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And I'm No Longer Alone
“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
"What are you thinking about?"
It's late August, just a week since the beginning of my junior year. I sit my therapist's familiar yellow office, my shoulders hunched down and my hands resting between my legs.
I follow the line of nails that secure the floorboards. To my right, books line the shelves bearing diverse titles covering every subject. I glance up slightly, studying the pattern of dots on her chair.
I feel her eyes on me, kind and concerned.
"I don't know." That was a lie. I know exactly what I need to say, but the words are trapped in my throat. I sit for minutes on end, not saying a word, my thoughts tucked away in a place where even I couldn't reach them. If I could convince myself to let them out, they wouldn't come; it had become a routine, a constant battle in my mind.
Months earlier, I stood in the hallway, my phone in my hand reading and rereading the Remind message I had received the night before: Hey, can you come see me before school tomorrow? I'll be in around 8:00. Thanks!
I walked down the empty hallway. Soon it would be filled with the hum of voices and the shuffle of feet heading slowly towards their classes. My ears rang with anxiety, my brain trying to drown out my thoughts.
Quietly, I knocked on the door, hoping that maybe she wouldn't see me and I could retreat. Unfortunately, she heard me and she opened the door.
"Hey!" she said in her trademark cheerful tone.
I dropped my thousand pound backpack on the floor, slowly pulled out a chair, and sat down. The silence was deafening, closing in against my chest. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears, mixing with the dissonant collection of thoughts that had started to fill my head: one side fighting to let her in, the other fighting to keep her out. I stared at the ground, noticing how the tiles fit perfectly together. The classroom was filled with student-made posters bearing AP exam instructions and motivational sayings and the desk was covered in pencil doodles. The hum of the air conditioning coming on for the day created white noise that only contributed to the still quiet that filled the room.
I inhaled again and finally conceded to look up at her.
"I just wanted to talk to you a little bit-"
Yes, I know and I've been anxious about it since you sent the text, I replied in my head. I continued to stare at her blankly.
"-I've just noticed that you aren't who you were at the beginning of the year, and from what I understand from your other teachers, who you were last year."
Who did you talk to? What did they say about me? What do they think about me? They all hate me and so do you, my brain chimed in.
"Okay," was all I replied. I could sense the conversation that was coming. It was the same thing everyone had always said to me.
"High school is really tough for a lot of people, I totally understand,"
Of course, it's just high school blues, that's it. I'm sad because my classes are hard and I'm stressed out.
"But sometimes it's more than that and there's other stuff going on."
Oh… I couldn't stop myself from nodding slightly. I could tell she caught it as she continued.
"And I don't know what's going on, but if there is something I just want you to know that I'm here. Do you have someone to talk to? A therapist or someone?"
Why would she ask that? Who just asks that? But again, I couldn't help but nod slowly. Now she knows too much.
She glanced down and I followed her gaze to my arm, resting on the table and saw a glimpse of red. At least 25 little lines. I looked up at her in fear but she had already diverted her eyes away. I felt my face flush hot with anxiety as I quickly pulled the sleeve of my sweater further down my arm. But she had seen. Tears stung the back of my eyes but I managed it keep them in. My brain was screaming, telling me to open up and talk, but I couldn't. She continued to talk to me, desperately trying to reach out and get through but my mind had shut down.
I could hear students collecting in the hallway, probably wondering why the door was shut. I collected my things and cooly walked out, trying to seem as though we had just been talking about classwork I needed help on. I barely made it to the bathroom before finally breaking down.
She was right.
In the past four months, my life had become a blur. I constantly felt as if I was watching a movie of my life. I was aware of myself, I knew I was there but everyone and everything around me felt distant and disconnected, as if I was wearing glasses that were slightly out of prescription. Day to day, I barely remembered the details of my life. Classwork, homework, my friends and conversations, whether or not I had eaten that day, basic things that I should have known escaped me.
Everything had begun to slip away. I sat for hours, staring at my homework. Pages and pages piled up in my binders, but it didn't matter anymore, nothing did. Living felt inconsequential. Nothing could hurt if it didn't feel real.
I was terrified. I lashed out at my teachers and friends, saying things I knew would hurt, just so they would feel it too. I couldn't make anyone understand because I didn't understand. I felt as though I had lost control and I didn't know who I was anymore.
But sometimes I had periods where I thought I was better, and everything felt perfect. I'd wake up in the morning and immediately get up, ready and enthusiastic to start the day. I put on outfits and makeup that I knew I'd be complimented and swaggered through the hallways with my shoulders back and chin up. I was sure everyone thought I was perfect like I did.
Homework was a breeze, I'd sit down and work for hours that felt like minutes, speeding through everything that had piled up and wondering why I couldn't do it before.
I'd go out with my friends every day, carelessly spending money on food and clothes and makeup, anything I wanted because I was sure it would turn out fine even though my savings dropped further every time.
But that feeling would leave as fast as it had come. I'd fall asleep and when I woke up the world was foggy again and I could barely get out of bed. Somedays I just didn't.
That June, eight months since everything had become a haze, I went to my psychiatrist, my mind begging for something that could make me feel again. I had already tried what felt like every antidepressant. Sometimes they would work at the beginning and then stop, sometimes they just didn't work at all. Both my psychiatrist and I were frustrated, feeling as though we had exhausted every option. This time, as was typical, she prescribed something new for me to try.
"This medication isn't approved as an antidepressant but I want to try it.' I remember her saying.
We rescheduled for the next month, and I walked out, convinced that this would be just another futile attempt at fixing my broken mind.
I looked it up in the car and found that it was an anticonvulsant, usually used for epilepsy but also psychologically could be used for bipolar disorder.
I'm not bipolar, I thought, but we had run out of options so I decided to give them a shot.
I took them habitually, with a dwindling hope that they would work.
But they did. Slowly, my vision cleared. I began to see the world around me for what it was. I felt present in conversations and could actually remember the things I needed to. Everything felt right again and I actually knew who was.
I wrote the teacher a letter, thanking her for reaching out to me and making me feel as though I had someone there. I told her what had been going on, why I was acting that way and what was going on inside my brain. I owed her an explanation and a thank you for what I put her through.
But the high, as always, was short lived. My mind still controlled me, intrusive thoughts creeping in when I least expected them, telling me all the ways I could die or why I was a failure or why no one loved me. The same pattern of elation continued too, days or weeks of reckless driving and carefree spending that I knew in the back of my mind would prove injurious when my mood deflated once again. I continued to lash out at my friends, throwing toddler-like fits with no discernable origin.
I felt even more out of control, never knowing what my mood would be like from each day, or even hour, to the next. I still couldn't tell anyone. I knew that I would sound crazy and anyone I told would tell me I was faking it, making it all up as an excuse to slack off in school or be mean to everyone around me. Meanwhile my brain screamed at me, begging to be free from the repression of my thoughts.
And eventually, I couldn't ignore it anymore.
For the first time in weeks, my mind is completely blank, trying to force me to avoid the question that I had been avoiding for the past three sessions. "Can I ask a dumb question? I've been doing some research," I preface. She flicked her hand, implying that there are no dumb questions, and encouraging me to continue.
Before my brain can tell me not to, I speak the words that I had been thinking, out loud for the first time.
"Do you think I could be bipolar?" A wave of relief washed over me as my words hung in the air.
"Yes," she laughed slightly, "I had been thinking that for a while but I was hoping you might say something so I didn't have to!" Suddenly, we are both laughing, relieved that the tension that had been building was finally broken. We spend the rest of the session that way, both of us amused by ourselves and our fears. But once the humor is gone, I'm anxious. I don't know what it means, or where to go, or who to talk to. I scour the internet, trying to understand what is going on inside of me. I discover thousands of articles. They speak to my soul and perfectly describe what my last eight months had felt like.
Slowly, I've begun talking to people about it. So far, only the people I trust the most, that I hope won't change how they see me because of a new word that has been attached to the chemistry of my brain.
I'm still struggling, trying to understand where to go from here, what the correct balance of medication is, and how I can teach myself to cope. But now I know I have people beside me who care and will be there even if I tell them I don't need them.
And I'm no longer alone.