October Warrior – Beatriz

October Warrior – Beatriz

Welcome to my October Warrior of the Month post! This one I am so excited about. When I first met Beatriz (or Bea), I was in a rough place. I had just started my blog, and was going through an episode of mania. One day, she commented on my post that she was happy to have someone speak so openly about Bipolar, as she struggled with it herself. I reached out to her and offered for her to be one of my Warriors and she immediately accepted.

We quickly became friendly with one another and shared our stories and struggles, as well as our interests. I am happy to call her a friend in my little community.

Read her story below:

Throughout my entire life, I’ve always felt alienated and confused as to why that was. Even as a child, I had mastered the art of overthinking and being fearful of everything outside of my comfort zone.

At fifteen I started getting regular panic attacks and this looming feeling of dread would chase me anywhere I went. I live in Portugal and in 9th grade, you’re made to choose between science, economics, humanities or arts. I chose science and was extremely unhappy during the first semester, as I was clearly in the wrong place. I would have panic attacks on my way to school and would beg my parents to skip almost every single day. At this point, my parents helped me reach out to my school counsellor. She was very kind to me and helped me change my major, which was a relief, although a minor one. I thought my symptoms would fade away if I changed my circumstances but, as a lot of us know by now, it did not work. However, I now felt comfortable enough to visit the school counsellor when I felt the need to, which was key. This was when I was first encouraged to pursue proper therapy, as she noted I was showing signs of depression and abnormal levels of anxiety. At this point I should relate how my symptoms had worsened. I had started feeling suicidal and harming myself. I would keep myself up at night, fantasizing about jumping out my balcony onto the cold floor. I was getting more and more desperate and saw no light at the end of any tunnels. At the same time, my body image issues worsened the whole deal. I would either diet or binge eat and started to throw up on purpose. At first, I excused it, telling myself I was honestly sick from eating a bit much but then the pattern settled in and it started to become a habit. However, as I started opening up about these feelings in therapy, feeling ashamed at first, I slowly started to understand the meaning of the word pathological and how these were possibly treatable things, not just inherent to my personality. My family practitioner, understanding my diagnosis to be depression, prescribed me Zoloft, which I took for a bit.

What I hadn’t realized, was that another big part of what I thought was just my personality, was also symptomatic. I thought having my depression interrupted by bursts of euphoria and productiveness, where I would stay up until 3am writing and drawing, were normal. I thought that the frustration I felt when people couldn’t and wouldn’t keep up with my erratic behaviour was just me being “difficult”, as I was sometimes described. Jumping from one hobby to another, from one goal to another, doing so much in one night I would get self-induced panic attacks from being sleep deprived and euphoric. These were all things I, as it has happened with many people before me, brushed off as not relevant at all. After all, I had always been told I was an obstinate and fickle young girl.

By then, my dad had also been experiencing what we also thought to be depression. He went to see a psychiatrist who also prescribed him with antidepressants, which did nothing. If anything, they made it worse. One fateful day, I happened to watch Demi Lovato’s documentary. As she started to describe the same exact things I just described to you, I remember feeling overwhelmed. I had never seen myself be understood so perfectly, as everything started to click. I saw myself and my dad in her words. All the symptoms I ignored and the ones I had not connected. Even writing about it right now is bringing tears to my eyes. I will always be grateful to her for opening up to the public and contributing to normalizing mental illness. At the time, I felt like I was being self-indulgent. Who was I to think I could have an answer to my problems, a name for what was wrong with me? Why would I be lucky enough to be validated? It’s been years and I still feel like this sometimes.

After some time of unsuccessful treatment, my dad changed to a new doctor. She finally diagnosed him with cyclothymia, a form of Bipolar Disorder, and properly medicated him with mood stabilizers. It’s been a long process, but he has never been better. This was when my therapist told me I should also see a psychiatrist, as she couldn’t properly diagnose me or treat me. I went to same doctor as my family and, as I was 17 at the time, she was reluctant to give a formal diagnosis. She changed my medication and kept a close eye on my process, taking her time in accessing my symptoms. As I reached adulthood, she started formalizing my diagnosis has having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Bipolar II, but this was a very slow process that stretched throughout my time at university.

During my first year, I continued to battle depression. By my second year, I made the decision to branch out and finally try to be more social, believing I could counter an illness with sheer will power. This was a decision that lead to some of the best and worst things in my life. I made the friends that are still with me today and made connections that made my college experience memorable. But I also started to drink more, and I started taking risks that, for a lot of people, are reasonable, but for me are very dangerous. I have very little impulse control and this attempt at a highly social and busy life triggered many hypomanic episodes. During this year, I made a lot of mistakes. The biggest one still haunts me today as it’s still too painful to talk about. That year I had my first mixed episode I can clearly remember the feeling of being excited and productive about ending my own life, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I still have a lot of open wounds from that year.

This dynamic lingered through my third year but by then I started to get a grasp on what it meant to live with bipolar. I started to identify my symptoms and be a bit more mindful of how my mood swings impacted my actions and how those in turn would have long lasting effects on my mental well-being. I still couldn’t control my symptoms and continued to engage in dangerous behaviour, but I managed to channel some energy into actual productivity, attending classes, being part of the board of my student union, and enjoying time with my peers. This was all incredibly tiring and some even bittersweet, but more positive. I can look back on those days and be content.

After I graduated, I was so jaded that I completely withdrew from outside life. I did a complete 180 and shut myself in isolation, only communicating with my family and occasionally, very close friends. I stopped using social media and rarely left the house. I stayed in and read, thought and breathed. A lot of people saw this as failure, or as my “bad year”. Yes, it wasn’t the healthiest of strategies but for me, this was the year I started to heal. I finally gave myself time to lick my wounds and start over. 

Today I’m 23. I slowly got out of my isolation chamber and reached out to close friends who were an actual positive influence in my life.  I’m now working on my master’s degree and I’m excited for the future. I’m finally on mood stabilizers and I have an immense understanding of my symptoms, how they manifest and even the cycles they often come in. That doesn’t mean I can always prevent them, but it sure does help. If anything, I feel like I’m starting to know myself and on the road to one day accept who I am wholeheartedly. I’m also immensely lucky to have a loving family, a mom that is always there to help me through episodes, a dad that reminds me every day to take my medication, and a brother that is somehow proud of me.

This isn’t a fairy tale, of course. My mood swings are still pretty much present, and I’ve recently started to have more panic attacks. Suicidal thoughts aren’t just in the past and pop up when I loosen my grip on life and self-care simultaneously. I have to be constantly vigilant. My work is often negatively impacted by my disorders and it’s something difficult to justify, as there’s still so much negative stigma around mental illness. I also currently have a lot of difficulty in developing new relationships, being very fearful to let people in. I’m very much afraid I’ll be stuck in this comfort zone forever and have constant intrusive thoughts about never being able to live a full life and dying alone. This is just to say, recovery isn’t linear. It goes up and down and it never stops. But even if you go back to zero, recovery is always possible. As cheesy as it sounds, tomorrow always holds the potential of something better. Today sure is. If it’s not, then we try to wait until the next day. If there’s anything I can learn from my depression, is that you must take time to take care and be gentle with yourself. And from hypomania, well, I have a tattoo on my arm, where I once would self-harm, that reads “Excelsior”. Onwards and Upwards.

Right now, I’m working on keeping a stable schedule and a rather boring life in an attempt to avoid any triggers I can. I don’t know it it’ll work or if life will ever be better than this. But I do know there’s a tomorrow and that I’m excited to find out.

           

                                                                                                                              Excelsior,

                                                                                                                                       Bea

Girl, like I told you when I first read this, you made me cry. You’re so strong and continue to amaze me with how smart and lovely you are. You are truly an inspiration to myself and other bipolar patients. Thank you for allowing me to share your story, and for being there for me in the dark times.

Stay tuned for next month’s Warrior of the Month!

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