If I believe what I see, hear, feel, and taste to be reality, then what happens when every experience starts to seem connected? I have felt the love of the Universe flowing through everything I see, and the constricting anxiety that my family is in great peril. How can I remain still when thoughts and feelings crest and subside at a pace too fast for me to even talk? During the darkest moments of my life, I ultimately placed my faith in people who I knew cared about me. This was no mere belief that in the end everything would turn out for the best. I relinquished control of my body and I thought at times perhaps my life. I let go of everything.
For years before I ever became ill, I had a nagging sensation that there was something waiting for me at the edge of my awareness. So I began psychotherapy sessions that lasted for nearly three years. The therapist and I began to traverse long ignored corridors of my heart and mind. I often imagined myself walking through a labyrinth in search of the mythical Minotaur. I knew intuitively that I was searching for a beast in the most private part of myself. And when I finally met up with that scary fellow, it took the intervention of other people to keep him from consuming me.
I have read that bipolar disorder is hard for even mental health professionals to diagnose. From the beginning of my therapy in 1998 until the day before I went into the hospital in 2001, my therapist never recognized my symptoms. And unfortunately, while I knew I needed help, I really had no idea what form it should take. Open ended talk therapy seemed like a good idea, but it turned out to be a bit like dousing a fire with gasoline. My therapist helped me understand quite a bit about myself. But my emotional state never improved, and often I left his office feeling much worse. I have since learned that this is common for people who suffer from serious mental illness.
In April of 2001 my spouse, our minister, and two friends brought me into the emergency room at University of Chicago Hospital. While we waited for the doctor, my uncontrollably racing mind created one painful phantasm after another frightening both me and my companions. Having gone without sleep for days, I was beyond wondering what was wrong with me. I just wanted my hellish experiences to end one way or another. After three weeks in the hospital, I went home with an official diagnosis of severe bipolar I disorder and the solemn task of reconstructing my life.
Since that time, I have had one more bout of illness in 2006 (both have occurred during times of great personal stress), and a new diagnosis, schizoaffective/bipolar. This time it took me close to two years to recover from the episode. The arc of the illness has been the same both times: mania, delusions, psychosis, then depression and coping with being heavily medicated. Now I consider myself to be in the time of remission. Like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter, I am busy enjoying my life and the people I share it with.