It was 2007. I was 42 years old. I was on the floor of my closet, banging my head against the wall.
For my whole life I carried with me a sense of hopelessness and dread. The prospect of getting up in the morning, going to school, hanging out with friends, filled me with such a sense of hopelessness and dread. I hated myself and my life.
I didn’t know that I was different from other people – I thought life was this bad for everyone. I certainly never talked to anyone about what I was feeling. What was there to say? Life sucked.
As I grew up, my sense of hopelessness and dread stayed with me. My first day of boarding school someone handed me a bottle of vodka and, after a few shots, for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like a complete loser. For the first time in my life, I had hope. For the next 15 years, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t have a drink. Sometimes I had 5 drinks.
My college years were a blur – I would put my life at risk whenever I could. I would drive fast drunk, climb up on roofs, stay up for nights at a time, doing cocaine. I didn’t want to kill myself but I no longer wanted to live.
As I became an adult, I still carried that sense of hopelessness and dread with me. I went through periods of deep sadness followed by periods of high productivity. These ups and downs were exhausting but I was very high functioning. I was at the top of my field and, at times, I didn’t feel like the loser I always thought I was.
And then I got pregnant. And then I quit drinking. And everything changed.
Don’t get me wrong. I was an amazing mother, a so-so wife and still excelled at anything to which I turned my attention. I had friends, an active social life and a successful real estate career. On the outside, people thought that there was nothing that could stop me.
On the inside, however, I was dying. My hopelessness was taking over my life. The prospect of living another 30 years (or another 30 minutes) filled me with so much dread that I could barely handle it. I so wished my life would end but knew that I couldn’t leave my children.
I slogged through every day, holding my emotions deep inside me, hiding everything from those who loved me.
And then I stopped sleeping. And eating. I became obsessively controlling about every facet of my life. I would spend days being highly functional and then days cowering in bed when my family was out of the house. I was falling apart.
And no one noticed. Not even me.
It was a beautiful October day and I have no idea what happened. I was walking in the woods and my thoughts were racing. I ran into a friend who said afterwards that I was barely coherent. I went home, took a shower and then curled up in the back of my closet and starting banging my head against the wall. I screamed and cried and banged away.
Luckily, when I went into the closet I took my phone with me. I found the presence of mind to call a friend. She scooped me up and took me home and fed me apples and peanut butter while another friend found me a psychiatrist. I went to see him the next day.
It took the doctor 20 minutes asking me questions, and 20 minutes asking my husband the same questions to make sure I wasn’t lying, to diagnose me with bi polar II disorder, bipolar disorder characterized by long periods of depression and little blips of hypomania. I was 42 years old.
I went home and called my mom and told her about my recent diagnosis. She said ‘oh, your great-grandfather and grandfather were both bipolar.” I had never heard this before. I was 42 years old.
In that moment, everything changed for me. I recognized that I had a mental illness, one that was perhaps genetic, and I wasn’t going to let it control my moods, and my life, anymore.
I set out to learn everything I could about bipolar II and how to treat it. I followed my prescribed meds to the T, made big life changes around my sleeping and my diet, developed coping skills to help manage day by day and brought my community in to support me. Most importantly, I made it my life’s work to educate other’s about living with mental illness. Helping others helped me more than I can possibly say.
Being diagnosed with mental illness, and accepting that it was something I could live with successfully, gave me the opportunity to live a truly happy life. I started a life coaching business, raised two great kids, supported those who loved me and fell in love with a wonderful man.
I think back on that time in the closet not with hopelessness and dread but as THE moment in my life when I truly started to live.
How lucky am I?