When I was eighteen, I felt on top of the world. I had won several contests for my singing, graduated in the top five percent of my high school class, and been accepted to the most prestigious voice program in the United States. When fall rolled around, I trotted off to Oberlin Conservatory to begin my adult life. It was glorious for a while: the people were socially advanced and forward-thinking, there was a free exchange of exciting ideas, everyone was friendly and smart, and there was world-class music surrounding me everywhere I went. My first two months there were the happiest I’ve ever been.
At the end of October, I turned nineteen and, unbeknownst to me, my functionality began slipping away. At first it felt like the color was draining out of me. I felt I was slowly becoming invisible. I was no longer a person in a body; I was as ghost staring out of an eye-height portal at the world around me. Depression was setting in and anxiety was creeping up, but I didn’t know yet to give them those names. By the time I came home for Christmas, all I knew is that I wasn’t okay.
I started having pain in my stomach and severe nausea. I went to the doctor several times, got misdiagnosed every time, and began missing a lot of things around me, like class or parties. This was very straining for my relationship with my first girlfriend, who wanted to help but couldn’t. Many people take not being able to fix you very personally. I was falling into a deeper and deeper depression all the while.
One night I had to take my girlfriend to the hospital for severe flu-like symptoms, and I stayed there with her overnight, watching Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” on her computer while she slept. Toward dawn, the colors became very vivid and then started spilling off the screen into the air and onto my hands. After about an hour of this it was time to take my girlfriend home, and once I got her home and into bed I sat in the middle of the room holding my phone. It buzzed and I threw it against the wall because I thought it had bitten me. I left the room because I didn’t feel safe and I thought it might come back and bite me again. I walked downstairs and watched a little girl playing under the piano in the practice lounge. I got under there with her, but she disappeared and reappeared across the room. This did not sit well with me, so I went outside. Outside the sky was the brilliant blue of a sunny winter day and full of giant fluffy clouds. I could hear them whispering, and even though I couldn’t make out the words, I knew it was about me. I ran into the nearest building looking for a safe place to hide.
I woke up in a closet with no shoes, no socks, no key card to get into any of the buildings, and no memory of how I got there. I went back to my dorm (someone let me in), found my phone which luckily had not broken, and I called home. I told my mom I was not okay, and needed to come home. I spent a couple weeks in the psychiatric hospital in my home town, and finally got my diagnosis. Bipolar II, mixed-state, rapid-cycling, with psychotic features. Hooray.
By Emily Harrington
The Goldfish Painter