I could easily write a 5,000 word essay on this topic; maybe one day I will. This is an abbreviated version:
Over night, my brain became a frenzied jumble of free associations. Every system I could imagine (friendships, technology, routines) opened up, and I was in the center of all of it, connecting all the dots.
I thought that Leelah Alcorn, the trans-teen from Ohio who committed suicide, was an elaborately staged message created by a group of people on Tumblr. Meaning, I thought she was not a real person – more of a call to action, one more thing to add to “The Transgender Tipping Point,” and finally really make some changes happen.
But I thought a lot of things right around this time period, for a couple of days. I believed I’d been chosen for amazing things, I was choosing my own adventure, and the further I could get before running into a dead-end setback, the more rewards I would gain. If I made it to my therapist’s office, she was going to give me this new phone I’ve had my eye on. If I made it through the entire day, I’d be going to a party thrown by everyone I know. I briefly had the thought, “My partner wouldn’t like that; that’s too much.” So my logic led me to believe I shouldn’t make it through the day at this rate. I should definitely get the new phone, but I should see what my therapist thought after that. Maybe.
Some things were already in motion, and there was no stopping me! My social media outlets were blowing up! My blog was going to get huge at this rate, and I was going to get a book deal out of it. Should I quit my job? I kinda like working there, as a janitor, so I’ll keep my job. I better write a note so that everyone will know I wanna go back to work. I pulled out one of those Mr. Sketch scented markers – it was Blue Raspberry – and scrawled out really big and doodle-y on a piece of artist’s paper, “I will want to go back to work.” It was barely legible. When I showed my therapist a few hours later, in fact, she couldn’t read it, so I just had to tell her I want to go back to work. I wouldn’t want to be someone who sits around all day, writing their book. I would get bored!
I called my therapist at 2AM and asked her, “Can you just come over?” I called her again at 7AM, just to see if she’d drop by instead of me meeting her at her office at 9. I was making some really cool displays in the house, and I wanted her to come check them out. I was playing a record – The Days of Wine and Roses by The Dream Syndicate, and everything was clicking into place. (Actually, the record is still on my turntable, untouched 4 months later – I’m playing it right now.) The lyrics were making perfect sense and informing me of things I should write down. “You say it’s a waste / not to learn from mistakes.” “Textbook case.” “It’s Halloween.” “She remembers what she said.” These messages were of utmost importance. This record was THE record to end all records.
By 8AM I was so bored and fidgety from doing stuff all night long, that I decided to take off for my therapy appointment early. I had everything I needed packed – My toothbrush and toothpaste, notes from work, and 6 bottles of hoarded Androgel (my prescription allows me to get more than I need, so I just collect them). I had no clue what would be happening next or how long I’d be gone after therapy (I might be put up in a hotel!), but I could figure out clothes and other stuff later.
Driving was a bit tricky. I was relying on intuitive cues, more than the rules of the road. Fortunately, my gut was telling me to slow way down and put my hazard lights on, rather than try to drive at the speed my mind was racing. I still got there early; when I arrived, I slammed my backpack into the corner of the waiting room, above the door. To alert the security cameras that I knew all about it. A man briskly walked past me and out the door. He was planted there to exit when I arrived. I proceeded to be loud and messy. I dumped out a bin of toys. I knocked over a chair. I said, “I’m borrrred!” I talked loudly about a Mazda advertisement on the back cover of a magazine. I finally understood how advertising worked – they weren’t fooling me! In fact, this whole magazine was rigged. I should just take it with me – I’ll need it later. I stuffed it into my backpack. One other therapist was there (this was a Saturday) and she tried to gently corral me until my therapist got there. She picked up the toys. She said she’d call my therapist for me. She talked to me in a steady and soothing voice. She wasn’t patronizing me.
Finally, my therapist arrived. We engaged in a delicate dance around each other. I knew on some level that I was going to the hospital. But I also knew that wasn’t necessary, and she was totally going to come over and check out my displays and then I’d be reunited with my partner to proceed with the most fun day ever! In reality, my partner was on her way to North Carolina with family (I’d successfully convinced her everything was fine / I believed she was just out with friends and I’d see her in a couple hours.) My therapist started calling hospitals for availability, and I conveniently went to the bathroom to shield myself from that stuff. I came back and dumped out all the contents of my backpack. This would be more fun. She immediately sorted things into piles to make sense of it. She called my partner and left a message. She asked me what my best friend’s phone number was and I told her. I left the room again while she talked on the phone. Before I knew it, my best friend was there! Magic! Everything was going my way.
I talked to my friend about the displays and we played Rubix cube. Suddenly we were all leaving. They led the way, and I went into the bathroom again. I wasn’t so sure anymore. I yelled out, “I set some things in motion, and I don’t know if I want it to go this far.” We were still just going to my house, right? My therapist replied, with forced enthusiasm, “Come on!”
I got in the car with her; my best friend went separately. I curled up into a ball and shielded my eyes from the world. I started to feel sad; I verbalized what I thought about Leelah Alcorn. I said, “I don’t know much about it. I know her name, where she’s from, and that’s about it.” She had been on the news. That was big. What I was trying to convey was that no one knew much about it. If everyone just saw her picture, her name, and her suicide note, maybe she wasn’t real. And maybe this kind of stuff happens all the time. What is real in the media? Scattered thoughts breaking down. My therapist said, “I don’t actually know where you live.” I replied, desperately, “Yeah, but you can find out.” She had a smart phone. People with smart phones seamlessly glean information all the time.
We weren’t going to my house. When we stopped and I uncurled myself, we were at the hospital. But it still wasn’t too late. If I just told her this is where it ends, and we go to my house from here, everything could still be OK. I looked her straight in the eye; I put my face two inches from her face. I said, “This is where it ends.” This had worked with my partner a few hours earlier. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I gave her the green light to go on her trip. This time was different. My therapist probably interpreted that as, “The journey ends here, at the hospital.” I meant here in the car. Still though, I complied and followed her. After all, my best friend showed up here too, so it probably was all OK.
Five hours later, I was on the psych ward. I’d been in the emergency department. My mom had shown up. I had talked to my partner on the phone – it finally sunk in she was 6 hours away, and she and her family were turning straight around. My best friend had been with me. My therapist had left at some point. I’d peed in a cup. I’d gotten blood drawn. I’d signed some papers by drawing big loops over the entire page, not knowing what I was signing, exactly. But now, it was just me, and suddenly my choose your own adventure had come to a dead halt. There was no more choosing. I started yelling, panicking. “I NEED MY VITAMIN D PILL AND ELDERBERRY SUPPLEMENT!” I needed to maintain my body’s delicate homeostatic state. I was given a pill and took it; it was Haldol. It knocked me out for 18 hours. Before I faded out, the nurse was talking to me really sternly. She was really butch. “Do not start shouting on my unit – we don’t do that.” “I know I know it’s not like me at all…” “Also, you smell really strongly bad so I’m going to shut your door.” Then she started yelling. “He gets whatever he wants!” And I was out.
Today is the 2nd annual World Bipolar Day, an event that strives to educate the public about bipolar disorder and encourages an open discussion to end the stigma associated with brain illness. There’s a facebook page where people can share stories, and there’s lots of links to different organizations. It was chosen to fall on this day because it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday. He is said to have suffered from bipolar disorder, and he committed suicide at age 37. Bipolar disorder is fairly rare – roughly 1% – 2% of the population are bipolar. Some estimates say up to 5%, but there is this sense that it’s over-diagnosed. When I have questioned in therapy whether I am bipolar, she has replied something to the effect of, “That was a very popular diagnosis then. A lot of teens were being diagnosed.” Sometimes people think they have it because their moods are extreme; really something else might be going on.
I thought I’d take a minute to reflect today about whether I am bipolar or not. I mean, I did just go through a delusional manic episode 2.5 months ago, no doubt about it. And I am currently sinking through a rebound depression – definitely a clinical level depression. But I strongly do not think I am bipolar. It’s been 15 years in between episodes, and I’ve only ever had 2 episodes. Much of that time I’ve been off all medications. I can accept that I have bipolar-like tendencies (and I’m hyper-sensitive to stress levels), but I don’t think I fit the criteria, nor do I think I need to be medicated long term. In fact, I plan to go off my medications in a couple of months once this passes and I feel like myself again.
My new psychiatrist told my partner, “Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.” Meaning, I’d been (mis?)diagnosed already (at age 17), and there’s no taking that back. ??? He thinks I need to be medicated forever. He doesn’t get that I’ve been stable and have managed issues in my life in other ways for a long time. I’m pretty sure someone who is really bipolar doesn’t get to do that.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually be bipolar. To have to balance a medication cocktail indefinitely or suffer the consequences. Because when you’re actually bipolar, you can have an upswing or downturn without much prompting, if you’re un-medicated or if the medications are not right for you. If I was pretty sure I would be going through more mania and more depression in the near future, I would be living in fear of that. I honestly do believe I am prone to going through mania and depression again, but to a much lesser extent than someone who actually has bipolar disorder. And that’s scary enough.
One other factor that makes me think I have bipolar-like tendencies has been my reaction to SSRIs. I took Paxil for a few weeks about 13 years ago, and it caused me to feel super agitated and become hypomanic. Apparently this will happen if people with bipolar disorder take SSRIs. I do take this seriously, but ultimately I’d have to say I do not have bipolar disorder. Today I’m thinking about everyone who actually does.