Mental Illness… Bipolar, and Robin Williams

When I was first diagnosed as bipolar, my therapist recommended that I research bipolar individuals that I could use to prove to myself that those with bipolar can live long, productive, and successful lives.  I love making people laugh, and I love being the center of attention. If I was a better looking woman, I would have tried the stand-up comedy gig, or being a musician or actress. That desire to make people laugh has manifested in me working several years of summer camp, acting, and other various center of attention involving improve and wit, so even though I am a scientist, I chose to use Robin Williams as my role model. Successful, funny, yet deeply scarred.

No, I was not trying to emulate him, or was under any delusion that I knew him, or understood him. He was candid about his issues with addiction and self-medication with cocaine. Most comedians actually have several demons inside of them. And to the outside, it is difficult to notice unless you know individuals. Last night, he apparently committed suicide. I am crushed.  Aside from the obvious family and friends he left behind, I am upset for a more selfish reason: Apparently, this mental illness thing never actually goes away.

I have started admitting to people about my bipolar diagnosis.  Most people don’t believe it at first. I look to have everything so well put together. Working on a doctorate, getting married, fantastic artist, successful at almost everything I do. I graduated at the top of my college class, Summa Cum Laude, won several national awards for leadership, was a successful program designer, had several refereed publications and a Masters degree and a book chapter before I turned 25.

I have what are known as rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Mixed episodes are the worst thing that I have ever experienced. All of the drive and energy in the world, but too depressed to actually do anything. Then I developed the psychomotor agitation. I started to bite and chew my fiancée, punching the walls and desks, shaking and kicking violently. It was like my drive went into overdrive.

I always had amazing and creative vision, able to connect things that nobody else could. It made my vision as a scientist and K-12 education specialist desirable. I thought I could handle taking on new project after new project. I also needed to ramp up everything that I was already doing. So many amazing ideas, which were coming faster and faster. I thought I was just overextended and stressed, because that is what graduate school does to people. It creates crazy perfectionism and horrors.  I was avoiding my work on my dissertation because I was scared to fail. The usual diagnosis.

Then, my classes, which I loved, started to fall apart in Fall of 2012. I could no longer meet deadlines, couldn’t write anymore, and I stopped caring. I was haunted by the guilt that I used to be so functional, with the desire and drive to accomplish the world, but no motivation to do it.  Everything felt like it was falling apart. By Fall 2013, the fight to commit suicide was growing. I had several attempts in August, October, and November before I took an incomplete in one of my classes and checked myself into a day program at a mental hospital.

Struggles are human. I can’t pretend to understand what Robin Williams was going through. I am not saying that those of us with mental illnesses have it any worse than other people’s lives out there. I cannot judge those experiences, as the barometer that I have is seen through a lens colored by bipolar disorder. I am struggling for control, and fighting my brain constantly. Watching the medications not work how they should, side effects, watching the frustration, stress, and heartbreak that I cause to the amazing support network that I have. I can understand why he did it. Tired of fighting, ruled by something that isn’t even real outside of your own head. For me, giving up is not an option. I WILL finish my doctorate degree, and be successful, because that is what I am programmed to do.

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