I’ve lived with this diagnosis for the past eleven years. Sometimes I get angry that this is the brain I got. Don’t get me wrong; I’m an emotional warrior. A feelings ninja. There’s a whole lot that I can withstand, but I’m seen as breakable or fragile. The truth is that most people don’t survive this kind of brain. I read a statistic that 40% of bipolar II people die by suicide. I have no idea if that’s accurate, but I suspect it’s at least close. I got a tattoo in my second year of my diagnosis as a promise to myself to not leave this world by my own hand. Two years later I took a massive overdose of lithium with no regrets, and I failed. Failing at suicide is the lowest I’ve ever felt, and I’ve failed twice.
After eleven years, I can manage things pretty well. I still have episodes, but the other bullshit isn’t as hard now that I’ve learned how doctors, clinics, pharmacies, insurance, and refills work. None of those things are self-explanatory or at all easy to navigate. Healthcare is not user-friendly. The customer is not always right. When people around me get fed up with a doctor or a pharmacy I’m not surprised. People think they ought to be treated better by the system, but that’s just not reality.
For the hard times, I have a tool box that helps me get through. I actually made a box full of index cards that each have a tool written on them. Some of them have affirmations : “This will pass”, “You are worthy”, “This is not your fault”, “You will survive this and be happy again”, “You are loved, always, no matter what”. Others have suggested actions: “Breathe, breathe, slow down.” “Sing until you are warmed up.”, “Forgive yourself immediately”, “Splash cold water in your face”, “Watch something comforting”, “Lie down, close your eyes, relax from toes to scalp”, “Meditate”, “Do a few yoga poses”, “Go for a walk”. There are probably about thirty cards in the box now. I sift through them until I find one or two that help. Different things help at different times. It’s vital for me to have tools. Suicidal ideation is a very real and pressing problem for depressed or bipolar people. It’s a problem that needs immediate attention. If you’ve ever been suicidal, you know that it’s a very isolated place, and there’s very little chance of anyone (other than a trained professional or a psychiatrist) helping in any real or meaningful way. We are left to help ourselves. My tools help me help myself when no one else can get in. If you struggle with mental health issues like depression, make sure you build your tool box, even if it’s only in your head. You’re the person most likely to save your life.
By Emily Harrington