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Trampolines & Traffic Lights This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , West Tisbury, MA
When things get so bad that you are awaiting admittance into the psychiatric ward to receive intensive treatment for mood instability, self-harm, eating and body image issues, and panic attacks, you wonder how your life ended up this way. Fortunately, my depressive episode ended two days after the proposal for hospitalization arose. This depressive episode happened to be my first major depressive episode and ironically started on the day the Mayans predicted the world would end. It lasted exactly three weeks and was hands down, the worst time of my life so far.

I had been experiencing bouts of mild, short-duration depression and mania since freshman year, two years prior. I had also had a lifetime of unduly short-fused, moody, and bellicose behavior that resulted in severe temper tantrums that occurred on a daily basis. It was only until junior year (2012-2013) when I finally got a taste of what “real” mood episodes felt like. Believe me, they’re not fun.

Five days after my depressive episode ended, on January 17, 2013, I met my therapist, Sacha. Sacha would ultimately be the person that would save my life. When I met Sacha, I felt like she was the first person to take me seriously enough that I knew she was going to help me receive the best treatment possible and I was right. This wasn’t a flimsy Band-Aid anymore; this was several months of cleaning out very bad wounds. It hurt, boy did it hurt. Was it worth it? Yes. For before Alice could see Wonderland, she had to go through a dark hole.

On March 8, 2013, three weeks before I turned 17, I went to my first appointment with my current psychiatrist, Dominic, who essentially diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. He put me on Lamictal and within about a month, I started to see stability within myself. That was the best feeling in the world.

I like to think of my bipolar in two metaphors: trampolines and traffic lights. The trampoline one goes a little something like this: Everyone has a trampoline, in which they jump on day-in and day-out. “Jumping” represents one’s ability to have fun, be happy, creative, and productive, and carry out day-to-day activities. I, as a bipolar person often jump normally with just enough height. But somewhere along the line, this all changes. Without warning, your trampoline gives you superpowers. You jump so high and with so much force that you’ve got your head in the clouds. You’re euphoric and have so much energy and such poor judgement and impulse-control. You may as well be binge-drinking and hopped up on excess caffeine, but it’s occurring naturally. You are overwhelmingly saccharine and obsequious, like coffee with way too much sugar. You are so syrupy sweet that it concerns people. You can’t slow down or stop fidgeting, talking, smiling, or giggling.

Everyone is looking at you with inexplicable concern and fear for blasting Lady Gaga’s “Heavy Metal Lover” (which has lyrics pertaining to sex, alcohol, perfume, rock music, unicorns, ruling the world, and teenage mayhem) at three o’clock in the morning, Simultaneously, you are writing a history paper that’s five pages beyond the maximum length without feeling the least bit tired. The day before, you said you were.going to New York without parental supervision when you have cerebral palsy. This is a byproduct of the fact are disconcertingly arrogant. When you look at fashion magazine, you think, “I could model for Marc Jacobs one day!” (you are disabled and under five feet tall) You then change your mind shortly after thinking that you should audition for the New York City Ballet. (you have cerebral palsy and you are brilliant for a disabled dancer, but nowhere good enough to audition for a company such as that) You think everything’s peaches and cream when the reality is far from it. “Stop! Calm down, what the hell are you doing?” is a response to the utterly foolish behavior you get on a daily basis. Suddenly, that response turns euphoria into hostility that is beyond belief. Rage fizzles in your flesh like soda mixed with poison.

You eventually float up to the clouds again though with euphoria; your mind buzzing with creativity and ideas, never getting tired with shooting stars taking the place of normal thoughts. They are bright, amazing and fast. You can’t slow them down and they emulate race cars in this way. Sexual desire consumes your soul and your wishes to engage in promiscuity and vehement and unprotected sex uncontrollable. You are lecherous and are what I call a “neurobiologically-induced slutty b****” so to speak. All you want is to get lovedrunk. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll are all you think about. Not being able to have sex when manic is unfathomably frustrating. Other than a raging libido, you also have strong urges to do drugs such as marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy and drink excessive amounts of alcohol, particularly various types of hard liquor. My parents are lucky that I’m disabled, because I would be able to act upon those urges otherwise.

I would max out credit cards on designer clothes if I could and possibly dye my hair hot pink. The funny thing about this is though is that my baseline (stable and normal) self is an extremely modest demisexual who would love to wait for the right person. I also plan never to drink; not even a single sip of champagne. (genetic tendency + addictive personality + bipolar + cerebral palsy + interactions with Lamictal = I would not respond well to alcohol consumption) Mania is a straight-up case of a good girl gone bad and a clockwork orange?a person who looks 100 percent pure, but has the potential to be a saint or a sinner with equal intensity

Then comes the crash: the superpowers stop and you come down and leave a giant, ugly gaping hole in the trampoline. It gets extremely dark and cold, unlike mania where the sun and stars are blinding you. With depression, the sun never comes out. Even if it does come out temporarily, you always revert back to darkness. You feel hopeless, trapped, tearful, confused, and cold. All your thoughts are gone. They’ve been soaked in liquid tar mixed with chewing gum. The thoughts you do have are very morbid and come slow, staggered, jagged sharp heavy. You’re drowning in your own melancholy. Interacting with people becomes unbelievably arduous and you feel dull, awkward, and downright boring.

You lose all motivation to do anything and you don’t even want to come out of your room. “You know there’s a light switch in your room...” your sister says as you’re lying there in the dark on purpose scratching your arm with a USB port. Getting out of bed proves virtually mentally and physically impossible. Run-down, sluggish, and incapacitatingly groggy, you feel a heaviness in your limbs. Your covers stick to your aching body and your parents are peeling them off you like the skin of an orange. You wonder if you’ll be able to get through another day.

You think that you’re the most awful person ever and you think thoughts like, “I deserve to die.” and “I’ll never be good enough. and everyone hates me; I’ll never have a future.” Death is a regular train of thought and you wake up in the morning loathing yourself and the fact that you’re not dead. Besides, you sort of feel like a ghost anyway. A ghostly, lethargic zombie.

You think you caused the pain and suffering of everyone else around you. If anyone were to reject or criticize you, you would have all your sanity eradicated. You’re scared to go to bed because you know you’ll wake up in the middle of the night sweating profusely. Going to class is painful and you simply cannot muster enough concentration to listen to a lecture or read a textbook. The sound of buzzing, giggly teenagers annoys you because the happiness of others annoys you. The fact you cannot consume enough food to curb your voracious appetite is horrible, especially considering the fact that you have an eating disorder. People wonder why you’re not jumping anymore and it’s terrible that you can’t articulate the reason why.
As for traffic lights, it’s almost as if you’re constantly at one and the lights keep switching back-and-forth accordingly. Everyone else follows the directions the lights give you. But when you’re manic, you want there to be a constant green light. Everyone’s telling you and honking their horns at you, indicating that it’s on yellow and that therefore, you need to slow down, but you don’t listen because you don’t care. You get into car wrecks and you still don’t care.

People are constantly cussing you out from their cars, saying, “What the f*** is this girl doing?” Depression, on the other hand has you constantly on a red light and you’re holding people up. You can’t go, you just can’t because you’re scared and tired and you’re done and drained. People tell everyone they know about what a horrible driver you are. Eventually, you wake up and smell the coffee and you slide your palms down your face. “What did I just do?” you think.

Bipolar disorder is a tricky illness. Some of the most beautiful things about it are also some of the most ugly because those “beautiful” things can be so beautiful, they can concern people. Still, often times, mania can be both funny and scary. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with my illness and it has made me stronger and see the world in many different lights and shades.

Bipolar is part of a personality, in my opinion, and even with adequate treatment. you still have that spunky side and that sensitive side. Bipolar people are known to be highly creative individuals, in part because of their illness. People like Leonardo di Vinci created works of genius through their manic-depression. You go through a wild succession of high creativity and new interests, new passions, new projects, and new people. Bipolar gives so much and takes even more.

I have had one of my greatest friendships revoked by my terrible mood liability. I was so clingy towards the beginning, so saccharine towards the middle, and so impulsive by the end that I didn’t think of how it would impact the other person. I regretted the course of that relationship with great remorse and I wish I hadn’t made it so uncomfortable. This is the reason I hate my illness the most; freaking people out.

There are also many misconceptions about what the disorder actually is. So many people in the general public thinks that if a person is particularly prone to mood swings or frequent shifts in mood, they probably are bipolar. Not true. Bipolar disorder has “episodes” attached to it. These episodes are called depression, mania, and hypomania all with their own separate criteria within the DSM. You also cannot have a comorbidity of bipolar and clinical depression.
Everyday when I take my medication, I have to constantly remind myself that the pros of managing the illness outweigh the cons. Sure, you are creative, happy, confident, ambitious, and productive, but too much so. You have to remind yourself of this. You have to remind yourself of all those times you felt like smashing something up. Or making out with your pillow as a half-ass substitute for 24/7 hot sex. You have to remind yourself of those awful “hangovers” from mania to depression. You have to remind yourself of how people looked at you like you were insane because you were insane.

Reminding yourself of the regret, the obliviousness, and most of all, how you feel at peace on meds. Even though the DSM accurately classifies it as a mood disorder, it affects so much more than the patient’s mood.

Even right down to the clothes we wear and the music we listen to. If I could dress myself, my parents would see me walking out the door for school in dumpy T-shirts, hoodies, long johns, and old beat-up sneakers two sizes too small when depressed, not even having brushed my hair. I wanted to look like a mess because I felt like one. As for mania, I really thought it would be appropriate to wear a tight, off-the-shoulder, black sparkly, ribbed mini dress with heels and red lipstick to school. Glad I knew Mum would pass on that one.

Manic music tastes included pop artists like Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Lana Del Rey, whose music pertained to girls going out and having way too much fun. Depressive music tastes included artists like Evanescence, Flyleaf, Sia, and Nirvana, which all talked about death, melancholy, and physical and metaphorical darkness.

There is a particular J.K. Rowling quote that explains my recovery: “Rock bottom became the foundation of which I built my life upon.” Not only am I not depressed anymore, but I am better than I was before during my normal moods. Through weekly psychotherapy sessions (and DBT-oriented support group meetings in the near future) with Sacha and psychotropic medication distributions from Dr. Maxwell, I am able to manage my illnesses with great results. I am lucky that I have not gotten any side effects from my medication. I’ve learned some great coping mechanisms from Sacha. and she has made me infinitely more self-aware. We have been exploring techniques from aspects of the different behavioral therapies to simultaneously implement coping mechanisms while also changing my cognitive thought processes. These techniques have been helping quite a bit. She has approached my illnesses and psychosocial stressors with great humor and perceptiveness. Because Sacha has helped me so much, I plan to major in clinical psychology in college to work in the mental health field, either as a researcher or a clinician. (I haven’t decided yet) I would like to pinpoint my clinical focus towards children and adolescents.

Kay Jamison’s powerful memoir, An Unquiet Mind drove me to be as candid as possible. She had also made me confirm to myself that I wanted to work in the mental health field like she does. I have utilized dance, yoga, meditation, and physical therapy as calming strategies, among others. The Tumblr blog, F*** Yeah! Bipolar Owl gives me the solidarity I need from other teenagers living with the disorder.

My meditation soothes me particularly, because my godfather who believes strongly in the ideologies of Buddhism, Phil is bipolar. I’ve never met him, but I’ve always felt a special connection with him. I consider myself to be a pretty spiritual person (although not worn on my sleeve), and my spirituality has gotten me through the ups and downs. I like to think of my mother’s friend, Summer too, who committed suicide the summer before I entered seventh grade. (Summer’s death was how my mother told me about her own bipolar)
Additionally, bipolar celebrities like Kurt Cobain and Demi Lovato let me know that I’m not alone. Demi was the reason I sought out help, for the day I was rushed off to the emergency services division at the local counseling center, I did something that I knew would make red flags go up. Partially, it was a cry for help. Similar to me, Demi had a comorbidity of bipolar and an eating disorder and also self-harmed. When I found this out, I watched her MTV documentary, Stay Strong and realized I wanted to get healthy.

I like to think of my bipolar as part of who I am, but not something that owns my entirety. My name is not bipolar. Bipolar defines one piece of the puzzle of me, not all the pieces put together. I am not crazy. I am not fake. I am not my illness. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, a clumsy ballerina, a photographer, a writer, a singer, a bookworm, and a lover of art, languages, fashion, music and movies, and I am human.

Being a bipolar teenager is a tricky thing. You know there will be people that will doubt if your diagnosis is valid or not because all teenagers are moody, impulsive, risky, energetic, and angsty at times. The thing is, those moments become so severe for teens with the illness that it makes it hard to function; that’s the difference. High school is hard enough; striving for stellar grades and standardized test scores to make sure you get into the right college, friendships, dating, peer pressure, and overall, just trying to find your niche. Now let’s add in CP and bipolar and you may as well be known as the moody girl in the wheelchair. It’s tough and you don’t always handle it well. Knowing that you will be subject to stigma (between bipolar, bisexuality, and being disabled) your entire life is a hard reality to come to terms with. You are stamped and labeled since age 16. It’s July and four months have passed since you got diagnosed and you realize that it’s permanent. Your diagnosis is permanent.

My illness is chronic. It will never go away and there are days where Sacha’s advice and insight, Lamictal’s biochemical regulation, and the love and support from my loved ones is simply not enough. There will be days where I will have the characteristics of my illness again and yes, that sucks. But this is my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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