5 Ways Bipolar Made Me Punk Rock
*written by my 24-year-old self; edited at 31.
1. I made the choice to be transparent.
I read the exit papers from the University of Iowa Hospital, and my first concern was my resume. It sounds silly, ridiculous even. But a Bipolar diagnosis is something most people in most professions can hide:
But I’m a writer. My resume is never alone.
In fact, my resume plays second to whatever I’ve written. And what I write matters to me. Mental health matters to me. Which meant (dun, dun, dun), I’d be writing about it.
If I am to defy my diagnosis — if I’m to process the new trauma: I knew I would not only be writing about it but performing, singing, and shouting about it — knowing anyone could read what happened to me.
2. During my second year of college, my mind just seemed to...pop.
On the other side, I see myself more clearly: the way my oscillation between depression and mania kept me separate and unable to connect with other people while projecting a happy, carefree woman.
It was all too easy to deal with my emotions alone and take my smile into the world.
The doctors said I was a special case. In solitary confinement, I was a wild animal (obviously, doc). Then days later, I seemed to be normal: quietly enjoying morning cartoons like a toddler who drinks coffee.
When I left this hospital (my third), I finally went home. Turns out, Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again. (It took me a long time though…I still find pieces.)
3. I tried to do what the doctors told me (it didn't work).
I took their medication and answered their stupid questions,
“Have you seen anything that isn’t there?”
“Anything; giraffes, elephants, Jesus Christ.”
Riddle me this: if I see giraffes, how do I know they’re not there? As though my delusions are so far outside of reality that I’d bring a giraffe into the Midwest.
If I’m going to see an animal that isn’t there, it will be a deer (but again, how would I know it’s not there?)
- The anti-paranoia meds gave me fits of fear.
- The anti-anxiety pills sent me into bouts of tears.
- The anti-psychotics made shadows bounce off the walls.
- Lithium turned me into a stone cliff face, unable to feel or move.
Byron said, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
Well, I have been mad and I had been writing. The medications that were life-saving at the hospital, made me mad outside of it. Moreover, I refused to accept the unfeeling shell deemed my safe range of emotion. To succumb would be to accept death, but I survived.
So despite the decree of the medical system and with support from my mom, I began to wean off all of the medication – until seven months later my brain was again my own.
Editor’s Note: Medication is essential for many. I have not found any that work for me. This, too, is valid and worth sharing. THC and CBD are my most reliable medicinal tools. I rely on my support system to know my health non-negotiables and offer stern directions should I need it.
4. I finished school.
When I left the hospital, everything was scary. Every adventure of leaving my house was a courageous leap in trusting the universe to see me through. I began by walking to my best friend's house. After a month, I took my first solo drive.
After a couple months, I trusted myself enough to take my dog, Buddy for a nature walk. It was a lovely day. I parked in the girl’s dorm parking lot — where I had lived and parked many times before — to access a nearby trail.
After getting back to my truck, I felt the impulse to walk into Admissions. So I did. I returned to college less than five months after leaving the psych ward. Don't ask me how. I am in awe of that person just as much, if not more, than you are.
I am incredibly appreciative to the wild, beautiful version of me who said, “F**k this sh*t. I choose my future.”
5. I was enrolled in Physics while weaning off medication.
My school runs on a block system, allowing students to focus on one class each month. Physics is a required core class that many students flunk the first time and have to retake. It's famous for being the dreaded core class.
But I had a million writing classes I wanted to take — I was not taking Physics again. I only had to make it through four weeks.
In the hospital, I was given a PSAT test to occupy my time. I remember staring at the page and saying, “It’s gone. The math is gone.” (I re-taught myself long-division a year later because it never came back.)
I was completely weaned off medication by the third week of Physics, and relatively confident I would get an A in class. I didn't just pass my first class back in school, I returned to being the engaged nerd I've always been.
It seems silly, ridiculous even. But I realized that I was still the same person, capable of learning more, creating more — writing more.
Which meant I could sing, too. Which meant I could learn to trust myself again. And there is nothing more punk rock than that.