I have been residing in Anacortes, Washington since April of 2001. I came back to town after completing three years at the Evergreen State College. The purpose for not completing my fourth year at the non traditional school is not easy to explain, but I am here to do just that.
The story goes way back… In California, at 13 years old I was indeed rebelling, though not outwardly towards my parents or at school by getting bad grades. I was inwardly very angry with myself. I had very low self esteem, and thus I punished myself on almost a daily basis with harsh words and even thoughts of death. At night I could not sleep, so I did really risky things, like dress in dark clothing and sneak out my window to walk through a dark park that was not safe. I thought I was worthless, but also wanted attention too, so I sought it out through boys at school- not caring if they had girlfriends. One time some girls got mad at me and beat me up.
In March of my eighth grade year two girls from the local high school came to talk to the health class about life; peer pressure, smoking, sex, drugs, etc. They asked the students to write down a question or comment for them, so they could further the dialogue. Something inside me wrote out: “I want to die. ”
One of the girls saw this note and brought it to the attention of the school counselor. I told her it was true. Soon, I was riding in the back of an ambulance to a mental hospital. My mom met me there and the journey of getting help began.
I was inpatient at a teen treatment center for two weeks. This place kept me safe from myself, but still the counselors didn’t know why I was so sad, angry, and yet sometimes so full of intense energy. My parents decided it would be best if I went to a long term treatment facility to get professional help. So I went off to Salt Lake City, Utah for eight months. For the first six months I was not honest about my feelings and my actions were erratic. I played with the systems and my medications. I thoroughly enjoyed frustrating the doctors and health care personnel. It wasn’t until I got a real good therapist and my parents sent a prospective letter of possibly moving to a new state that I actually got serious. I did the best I could at being myself. My therapist diagnosed me as “manic depressive. ” Within two months of being “stable” I was released. Two days after being at home in California, my family and I moved up to Anacortes, Washington.
I was elated to have left the state that I thought had almost killed me. Upon moving to Anacortes, I made the goal that I would become the girl I had always wanted to be. I had a list of things I want to do, and swore I would do all of them and more. One thing I didn’t promise was I would take my medication. That is a common element with people who are manic depressive/ bi-polar is the issue of compliancy. People who are manic depressive enjoy the manic “Highs” that they get that the meds keep under control.
Well, I decided to do eighth grade over again and I took my Zoloft as I should have that year in fear I would go back to Utah if I didn’t. But come high school, that’s when I really started to mess around with my meds. I realized if I didn’t take them I had the energy to get involved in lots more activities at once; Key Club, Teens Against Tobacco, Teen Pregnancy Prevention, write amazing articles for the Seahawk News and more . My energy would last for over a month, and then I would feel myself coming down like a falling paper air plane. I knew it was time to take my Zoloft to stable me out. I would take it for about three weeks. Then stop again and feel the rush to, “yes”, take on more stuff. “Bumbles Garden” an original musical, why not! Video editing, let’s go! Why not join the soccer team! All on a manic high. I did this scary game all through high school, and it seamed to work.
But, not in college! I decided to go cold turkey from all medication in my first year of college. And boy did I get a manic high! I went almost crazy, without boundaries or inhibitions. But this time I had money to spend and freedom to travel without telling anyone. By summer I was broke and tired.
During my second year in college I saw a doctor who put me on Depakote, a cousin to Lithium. This drug slowed me way down, and made me gain over 35 pounds. But I stayed on it through the school year and into summer. I was tired of the weight gain and of how slow I felt physically and mentally, so my doctor put me on a mood stabilizer called Topamax. I soon lost most of the weight, and felt like a normal able bodied human being again. I stayed compliant on my meds until the second quarter of my third year. Then… I had a research paper to write! “Oh, ” I thought. “I know how I can get this done with little effort. Stop taking my meds and get manic again!” Uh oh! Not only was Topamax not Zoloft, but I was no longer a teenager, my body chemistry had changed. So instead of getting a manic high, I got my first manic depressive/bi-polar “depression. ”
Oh it was terrible! I couldn’t string two thoughts together. All I felt like doing was lying in my bed in my dark room. Interacting with my peers felt like the hardest thing in the world, for them I had to put on a mask of cheer. I was still trying to write this research paper but I couldn’t find enough information for the topic, so I had piles and piles of unrelated books stacked on my floor. My hygiene was suffering terribly, for I stopped caring for myself.
Again my thoughts were edging towards death. But I couldn’t even think of ending my life because my Grandfather had a glorious trip to China planned for us in the spring. As for school in the spring I planned on writing an independent contract. This is an assignment where student plans the curriculum and keeps in touch with a sponsored teacher throughout the quarter. Completing this task of thinking of what to do while in China was like pulling out my teeth, hair, and nails. I must have called my mom for ideas and support at lest 15 times a week. I dragged myself to the counseling center for assistance, and the woman in charge urged me to go to China just for fun not for credit. I already felt like a failure. Somehow I managed to squeeze out a contract good enough for the professor. In my heart I knew I would never complete the tasks I assigned for myself while on the trip. They looked so difficult, and I felt so weak.
When the trip to China finally arrived I was encased in my depression, but had a good enough mask on to fool the world. I had many fantasies of running away in the crowds, drinking bad water, eating raw meat, yes, death permeated my being. The trip was a blurr. We wet to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and Hong Kong, in a matter of two weeks. Often my grandfather held my hand tightly as if in the large crowds he could read my thoughts of running away. In photos of the trip I am smiling, inside I was broken into fragile pieces. I tried to start taking my medicine again, but I took too many, or not enough. When I got home I cried for an hour. Not because I was relieved to be home, but because I had survived.
Three days later, on May 6, 2001 I tried to eat half the medicine cabinet. So close to Mother’s Day, my mom brought me to the emergency room at Skagit Hospital, and said, “Nice gift. ” I stayed inpatient on the third floor there for nine days. It was not fun and games like when I was a young teen. In nine days I was ready to get out. I wanted to get better. I never wanted to be inpatient again! This vow meant I had to stay on my medication always and forever, and to take them correctly.
I am very lucky to see the psychiatrist I do. He tried me out on some very current medications. I decided to begin a journal the day I took these new meds to see if and how they affected my writing or train of thought. Journaling has helped with staying focused in the here and now, especially when I slip into thinking about the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” of the past. I use positive affirmations for myself consistently in my journal. And I am consistently patting myself on the back for taking my medication on a daily basis. Journaling and medication go hand in hand. (As of Feb.29, I am now into my 58th journal since June 14, 2001. ) While getting stable, I am lucky to have support not only from family and friends, but from a local manic depressive/ bi-polar support group held the second Thursday of every month at the Skagit Valley Hospital
So, for now, I am a proud “stable” resident of Anacortes. I have been taking my medication consistently since June 14, 2001, and I feel great! I have made a vow to you and to myself to remain honest and compliant! So, what do I do now? I am involved in many activities, and my days are filled with many interesting adventures, though it is nice to say all are done with a clear and focused mind. I would like to keep in touch by writing articles about my everyday experiences within the community. I hope to show that even someone with a mood disorder, or what the psychiatric world has labeled a “chemical imbalance” and a life story of ups and downs, I can still live a happy and fulfilling life.
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