The 2014 Peace Charlie Winning Essay
It took seven years for me to receive my correct diagnosis. It’s interesting how happiness is a less examined, less scrutinized emotion than sadness. It’s what allowed my bipolar disorder to remain undetected for so long, mistakenly interpreted as depression or general anxiety disorder by each therapist I saw since the age of thirteen. By the time I turned twenty, I was convinced that it was not merely my depression that needed treatment and attention. There was an entire end of the spectrum that had been overlooked; only half of my symptoms were being addressed. I could no longer ignore the infrequent but overwhelmingly powerful periods of hypomania that would accompany the depression—the brief glimpses of bright, white-hot sunlight in between the bouts of impenetrable darkness. My sadness was intensified by these hypomanic episodes, during which I would be incredibly functional, energetic, and euphoric. I’d spend money recklessly, experiment with substances, and exhibit promiscuous behavior, but at the time it only felt like having fun. Each time the depression inevitably took over, I felt as though my happiness had once again been stolen away from me. After taking multiple psychology courses in school and doing extensive research on my own time, I worked with my therapist to arrive at the conclusion that my affliction was type II bipolar disorder.
Maybe it was the stigma attached to mental illness that had been engrained in me, or the knowledge that my happiness was itself a symptom, but I couldn’t help feeling disheartened by this diagnosis. I was relieved to finally understand what was going on with my bizarre mood swings and shifting behaviors, but could only manage to reveal this new information to my mother and my boyfriend. Both gave me disappointing responses; they weren’t judgmental or harsh, but almost worse, they had very little to say at all. I wanted the reassurance that I wasn’t alone and that they’d help me get through it. I wanted love, compassion, and for them to try and learn more about my condition. To this day, most of my family members don’t know I am mentally ill, or the extent to which even my “happy phases” are a part of my sickness. I’m hesitant to tell them because the stigma against mental illness is something that unfortunately exists in our day and age, most of all in those who do not personally relate to them.
This is something I want to change, this essay being an important step in that direction. If those who suffered from disorders such as bipolar were given a platform to speak more openly about their symptoms, then others would naturally become more accepting and knowledgeable about them as well. I’m not ashamed of my disorder. I used to believe that I had no power over my condition, that it was a disadvantage imposed on me, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a source of strength that flourishes the more I learn to work with it rather than against it. Whether it’s improving my diet, exercising, meditating, or even just talking about it, I have learned new ways to build a relationship with my type II bipolar disorder instead of wishing it didn’t exist, and I would feel unbelievably fulfilled to be able to help others reach that same sense of inner peace.
by Kristen from Connecticut