Living with mental illness, part one: bipolar 2 disorder, teens and 20s

I have a mental illness, but I am not a spirit worker. I doubt I will ever be one.
Before the big break with the spirit world in May 2012, I had contact with Loki, Fenrir, Freyr and two house spirits. I don’t know what really happened in May 2012; one day I was hearing Them fine, the other day They were gone. Was I attacked by a malevolent entity who broke my connection? I don’t know.

Anyway, I want to tell you what it’s been like living with a mental illness.
I plan to write four posts about my experiences with changing the way I think and my experiences with therapy and medication
I’ll put this under a cut, in case some of you can be triggered by reading about depression or cutting.

First I want to quote something I once found at Depression Forums:
“Whether you suffer from a mood disorder or not, you should know that they are genuine medical conditions with physical manifestations in the brain. Just because you can’t see the physical problem, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. If you could have one of those fancy brain scans you would see it. Use this information to accept the fact that you’re ill, and you need rest and medical treatment. You’re not weak or selfish or any of the other things people may accuse you of. You’re not well. Got it? Good.”

It all began after I hit puberty. I have a theory that puberty caused a chemical imbalance in my brain.
The first time I got depressed, I was about 13. I took a needle and scraped shallow cuts on my wrist. I don’t know why I did it, it seemed to be instinctual, and I discovered that it helped lighten the emotional pain I was feeling.
Many think that cutting is a cry for help, but that wasn’t how it worked for me. Cutting seemed to work as a catharsis, and for a short while it seemed to soothe the emotional pain I was feeling.

The depression I had when I was 13 only lasted about a week, so it was a mild one. My first major depression came when I was 18, in 1984. It lasted a month. I wasn’t able to go to college, so I missed out on a month of studying. When I was better and back at school, I managed to catch up on my studies, and did really well on the exams.
I struggled with a lot of questions, and both the present and the future seemed bleak.
I wondered what kind of person I was, what kind of person I wanted to be. I didn’t know what I was going to study when I finished college. I had wanted to be a veterinary for some years, until I realised that I would have to put down old and sick animals, and that would break my heart. So, then I had no idea what to do with my life. I wondered what the point of life was, since it was so painful and bleak.
I got no help from any doctors. My doctor didn’t suggest trying out anti-depressants. I wish he had.
We didn’t have any psychologists or psychiatrists in the town where I grew up. I got a couple of sessions with a family therapist. The first session was ok, but the second session she insisted that my mum should attend, and I wasn’t speaking with her about my problems, because I felt she didn’t understand. She said she thought I wanted to be a boy, because I often pretended to be one when I played when I was little (the boys did the cool stuff in the books and comics I read, so of course I wanted to play them!). I said that I just wanted to be myself. After that session I vowed to never again try to speak to my mother about my problems.
I was brooding a lot about my sexual orientation at the time. I hadn’t been in love with a boy since second grade, and I wondered if I was lesbian. There was this girl in my class I had a mild crush on. (It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I realised that I was bisexual.)

My depressions seemed to come in a regular pattern. Every other year I would have a minor depression, where I was only away from school or work for a week, but managed to function the rest of the time. Every other year again I would have a major depression which lasted for about a month, where I was hardly able to get out of bed.

It would take me some years to realise that my reality shifted when I got depressed, that everything seemed grey and bleak and that I became very pessimistic. I have read that when you are depressed, your mind gets caught in negative thought patterns. It can only focus on what is negative. This is why it is almost impossible to cheer up someone who is depressed; we are unable to think positive thoughts in the midst of a depressive episode. It’s not that we are wilfully pessimistic, it’s just how the brain works.

In my twenties I developed a bipolar 2 affective disorder. I got moodswings, both up and down. Bipolar 1 is what used to be called manic-depressive disorder. Bipolar 2 has less swings upwards; I became hypomanic, which means less loss of control. When I had hypomanic episodes, I didn’t need sleep for four to five days. I got a thousand creative ideas, and would drag out all my arts and crafts stuff and start several new projects. I was too busy doing important creative stuff to bother with such things as studying or going to work. After four to five days I would crash from exhaustion, and it triggered a depressive episode. I didn’t know that I had a bipolar disorder, though.

When I had a major depression, at age 22 in 1988, I cut myself. I just wanted the emotional pain to stop. I cut a bit deeply, but funnily enough there was nearly no blood, but it helped alleviate the emotional pain.
I composed a letter, asking for help, and sent it out to over 50 therapists. I got an answer from four of them. Two were at the same clinic, so when the first one I went to decided I didn’t have any problems, the other one couldn’t take me on either. The other two therapists had waiting lists, and I needed help now, not in a year.
My first attempt at going to a therapist failed. She gave me a lot of test, like the Rorschach test, but she didn’t seem interested in listening to me. And I had problems trusting people at that time, so I didn’t open up and tell her everything during the first couple of sessions. She concluded that I wasn’t really depressed, I just needed to structure my life more. I was so angry when I left her!

My next major depression came when I was 24 in 1990. I got dumped by my first boyfriend who was the great love of my life, after three months. I now think he dumped me because I wasn’t interested in sex. (It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realised I was asexual. Romantically speaking I was bisexual, but I just had no interest in sex.)
I cut myself again on my arms during that episode. My mum visited me and saw what I had done, so she took me down to the ER. I got assigned to crisis therapy for a while, but it was temporary. I don’t remember anything of it, apart from that it didn’t help much.
I had been against anti-depressants, because I feared it would sedate me and I would become an emotional zombie. But this time it just hurt too damn much and I went to a doctor and asked for anti-depressants. I think he gave me Seroxat. It was awful. I became completely emotionally numb. I couldn’t feel sadness, but I couldn’t feel happiness either. Being numb was worse than being depressed, so I stopped taking that medication.

After that I struggled with my depressive episodes on my own, until I was 31.

I discovered the world through media when I was about 14. Before that I hadn’t paid much attention, and my focus had been very local; family and friends and school. When I realised how much cruelty and injustice there was in the world, I became very disillusioned and angry. It was a feeling of helpless anger, because I couldn’t change anything. I despised my own species.
I didn’t trust other people either, and was afraid to show any weakness because I feared that it would be used against me. I never cried in front of others, not even my mum.
I hid behind a mask of anger and sarcasm. I wanted to let others think I was tough.
I developed quite a dark sense of humour, as part of my self-defence mechanism. Some thought I was too morbid, and one of my friends told me that if I ever saw a real accident I would probably laugh. That hurt a lot. Having a dark sense of humour didn’t mean that I was a psychopath who didn’t care about the suffering of other people or animals. The problem was, I cared too much.

Another thing that troubled me was my body. When I hit puberty and got breast and hair, I wasn’t able to accept the change. I hated it. It made my body feel alien. I also felt too fat, so I went on several diets. I wanted to become so thin that my curves disappeared, but I was never able to starve myself enough. I hated being touched.
I was 17 the first time a boy tried to kiss me. I quickly turned my face so that he only touched my cheek with his lips. I was disgusted by it. I hated my body and the thought of anyone wanting to touch me was disgusting to me. After I moved to Oslo when I was 20, I began to go to the student’s gaming club at the university. I experienced that a few boys were interested in me as a potential girlfriend, and I was both disgusted and didn’t trust them; I thought they were just interested in touching my body, the body that I hated.

When I was 21, I began to work on feeling more comfortable with my body. I was quite slim, yet had curves back then. I began to wear clothes I felt looked good on me, and that I wanted to wear, and not just clothes that would be approved of by my mother and grandmother. I dyed my hair silver grey, and got piercings in my nose and more in my ears. Then I dyed my hair red for some years, and I really liked that. I didn’t want to have my natural hair colour, because I wanted to be someone else, and changing hair colour helped. I also discovered after I moved to Oslo that having a broad dialect and long blond hair made boys and men think I was naive and innocent and easy prey. That changed when I dyed my hair and started wearing black clothes. I lived on my own from I was 21, and I realised that now I could look any way I wanted, there was no-one to tell me how to dress. It was a revelation! I remembered how cool I thought goths looked in music magazines I bought as a teenager, and now I could dress like that, too!
Dressing and having the hair colour I wanted helped me to accept my body.

When I was about 21, I realised I didn’t like the person I had become, and I decided to reinvent myself, to become someone else, that I would like to be.
I taught myself to take things and myself less seriously, and to become more patient. I decided to take a chance and trust people more.

It took me years to change the way I thought. The first thing I did was to begin to observe how I reacted to things, and to people’s actions. What it made me think and feel. Then I would try to react differently, and not with my usual angry or sarcastic knee-jerk reaction.
I learned that if I smiled and was polite and kind to people, they would smile back and give a positive reaction. Not that I had been impolite or unkind before, I just was rather cold and stand-offish, to protect myself since I didn’t trust other people.
I also began to work on my thought patterns, which had been very negative, worrying about the state of the world and the future. I decided to stop paying attention to the news and to narrow my view down to family, friends and school/work again, like I had when I was younger. And it worked. I began to have more optimistic thoughts about things and I stopped worrying about the future. When I was depressed, I had very negative thoughts and was pessimistic, but in between the periods of depression, which was 11 months out of 12, I was optimistic and happy.
So, it is possible to change the way you think, though it takes some time and patience.

In my next post I will talk about how it was living with a bipolar 2 disorder in my 30 and early 40s. This post has become long enough as it is.





About Amber Drake

AKA Darkamber.
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8 Responses to Living with mental illness, part one: bipolar 2 disorder, teens and 20s

  1. moonfire2012 says:

    Wow, I learned some new things about you today. I knew you’d gone through some of those things but not others, and the way you felt. I’m so glad you came through it because a lot of people struggle with it a lot longer. I hated puberty too, and my body till I was older. I felt a lot like you did, that I couldn’t stand to be touched for a long time. Have you read Allie Brosh’s Adventures in Depression?

  2. moonfire2012 says:

    it is, it’s very funny too, especially when she has her “corn epitomy.” You’ll see what I mean. Here’s the link.

  3. Poppy says:

    It sucks they can invent a pill that keeps you from getting manic but no longer lasting antidepressants.

    I cut one time only because I’d read that some get relief. Didn’t work for me. For me it was illicit substances sporadically used over the years.

    I have a schizoeffective bipolar type disorder. Basically means if I pass hypomania into mania, I get schizophrenia-like paranoia and/or audio hallucinations

    • Amber Drake says:

      I have developed a schizoaffective bipolar disorder, too. I hear a voice in my head every day, when I’m not blocking it out, and it isn’t Loki.
      I’ll come back to this in part 3 and 4 of this series.

  4. Ly says:

    This is a very brave and touching post. Thanks for sharing these details about your life and your ongoing journey.

    I know what it’s like to struggle with a sometimes hostile brain (having moderate OCD myself) and it helps to hear more stories like this, in reminding me I’m not alone in working to co-exist with a sometimes hostile seemingly mind.

    Your own courage reminds me to stay strong, myself. ❤

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