Content warning for candid discussion of mood disorders, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
A mixed affected state (also referred to as a mixed episode) is symptomatic of many mood disorders, including both Type 1 and Type 2 Bipolar Disorder, the latter of which I have. I was diagnosed when I was 19, which is, roughly, when symptoms begin to present. I have major depression and hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes are, for the most part, more manageable than manic ones, though they are both severe in their own ways. The thing about hypomania is that when you’re up, you’re all the way fucking up. I have done a lot of stupid, irresponsible things in a hypomanic state, just because I feel like I’m invincible. I have done a lot of things I regret. I have hurt people and hurt myself, in whatever way that means to me and only me.
The main difference between hypomania and mania is that when I’m hypomanic, I’m here. I know what I’m doing, every single second, and I can’t stop it. I don’t want want to stop it.
But hypomania is, at least, somewhat manageable. For the most part. It’s less likely to give you hallucinations, delusions, less likely to turn you into fragments of yourself. But sometimes they happen regardless–especially when you’re coming down from an episode, and especially if you’re not taking the right medications. I’ve only ever had (up until that point) an intensely severe mixed episode once, a little over three years ago, in November of 2014.
Mixed episodes can last a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months. Your mood can change hour to hour. Minute to minute. It’s hard to quantify, really, how much you suffer before it feels like you have yourself back. When I’m like this, there are normally two reactions: me wanting to disappear and ignore the outside world and everyone in it, and me feeling like if I don’t move around, do something, anything, I’ll jump right out of my skin.
My friend asked me once what it was like to be both simultaneously, and I couldn’t fully get the words out. It’s hard to explain severe depression to someone who has never felt it. To explain that emptiness inside your chest. That nothingness that feels like it’ll go on forever unless you end it. However you choose to end it.
It’s hard to explain the exhilaration of standing at the edge of a roof of a three story building with no intention of jumping. It’s just that act: standing there, looking down at the street. Maybe you’re drunk. Maybe you’re high. Maybe you’re both, because you need to feel something. And you smile, and you breathe in and breathe out. Your feet on that ledge make you human, because the slightest gust of wind could push you over either side. And the thing is, when you’re manic? You don’t care which side it is.
For two months now, I’ve been trying very hard to be a person when I am at work, when I am outside, when I am on social media, when I talk to people. It is exhausting. It is exhausting to feel nothing and everything all at once. It’s life, coming at you from all sides, pushing in until you can’t tell where you end and your illness begins.
I’ve been on medication again for a handful of months now. I was okay. Then work and life hit, hard. I have severe anxiety, and it was suddenly so unbearable, so overwhelming that my psychiatrist upped the dosage of my anti-anxiety medication. What neither of us realized was that the anxiety was so bad it was overriding the fact that I was going through an episode.
Medicating yourself is about trial and error. Finding your baseline. That upped dosage destroyed mine. It sent me straight up into mania. Made my mixed episode multiply tenfold. I’d forget what I was saying halfway through saying it. I’d walk around the apartment and organize everything I could until five, six in the morning. I’d curl into the sofa and cry, and keep crying, and then suddenly I would stop. I wouldn’t eat, because I didn’t feel hunger. (I still don’t.) I’d talk to my roommate nonstop. I’d forgotten how to type. How words worked. I’d narrate whatever i was doing because it was calming. I’d sit down because I was dizzy. Then stand up, because my limbs were jerking from trying to be still. I’d stay awake until I could see the sun through the blinds, day after day.
I slept in the living room for almost a month because my room felt too small. Too stifling. Like the walls would close in on me if I stayed in there long enough.
A week ago, I kept thinking my roommate was talking to me–having full conversations–and I’d respond. She’d have to remind me that neither of us had said anything for minutes, a half hour.
A week ago, I was walking to the bathroom and I saw something in the hallway, near the backdoor. Somewhere, in the cognizant part of my brain, I thought, turn on the light. It’s just the mat you dry your boots on. But at that moment I didn’t know what it was–just something dark and bad, lying in wait in the shadows.
A week ago, I thought one of my best friends, Hope, was standing in front of my Christmas tree. I talked to her until I remembered that she lives about a thousand miles away, in Florida. The next morning, I couldn’t remember what I did after nine pm.
But this is how you deal: these things happen, and they continue to happen, until you find yourself again. In the meantime, you look for outlets instead. You try to ground yourself. You organize your entire room. You watch your cousin play Mario Party. You let him put a blanket on you when you’re curled up, crying on his sofa, because you tried to go outside and the world was so loud. And he says nothing because he knows that’s what you need: nothing being said. You write until your hand cramps. You actually call your parents. You watch every season of Bob’s Burgers until you have it memorized.
I told my roommate Lisette, again and again: today is Monday, right? Today is Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. I ate eggs earlier. There are keys in my jacket pocket. We’re watching TV. I’m here. This is real. I am here. And she always says, yes. You are.
The reason for this admittedly long introduction is that this is the third anniversary, to the day, of when I was released from the hospital. Very few people know that, and even fewer all the details that came with it. So, for the first time, I want everyone I know to see what it’s like to be in my brain. To know someone with a mental illness that comes at them with no warning. A lot of times when I’m like this – even when it isn’t serious at all – I write things down. Anything. It usually makes sense. Sometimes it’s just chicken scratch. And sometimes, it’s this:
I think I get tattoos because a stupid part of me feels like they will ground me to the earth. I can’t kill myself if I’ve put these words, phrases, symbols on my body that repeatedly tell me to hold on, go on, dig your way up out of the rubble that make up the broken parts of your brain.
Another part thinks I do it because if I kill myself, it’ll be a waste of money.
I keep telling myself I am real. I am real. I exist. And I keep explaining to people, to myself: no, I know this is a universe, and I know I exist like my dog exists, the laptop I’m writing this on exists, the earbuds playing music over the noises in my head exists. Corporeal, right? Or maybe that’s just for ghosts. But I am here.
I have to remind myself anyway. Ground myself like stabbing black wounds under the skin of my body: I’m here. I exist. This is not fake. None of what I feel is fake. It’s a little hard when your brain is constantly trying to convince you of otherwise. You’re at war with yourself, your body, your thoughts, you, you, you.
Sometimes I feel I’ll never stop moving. I’ll vibrate right out of my skin. A week ago I gasped awake for the second time that night in a panic and I sat up in the middle of my sofa and my first thought that felt like my own in days was: claw your skin off. Do it. Just dig your nails right in and fuck it all. Rip it all off so your outsides will match the insides.
Sometimes I want to lie down and curl up in a ball and stare at nothing, or stare at a wall, or my ceiling, or the stuffed elephant I’ve had since I was an infant. I try to write. I listen to music. Mostly, I am just there. I am nothing, and I am there. My body, my organs, my brain that betrays me like clockwork. Lumps of fat and scars and frizzy, unwashed hair. Dirty skin, chapped lips. I lie there and I ignore work emails, and the messages that come out of concern. I ignore the messages I want but don’t get. And it doesn’t feel
Like anything. Like the absence of
Just an infinite abyss of nothing, nothing, nothing. I could lie there for hours, days, months, years. I could rot in that bed. I could lock the door and not eat and not take my medication and I could sink into that bed, into the earth, into nothing.
I don’t know how I make myself get up on those days. I don’t know how I live in this body and continue to live in this body. That I have actively tried not to live in this body, and yet here it is, a miracle unto itself: here. Here. Here. Real and unreal.
I keep having to tell myself that none of this is fake. That my brain is not playing tricks on me by playing tricks on me. That doesn’t make sense, does it? But I think that’s the point. Or, that’s why I can’t figure it out. My brain is here, it’s in my head, and it’s there all the time. If there’s that inner voice there sometimes that doesn’t sound like me, how can I believe it?
I have to stop. That’s what I tell myself when it gets too much; I say it out loud: stop. I have to stop. Because if I don’t stop, if I don’t sit up and pause, or spit the words out in a google doc on my phone faster than my thumbs can work, or scratch it into a journal until it’s undecipherable, then it’s just me and my head. And my head is not a place I ever want to be alone in.
I can’t tell. I’ve been trying not to read what I’m writing because I need to get this out and I need to get it out even if it doesn’t make sense because that was the whole point. I think it’s funny that the favorite way I like to write, when I pretend I can write, is that loose flow, that stream-of-consciousness, stop-start, cutting off your thought mid-sentence, mid-word. Because that’s exactly how it works when I’m wired like this, itchy in my skin, jittering like I’ll never stop. If I don’t throw these words up they’ll stay stuck in my throat forever and I’ll never get them out, and they’ll always be halfway between being swallowed down and screamed raw.
I try to make my parents understand. I think it’s hard, unless you feel those exact things. I can say I don’t know what’s real but that’s not it. I know what’s real, it’s just that sometimes I don’t know if that inner voice everyone hears is me or not, but that makes me sound crazy. (That’s a bad word, I don’t like it, I don’t like using it but honestly? Sometimes I read the stuff I write when I only feel half there and there’s the only word my mouth tosses out: I sound fucking crazy.)
I tell my parents these things and my dad says they sound like things that mean I should go to a hospital and I tell him no, no it’s not like that, not again.
Everything is always eggshells after you try to kill yourself. It’s like a breach of trust between yourself and your parents. Every bad day can become a terrible one, an irreversible one. Can turn into sitting in a too-clean room after a week of your daughter being involuntarily placed in a ward with an ID tag on her wrist and a stupid fucking collection of drawings and notes on how to survive in a manila envelope, listening to a doctor say things like this is who she is.
This is who I am.
“Melanie has a propensity for severe depression.” That was said. Exactly that phrase, I remember it. Like I prefer dogs over cats, or listening to music wherever I can, whenever I can. Except it’s death.
I was told that I can have everything I want and still want to die. I mean, that got said right to my face – or not to my face, but to my parents’ – but I was twenty-three and hearing that
How do you come back from hearing something like that?
I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy the way other people are happy. I think I’m bad at loving. At understanding what people need. At being able to give them the things they need. My shoulders are beginning to rust and my mouth only parrots what I think it should and none of that makes me a real person. A sincere person.
I was sitting in the kitchen once with my roommate, my best friend, and we were talking about something, everything, nothing, and at one point she said something like, “I want us to have a white picket fence. A house. Some dogs.” and I thought
I thought that was a pretty thought. Because it is. A house, some dogs. A future I can’t ever see. I didn’t even think I’d make it to twenty-five. Every year – every month – feels like a surprise. I just keep waking up.
How do you make plans when you don’t even know if you’ll make it another 365 days? I’ll be twenty-six in five months – just under five months – and it’ll be another year I never thought I’d see. I still don’t know if I’ll make it to thirty. Maybe not even twenty-seven. I don’t mean for that to sound so scary. Or like it’s inevitable, because it isn’t. I don’t want it to be. I don’t want it to happen again. I don’t want to wake up like I did that morning three years ago when my brain was nothing, nothing, nothing and my body was just there, and I breathed in and I breathed out and
I have never felt such nothingness. The clearest my mind has ever been. I sat up and I thought, well, okay. So that’s it then.
There’s going through the motions and then there’s just… being unaware of them entirely. Hiding yourself in your room for four days, not sleeping, not eating, and then waking up and knowing it’d be the last time you’d do it. Then you put your clothes on one by one. Text your friends, hey, I love you, please remember that. And ignore their responses.
I felt absolutely nothing that morning and I never want that to happen again. Which is a step. Right? To not want that? Sometimes I think I feel too much and I don’t like it – that’s when everything is too loud, too present, and there’s so many people on this earth and so many bones in my body and so much blood in my veins and so much self-awareness that all I want to do is sit down and clamp my hands over my ears and say no no no I want out I want out
It’s Christmas. Or, it was. It’s the 27th now. I like Christmas. I like our Christmas tree, and the way it makes me feel like we’re richer, like we’re happier, and better than the reality we exist in. I look at that Christmas tree with it’s matching ornaments and our five stockings hung up – one for the dog – and the lights strung up along the windows and I can ignore the holes in our ceiling and the mouse traps on the floors and the fact that I left this home because it didn’t feel like a home anymore, just a place that was slowly closing in on me.
I think I can only love people when they’re away from me. Too close and I destroy everything. I love my family with everything I have but I cannot live with them if I want to keep breathing. And I don’t know how to say that without wounding them so deeply they never forgive. My mom might read this. And I’m sorry. I love her so much and I wish
I want to be a better daughter. I’ve always wanted to be a better daughter. I want to do the things she likes to do and I want to talk to her without some sort of undertone that makes me want to get up and walk out, and keep walking, whether it’s coming from her or me. I want to love my dad the right way. I want to love him even though it’s sometimes very hard to like him. I want to forgive him. I want to not hate that he’s given me the parts of myself I can’t control: my anger, my impatience, my broken brain. But he’s given me my wit too, my interest in everything, anything, my willingness to try. If my mom centered me then my dad made me realize the radius of my center could be whatever size I wanted it to be.
I want so much to love them in a way that doesn’t hurt them, but I don’t think I can. I don’t think I can be a person the way people need me to be. The way my friends need me to be. It’s a lot, you know? Being a person. Being here, being alive. Existing. Breathing in and breathing out. Waking up and waking up and waking up and sliding out of bed and stretching and doing whatever you need to do that day and always, always, always having that thought underneath everything, underneath all the wonderful things and all the terrible things, underneath the real laughter I let out, and the way I think I can always find a light
There’s always that thought that says I want to die.
I don’t want to. Not in any specific way. I haven’t for awhile. But it’s there. It’s always there. The way I prefer dogs over cats. The way I listen to music whenever, wherever I can. It’s a propensity. An inclination.
But I want to find light. I want to find light so badly. I want it breaking through the cracks; I want to shield my eyes from the force of it. I think I see glimpses of it. Like in the way my dad, for all he’s disappointed and hurt me, can still make me laugh. I want it in the way my mom has fought so many wars inside herself and still manages to be selfless. I want it in the way my brother hopes, endlessly, and how that frustrates me because I don’t understand it.
I want it in the way one of my friend’s mother is gone but she wakes up still and lives her life. And now she has a tiny, little bean growing inside her that will enter this world strong and beautiful and thoughtful and kind because that is who my sister, my sister, is, and that is who her mother was, too.
I want it in my friend who writes paragraph after paragraph about everything and nothing, about nail polish colors, and the way she stocks something at Walgreens, and the stifling Florida heat – but also about pain, and pushing through it, and wanting the most for people because that is who she is. She finds the light in everyone and everything and I want that.
I want it in my friend who sits in the living room with me for days on end and tells me she’s not babysitting me when I cry and when I get angry and when I pace around the apartment and talk so fast I can’t get a full thought out before I’m already onto the next. The one who wakes me up at 4pm with a plate of food and just says, “Eat,” just like that, like it’s so easy, and then it is. How she has so much hurt inside of her but she will sit there and sit there and sit there and listen to your hurt, too, and she will absorb it and respond to it and make you feel real real real.
My friends have suffered so much. My family has suffered so much. In a way that’s relative to who we are as people, but in a way that hurts nonetheless. The kind of pain that can stick its claws in you and never leave. The kind you sometimes, somehow, learn to pry off and let go of. And there’s a light in that, right? There’s a light. Like you reaching up and out. Like you hoping. Like one of your best friends getting married and you feeling nothing but joy in your heart.
I want that. My brain is so dark sometimes. It’s so dark. My brain, my body, my mind, the inner voice in my head everyone has. It’s dark, dark, dark and all I need is a sliver of light, just one fucking thing to hold onto. And I think I’m getting closer to finding it. I think this is the closest I’ve ever been. Because I don’t want to die. The day after the election, I couldn’t get out of bed and I thought: I turn 26 in six months. And I need to be able to afford medication. I need it, because I can’t die. Because I don’t want to. I don’t want to.
I have been depressed for nearly half my life and for the first time since I can remember, I want to be here. Really be here.
I am constantly fighting myself, constantly battling for control of my own reality, but that’s it: I’m fighting. Sometimes I lose, sometimes I win, but there’s still a fight left. There’s always a way to get back up. There’s always a way to put myself together again. To not feel broken. I just need a hand sometimes.
My brain has been knocked out from medication, has nearly ruined itself in a very permanent way, has sometimes split in two – depressive and manic – and I am so, so tired. I am so tired. Every bone and nerve, every synapse, every waking moment makes me tired. But I have lucidity. I always come back to myself. Always. I have months and months and months where I’m not like this. Where I laugh and it doesn’t make me feel like a fraud. Where I trust that my friends love me the way I love them. Where I tell my parents I love them, and they don’t panic and think I am saying goodbye.
I make a list in my head of the things in my life that are light, but the truth is my light is looking for one. It’s that search. That purpose. That moment where I open my eyes in the morning and I breathe in and I breathe out and I get out of bed and I go on. And I go on. And I go on.
Mel is 25, super into dogs, and binge watches an inordinate amount of Bob’s Burgers.