I have never been vocally shy about my past experiences. If the opportunity arises, I feel confident enough to casually explain that I have suffered from depression, and was diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder type II.
But words in conversation are immediate and evanescent. I find I gain a level of detachment and strength in the swift direction a conversation can take place. Whereas putting word to page requires time and mediation. These words, in particular, are more difficult because whilst I grasp for the correct turn of a phrase, a simple moment’s hesitation inaugurs an avalanche of feelings that I have since put to bed.
But now more than ever, sharing mental health experiences in a constructive way is so important. We all need a little more openness, a sense of community, and hope. And if a story of recovery as small as mine can provide even a glimmer of optimism for anyone else, then why the hell not?
In truth, the road to recovery is long and never-ending, and I mean that in the most positive of ways. Our state of well-being is in constant flux as it ebbs and flows through periods of calm and turbulence. The tumultuous times are sometimes forced upon us due to external events beyond our control, or they linger in our subconscious waiting for an opportune moment to insidiously embed within ourselves.
There are many ways that we can react to both situations, but it requires a level of self-awareness to prompt a healthy transformation. When we are forced to emotionally absorb a shocking external event, it’s partly within our nature to reject the level of emotional consciousness that allows us to overcome and transform. Such events are difficult to process and so the easiest, but most destructive path we can choose is that of rejection. Rejection comes in many different forms; there is rejection of those who love us; of our ourselves; or you can reject your life and uproot everything you built because, well, the reasons are often inexplicable.
From adolescence to becoming a young adult, I rejected parts of my life because I couldn’t understand them, and I became obsessed in trying to understand a particular part of my past which had no answer or resolution. I didn’t want to work through these issues because I was furious, and I was hurt. My levels of anguish and raw emotion felt explosive at times – it would radiate out of me in uncontrollable crying because all I wanted to do was break out of my body to be released from the pain. This would manifest itself through unhealthy and destructive habits which were concealed by continuing social patterns, and at times, moments of pure erratic behaviour.
To put a very long story short, I became manic and withdrawn and the rest, well – it still pains me to think about.
We all have a rock bottom and it’s what we do with it, how you push back against the seemingly unrelenting current you created for yourself, which is everything.
Coming from a place of privilege, I had a family who had the ability to seek out and find the help I needed, which I am deeply grateful for. Although my parents initiated the talks of rehab, I agreed, and it was here after a 4-week process where I was diagnosed with bipolarity type II.
Rehab was odd in that it actually resembled so many of the cinematic clichés you saw on screen: white sceptic walls, creepy ass dorms which had no privacy, group therapy and creative activities, and so on. I can look back now and kind of laugh at the gimmicky parts of it, but rehab gave me the building blocks I needed to start again. Although I went in as a self-deflecting, arrogant “this is all bullshit” attitude, the closer it got to my departure the more I began to fear leaving. And if you have been to rehab, you will know that it’s only until the very last moment that you appreciate the secluded sanctuary as you contemplate your survival in reality again.
With my diagnosis came medication. As well as the anti-depressants (fluoxetine 25 mg) which I was already on, they prescribed me 150mg of Quetiapine – a mood stabiliser, which they informed me to take religiously, and probably for the rest of my life.
I was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief when I heard the diagnoses. I can now see that this was a warped sense of relief because I had misconstrued the label for a kind of resolution, which it wasn’t. Speaking to my mother, she thought it made sense but hoped I’d one day be able to stop the heavy medication.
Rage bubbled inside me at her audacity to look so optimistically towards the future. I remember retorting that it was so unhelpful for her to say that because that was never going to happen. What makes mothers so goddamn annoying is that they’re always right. Because what was truly harmful was my short-sighted inability to see life beyond my diagnosis. And I think this is something, more often than not, we all do. We cling on to these labels in such a way that we expect the medication and the acknowledgment of sickness to become the prime mover of recovery. We even start to build protective walls around us that excuse certain behaviours because we concede to the diagnosis instead of pushing back and managing it.
Because getting the diagnosis and the medication is the easy part (kind of, it obviously takes some getting used to), it’s dismantling the damaging mental pathways you have created which is challenging and constant. It’s a journey that will evolve indefinitely.
After four years of taking my meds, I came to a point where I felt like the side-effects of the meds were weighing me down – physically. The mood stabilisers were so strong they knocked me out half an hour after taking them and left me feeling flat. I missed feeling excited, but also feared my desire to feel excited because I couldn’t figure out whether the meds were genuinely flat-lining me, or whether there was a perverse part of me that missed those moments of manic. It was probably a bit of both.
Before I continue, and if anyone reading this suffers from bipolarity or is medicated for their mental health, do not stop taking your medication of your own accord. And I know you know this because when you’re unstable you go through an exhausting flux of convincing yourself that “you’re doing so great at the moment, you don’t need the meds anymore”, stop for a few weeks, suffer the emotional consequences and return to the meds whilst having to acclimatise – again.
It’s now been two years since I stopped taking my mood stabilisers (I stopped the anti-depressants a year after rehab) and I haven’t experienced the recurring ‘rock bottom’ episodes I used to. That’s not to say it’s been plain sailing for two years – it hasn’t. I still suffer from the low-swinging depressions, I just manage them in a way I failed to previously.
To get here though, I worked hard: read everything about my disorder that I could, I returned to therapy (again), took my medication religiously, created a mood diary, self-examined myself to a point where I could identify patterns that could lead to an episode. I confided in my friends and am eternally indebted to those who showed me nothing but kindness, love, and support. Today, I continue to meditate, practice yoga, am conscious of the food I put into my body, and recognise the importance of creating a routine. Sticking to a routine makes it become greater than the sum of its parts. Eventually, I spoke to my doctors, more than one, and with their medical approval, I weaned myself off the mood stabilisers.
There is an essential part, often excluded from recovery narratives, that enables you to accept and love yourself and that is your capacity for self-forgiveness. Like a feedback loop, forgiving yourself is both the first and last step to your recovery. You must forgive yourself for feeling like a failure, forgive yourself for letting things get so out of hand, forgive yourself for forgetting the ineffable value of life.
Because now, whilst I sit here and bring this self-reflection to a close, the emotions that emanate from my body are pride, but most of all – joy.
About the Writer: Charlotte Kennedy
Instagram: @CriticallyChar @Charlotteken17
Charlotte is an International Relations MA and English Lit BA graduate who has recently launched a blog that explores social injustices through a cultural lens.