When I was a small child, I had a vivid imagination and the tools to play alone. I have an excellent long-term memory, though my short-term is struggling. I loved to play outside, camp, hike and participate in other family activities, but even as a kid I needed my space. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, stressed, or wanted to be alone, I built a space for myself to feel comfortable and safe. The roots of an old tree were a perfect place to settle in and rest or play by myself. Behind the couch in the living room. Inside a tent or make-shift fort. I slept in a bunkbed with my sister, and I was on the top bunk. I shrouded the space with sheets hanging from the ceiling. Now, my nest is a room in our house where I can go to be alone or to spend time with material possessions that bring me joy, and remind me of childhood happiness. This is my retreat. Sometimes, I lie on the bed in that room and fill the space with silent thoughts for hours. I think about my past, present, and future.
There are forces at work inside me, which I have difficulty identifying sometimes.
I understand Mania and can sense a manic episode headed in my direction. There are symptoms. When I was younger, these symptoms were more easily detected by my mom, and that frustrated me. I wanted to figure it out and beat her to the punch. I read about Bipolar I Disorder, researched, and learned about physical responses to triggers. I discovered what triggered me and stayed away from those before they became catastrophic. I learned–with help–how to manage my brain and keep the mania at bay. When I felt mania encroaching, I contacted my doctor. I tried to sleep, forced myself to eat, and stayed away from books, movies and songs that stirred up my insides. I began to know my body. I can now catch mania before my mom does and it feels like a tremendous success.
I understand Depression. I felt dread and anxiety in the pit of my stomach for the first time when I was thirteen. There were no psychiatrists in the area where I grew up. My pediatrician had no idea how to handle it or even recognize it. It was a feeling much like procrastination–the feeling of dread most kids experience on Sunday evenings, knowing the weekend is over and they are going back to school on Monday morning. That is what I came to believe was true for me. I was lazy and lethargic, irritable, angry, and sad for indiscernible reasons. Later in life, I was told that those feelings were contributed to my illness. My therapist said that my “self-focus” came from discovering how my brain works and did not mean I was selfish or lazy. I truly was not “in the mood.” Seriously? That’s a reality? Yes. Quite a comforting truth.
I recognize Bipolar I Disorder, which makes up the mood portion of my illness. The mood part is a combination of mania and depression. The “schizo” part is much harder to deal with. I sometimes hear voices in my head, experience paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks, delusions, irrational thinking, the loss of my memory, and many more symptoms attributed to Schizoaffective Disorder. When a few of these symptoms arise together, this may lead to psychosis. It is harder for me to identify because I have not been dealing with that part of my illness for the duration of my condition. It’s new, or only just discovered. It is important to acknowledge that psychosis does not mean “crazy” or to mistake “psychosis” with “Psycho.” That is another myth tied to the stigma. This is the part of my illness I have the most trouble dealing with and I would hate for anyone to misunderstand. With medication, family, psychiatry, and psychologist support, I live a happy, stable life. I do not experience psychosis frequently, yet knowing that psychosis is a real possibility scares me because it takes over my life and confuses reality. Understanding my mind and body has been no small task. It has taken a lifetime to recognize what goes on inside my head, while much of it still baffles me. The journey continues, and I am ever closer to unraveling the mystery and uncovering the invisible answers, while pondering in my nest.