Growing up, I always thought of myself as living with “just” anxiety or “just” depression. After all, there is a history of the two mental illnesses on my mom’s side of the family. However, a few weeks of being isolated in quarantine due to COVID and one trip to my doctor’s office in the middle of May made me start thinking differently.
After feeling consistent symptoms of anxiety and depression starting to creep back up on me while in quarantine, I decided to take a visit to my Primary Care Physician. She advised that I get bloodwork done to assure that I did not have any major vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, etc.
I had gotten my bloodwork done and returned to my doctor’s office to find out the only minor deficiency I had was with my Vitamin D levels. “I’ve tried multiple medications for anxiety and depression in the past,” I said to my doctor hopelessly as she reviewed my file and notes from previous visits. “Everything just makes me feel exhausted – like a zombie. Why does nothing work for me?”
“Well… you might be dealing with some kind of a bipolar disorder,” she replied. I was a bit stunned. Scared. Shocked. Bipolar? My doctor sent me home with three things that day. One, confusion and uneasiness. Two, a prescription for an antidepressant. Three, a recommendation to speak with a psychiatrist about the possibility of Bipolar.
About two weeks into taking antidepressants, I found myself having trouble sleeping at night and also feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. I remember laying on my bed in tears on a Saturday, feeling like there was a bowling ball on my chest and I was breathing through a straw.
I called the on-call number for my Primary Care Physician and asked if increased anxiety, or waking up at 3am multiple days in a row with racing thoughts and lots of energy inside of my body, were normal side effects of my medication. He instantly said, “That sounds like it could be a side effect of Bipolar Hypomanic.”
There it was again. Bipolar, and the same stunned, scared, and shocked feelings that I felt before.
With the help of my therapist who I was already seeing at the time, as well as my own deep dive into the internet, I understood the different criteria for a Bipolar Type I or a Bipolar Type II diagnosis. Bipolar Type II is specifically characterized by experiencing one depressive episode that lasts two weeks and one hypomanic episode that lasts four days.
My therapist and I really got into the nitty-gritty and started questioning if I live with Bipolar Type II. Then, just one appointment with my new psychiatrist was enough for her to agree with that assumption. It was not “just” anxiety or “just” depression… it was, and is, Bipolar Type II. Which was why “just” an antidepressant and therapy were never enough.
Every day I currently take medications to help with my mood and depression. I also have a virtual therapy appointment weekly and a virtual psychiatry appointment biweekly. I made the tough but necessary decisions to live at home with my family and take a few months off of working as well, to focus on healing mentally while keeping my stress and anxiety levels at bay.
Being open and honest with myself and others about what I am going through has helped me overcome my initial feelings of fear, shock, and confusion. I am very grateful that I can talk about my mental health very openly to my mom, my boyfriend, my therapist, and through Instagram. I also meditate, journal, and set aside time for myself to process my own thoughts.
Please know that it is okay to not be okay. There is no “right” or “wrong” time to ask for help. There is only time itself. You do not have to feel “broken” or at rock bottom to go to therapy, take medication, etc. You can and should and deserve to get the help you need. Mental health is no different than physical health. If you broke your arm or your leg, you would go to a doctor or a hospital and get help, correct? Your brain deserves the same level of care, day to day and week to week. You deserve to heal.