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From the time I was twenty-seven years old, I was diagnosed as being bipolar. As my life unfolded over the course of the next decade, I discovered I had a dual diagnosis – I was also an addict. What I have learned over the years is that mental illness is no different from other illnesses. Iit takes its victim hostage and leaves its love ones as prisoners forced to watch them suffer. Put in grittier terms, it becomes a train wreck where it leaves everything along its path in turmoil and destruction.
My first manic episode was in October 2006. This marked the beginning of when confusion, chaos, madness and insanity converged into one and the gates of an abysmal hell opened up. Its wrath would be a decade-long massacre where I had to fight to regain control over my life. As my world converged so too did the reality around me morph into a delusional state. I remained trapped in my mind and darkness consumed my every thought. The only flickering light that withstood the test of time was from a past seemingly long-forgotten.
Since Thanksgiving 2006, I have endured a dozen hospitalizations, gone through two rehab programs, one of which lasted more than six months. Every hospitalization consisted of the same symptoms: (1) bizarre behavior where I made outlandish and incendiary statements specifically meant to hurt reputations which included my parents; (2) thought about carrying out vengeful acts against people I love; and (3) made plans to put myself and others in harmful situations where bodily injury or death could result.
Bipolar mania is different for everyone. However, mine was a hallucination that presented itself as a dark image that on several occasions also became somatic – this type of hallucination involves the perception of a physical experience occurring within the body or the reoccurrence of a past traumatic event. At first, this hallucination projected negative images within my mind of a reality which magnified my pre-existing belief that I was the intended target of humiliation. Several months later, my hallucination merged further with my reality and I ultimately renounced my free will and became a manifestation of my illnesses’ malevolence. My malevolent behavior continued for years and occurred even up until my twelfth hospitalization. My parents later told me that, prior to this last hospitalization, my behavior was the most destructive it had ever been.
During my two-month stay at the hospital, I came to terms with the devastation that I had caused my family. Mental illness, like all illnesses, can bring you to rock bottoms that are unimaginable. However, many of us continue the repetitive cycle of failed attempts to regain recovery and end up losing our jobs, friends and families in the process. The question then becomes how many times does it finally take to recover? I don’t believe you can ever completely recover from mental illness. Those of us who are lucky will have it go into remission for a period of time with minor adjustments made to our medicines ever so often. However, many others suffer with mental illness throughout their lifetimes in search of the magic pill that will make the suffering end.
I wish I had the answers for those who haven’t found their recovery. All I can offer is my own journey and what ultimately worked for someone who has experienced twelve hospitalizations and been a guinea pig for nearly every mood-stabilizing and psychiatric medication that has been made available. I believe all of us are destined to have a spiritual awakening at the right moment in our lives. For me this occurred during my twelfth hospitalization. I don’t believe it was coincidental that I had a spiritual awakening during my most catastrophic manic episode where my family later told me I appeared hateful, vengeful and violent. In fact, I have little to no recollection of the majority of statements made or the violent acts I committed. All I knew was that my actions leading up to the twelfth hospitalization were the manifestations of my illness and not a true reflection of me.
Ultimately, I believe my arduous decade-long battle with my bipolar illness and my strong faith and belief in God were the defining factors that led to the beginning of a sustainable recovery. My journey gave me the inner strength to allow my spirit to remain vigilant and resilient. Up until my twelfth hospitalization, I kept on telling myself that I could handle my illness, yet a decade later I was still being hospitalized. I knew this hospitalization was a defining moment based on the severity of my actions. It would either be a tsunami that dragged me under into a dark abyss of more hell or a tidal wave that I could escape if I could figure out how to get to a safe place. As a result, it became the catalyst that allowed me to withstand the most difficult of times to ensure that I would be ready to allow my spiritual awakening to emerge – the decision to turn my will and life over to God.
Since then, I stopped fighting the medication and started to participate in life rather than remain isolated. I cooperated with my doctors and allowed for higher dosages even though my illness had brainwashed me for over a decade into believing that they would cause a loss of memory. By the grace of God, my racing and intrusive thoughts stopped and my mind has quieted. I can meditate and be at peace with nature and my spirit feels a new sense of freedom.
I have always believed that recovery is not made by a resolution vowed upon at one moment in time. Rather, “sustainable” recovery is a series of defining moments that challenge our strength to withstand the test of time. It has now been three months into my recovery and I’m happy to report that my bipolar illness has gone into remission. For the first time in almost 20 years, I’m finally in a good and healthy place in my life. I love my new apartment and in February I’m going to get a dog. I am even more reassured that my recovery process is strong by the sheer fact that I am opening up about my journey after fifteen years to Painted Brain, an organization dedicated to educating people about mental illness.
Gennifer Goldstein is a member of the Painted Brain, and this is her first contribution to Painted Brain News