me. During my training for the new, full time job at a hospital, I began feeling dizzy, having hot flashes, terrible stomach pains and headaches. I didn’t realise at the time but this was my body’s way of telling me it was under too much stress. All of my anxiety about starting in a demanding career field, and the stress of such a schedule turned into these severe physical manifestations of anxiety. I went though a lot of medical procedures and time in doctors offices and ER visits, but nothing was solved. It lasted up until the day I could not go back to work any longer, because of such extreme panic attacks, anxiety, and feeling that my mind was slipping away again.
I was very upset and felt like a failure, to have tried so hard in my new career, and then just quit. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. A disappointment. But the truth was, that I was not receiving proper care for my illness(bipolar). I had been seeing a psychiatrist, whom thrown me into panic attack mode just walking in, only spending ten minutes with me before writing another script and sending me off, even if I was in tears. I hadn’t been to counselling in a few years because the one at that office was not to be trusted again–after not recognising or telling my doctor about upcoming manic episode that he sensed.
The day I left my job was the turning point. I knew things had to change. I started taking yoga regularly and am now I am almost an instructor. Yoga and meditation have taught me to quiet my mind and listen to my body. I have also started seeing a new psychiatrist and counsellor, whom are much more professional. This is not the end of my journey, but a new beginning for me. Through counselling, yoga, meditation, writing, and making artwork, I have found many ways to deal with my symptoms. I have made a few new friends, and came into touch again with some old ones. I understand now, that to become happy and free, you must embrace your true self. Interact who those who know what you are going though, or if they don’t, at least they listen. Do not give in to the pressures of society and social norms. There is no true definition of “normal”. I have learned to march to the beat of my own drum, and follow what feels right in my heart. I’m not saying I have not made any mistakes, but at least I can say that I have tried. And I will try and try again.