My mental health journey began when I was eleven years old. It was 1991, and Kurt Cobain hadn’t stepped up to the mic to sing “All Apologies” yet. He hadn’t smashed one guitar out of rage in public. Hadn’t yet dyed his hair purple in a fit of mania for all to see.
At eleven years old I was supposed to be all bubblegum and board games. Riding my bike and laughing with friends.
Instead, I spent most of my days stuck in some purgatory—caught between the rush of tween hormones and something that felt more sinister broiling beneath the surface.
When a psychiatrist finally said the word “bipolar” to my mother and suggested a dose of lithium, she was terrified. Mental health was not a buzzword. There was a stigma attached to the diagnosis and an implication that my mother had done something wrong.
So we moved on.
We would keep moving on to new therapists throughout my teen years. Making attempts at talk therapy—only to discover that there were some secrets that my mother didn’t want to be disclosed. Trying different cocktails of medications. Maybe Zoloft. Maybe Ritalin. Maybe the new wonder drug at the time, Prozac.
None of these worked. Everything just made my world more foggy and confusing.
By the time I hit my “rebellious” teenage years, I was crawling out of my skin. I could not escape myself, so I started self-medicating. Weed and booze were my drugs of choice, and I spent a lot of time experimenting with different mixtures to see which one could take me the farthest outside of myself. Of course, this just made my mood swings more erratic and severe, and I pushed down my real emotions until I was a shell of myself.
I rock-bottomed in my 20s. I vacillated between sorority president and black-out drunk. During my upswings, I was an A student, making the dean’s list and planning food drives for battered women’s shelters. In my downswings, I would binge drink and wake up on the floor of a frat house, wondering where my friends had gone and what I had done to make them leave me.