This is another addition my interview feature series on The Bipolar Writer. This is the story of Liz S.
A Story of Loss, Death, and Living with Bipolar Disorder
Loss and death. We all deal with it in different ways. When those of us with a mental illness lose someone it can be an instant relapse. The thing that you have been repressing for so long comes out stronger than ever before. Death is never easy to deal with, and for Liz S., her life went through a radical change with the death of her husband.
Liz’s husband was the rock in her mental illness and his sudden death in his sleep ripped apart her world. It would leave her lost in a house full of memories of her husband.
“I began finding “old friends” emerging from under my bed–OCD, anxiety, and insomnia. With these came the panic-attacks, agoraphobia, and PTSD. It was too much for my brain to handle and I lost myself in grief for many years,” Liz recalls.
When you mix grief and loss with a mental illness it is easy to turn to vices that are counterproductive. Liz began to use drinking as a coping mechanism and used shopping as a way to forget. Liz would shop until she maxed out her credit cards during manic episodes.
“I did anything I could to forget that what I had believed to be my Shangri-La was gone. Before me stood a future of nothingness.”
No matter what medications prescribed to Liz, it was a lost cause because she had lost her whole world. It seemed to her that she would never find her way back.
Liz comes from a small farming town in Upstate, New York and an island in Michigan. She has been fortunate to be a world traveler and has lived in different cities and cultures. Liz considers herself a citizen of the world having met people from all corners of the globe.
Liz’s mental illness journey began at the age of twenty-five. It at this age that she received a diagnosis of Bipolar Two. For Liz even with the feeling of being different than the people around her, she was able to fit in. Liz looks at her early childhood as simple. It was a childhood where she would play outside, she had steady friends, and loved nature. But things changed when she moved to a larger city when she was twelve.
“I felt like a fish out of water and hated the town. I would spend every night fantasizing about leaving once I graduated,” she remembers. “My senior year I felt a slow numbness and distance hit me. An invisible wall separated me from my friends and activities I once held dear.”
Liz believed these feelings were a part of getting older. The need we each feel that we to leave our hometown, it is common for people. Liz believed life would be great once she left town. Life isn’t always so simple.
In her junior year of college, Liz studied abroad in what she describes as a manic swing year when looks back. It was still one of the best years of Liz’s life, where there was magic around every corner. There was real excitement each day, and it felt in that year that Liz’s wish for her life to be great had come true. She had left her home and was having a real life.
When she returned home to the states for her senior year of college Liz found herself in a relapse. The fairy tale life that Liz was living came to an end. She hated her college, “I became depressed, isolated anxious, and couldn’t sleep. I would stay awake all night and paint. While my college acquaintances dreamt about grad school or Fortune 500 jobs.”
The voice to get out of this place was once again screaming inside her head.
Liz made the decision after college to move out West taking the usual jobs for college graduate jobs as a barista and in retail. Liz was at the beginning of her adult life, and trying to “find herself.” It was during this time that Liz began to date man who she decided to start a business with.
“Soon after we began to make a name for ourselves in the wares we sold, I discovered his true nature. He was very angry. It was simmering under the surface, with me in the middle. I was emotionally damaged by this man. It led to my disease finally rearing it’s ugly head and going full-blown nuclear,” Liz explains.
It was the situation and the stress. Liz found it contributed to her foray into deeper into her mental illness. Liz lived in chaos, and she would spend days at a time staring at the walls. It became terrifying to go outside or to hear the phone ring. When Liz would rapidly cycle she should get as much done as possible when she had the energy. Liz played Russian roulette most days as she no longer knew what her mind or body would do on a given day.
“All I understood was the pain. I remember telling one of my sisters on the phone that I wanted to peel all the skin off my bones. That was how raw I felt.”
Liz was sinking deeper into her depression and it was leading her down the path of suicide. It was common most days for Liz to think of ways to end her life. Liz would imagine driving into oncoming traffic or into a tree. She dreamed about overdosing on Advil hoping that it would be enough to never wake up again. It was time for Liz to get help.
“I went to my first shrink and did all the tests,” Liz talks about the early parts of her diagnosis. “In some ways, when he told me the diagnosis, it was a relief. It was the wiring in my brain, and there were ways to cope with it.”
It would be the path of taking the correct medicine for Liz and ending her toxic relationship. Liz decided that she wanted to become a writer. Writing became her saving grace throughout the years and she began looking for a new home. Liz moved back to a town near her old college, where she met the man that would become her husband.
“I told him immediately about my diagnosis. I wouldn’t want anyone to be in my life without knowing what may be in store for them. But, he was my saving grace. Our environment was peaceful, serene, and surrounded nature. He told me he would always support me,” she recalls.
Liz’s husband also told her that she had to do the work and take ownership of her health. She understood when her husband told her that he could not do it for her. After one of the most draining depression cycles of her life, Liz pulled herself together. She found a great shrink and therapist. Liz began the journey of CBT training which helped her get better.
Liz found in her husband the support system that she needed. It became a relationship where Liz didn’t have to hide her flaws behind a facade. For the first time, she could be herself. But life, it can be cruel. When Liz lost her husband it sent her spiraling for many years.
In the years following the death of her husband, Liz did the things she thought she had to do. She went back to grad school. Liz made the right decision and went to rehab. It was imperative to Liz to begin to work on managing her Bipolar disease which had been spinning out of control.
Liz was able to find a “normal” job after grad school and did her best to fall in “with the rest of the normal people” in life. Liz recognizes that it was never easy for her. She always felt an invisible wall separated her from others.
“The career I chose has changed so much since those halcyon days. I thought I could make a difference in this profession” she explains. “I no longer feel as if it is the right fit. Every day is a struggle to put on the facade and face the world.”
How does Liz get through a single day in her mental illness life? It takes sheer willpower the majority of the days. Liz considers herself a high-functioning Bipolar person. In her childhood, her parents had high expectations, and her training was to be perfect.
At the moment Liz has a new partner, though they are currently living in different states. Family obligations keep him away from Liz, so she feels very isolated most days. It can be a struggle to get out of bed with little sleep. It is harder on the day where her anxiety leads to panic-attacks at the worst times. Liz took her current job in hopes to escape the toxic environment she was in, but it’s more of the same.
“I have found myself in yet another cold “work till you die position.”
For Liz it’s about her meditation, focusing on exercising, and eating right. All these things are a struggle in her life but she manages. Some days Liz zones out and binges on Netflix. What helps the most is her writing and finding others who share the agony of daily life with being Bipolar.
“Then there are days when I want to go to the hospital and have a lobotomy or locked back in the ward. To keep the outside world at bay,” Liz explains.
Our mental illness affects each of us in different ways. For Liz, having a mental illness makes her impulsive and reckless. She does her best to keep it under control. The worst parts of Liz’s illness is getting lost in the deep abyss of her depression. Along with being Bipolar, Liz has developed other aspects of her illness. When her panic attacks, anxiety, and insomnia combine, they fight for the best parts of Liz’s soul.
“I feel that the freedom I once had, the courageousness, has flown away and my life has become very limited. Very confined. But because it is a disease in my brain and no one can see it. I find there is little tolerance in this country for people affected by mental illnesses.”
Liz wants to share with the community with this article this simple fact. Together the mental illness community can work to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness. Liz finds comfort in celebrities who have come out and talk about their own struggles. It reaches a broader audience and helps lessen the stigma.
“Through my own writing and this amazing blog (The Bipolar Writer), I have found a wonderful community. It is a community of people who are struggling but not giving up,” Liz explains. “It has bee one of the most wonderful discoveries of the past year for me.”
Writing a mental health blog has helped Liz though a rough last sixteen month period in her life. If it wasn’t for her blog and journaling, Liz believes she wouldn’t be here today.
“It helps me to be honest with myself and I share my writings with my therapist. It is my therapist that encourages me to keep writing. That I am not playing a “victim role.” To find what will lessen the stress in my life so I can find a way to live my dreams.”
One thing Liz would like me to add to this interview feature is that she loves life. Liz is a firm believer that things can get better. It is important in her mind to stay away from toxic situations. It’s important in Liz’s life to maintain a schedule. That means getting enough sleep and exercise. It means getting back to the CBT training that she received.
One of the most important things in Liz’s life is getting back to the tenants of Buddism. “Which allowed me to live in serenity when my husband was alive,” Liz explains.
Liz has been on a journey over the years since her diagnosis and even before everything. What we learn from these interview feature stories is that we all have a path we walk. The journey is never easy and it is always filled with triumphs and failures. When I share the story about Liz’s struggles with Bipolar disorder it’s another step in the right direction. We continue to shed the stigma of having a mental illness. Each story brings us real life because having a mental illness is real.
If you would like to see more from Liz please visit her blog:
Interviewee: Liz S.
Author: James Edgar Skye