December 12, 2014

Recently I was finally diagnosed by my psychiatrist as having Bipolar II Disorder. Or, rather, he confirmed my self-diagnosis, thanks to my extensive research on the disorder, my descriptions of my erratic behaviour over the past few months - over my entire life - as well as a detailed document written by my husband detailing the impact all this has had both on him and our daughter.

The reality of having bipolar disorder set in

So how does it feel to have finally been diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Initially I was punching the air. For months I have fought to get the stamp: the confirmation that my behaviour is more than just me being deliberately difficult, that it was more than just recurrent depressive disorder coupled with anxiety and mere bipolar tendencies, as per my original diagnosis back in March this year. Then the reality set in. The realisation of the implications, for my life, my work, my driving license even, what I would have to or not have to disclose to employers, to friends, to family.

My moods would shift from elation to despair in a matter of minutes

My entire life I have been mercurial: extreme rages and temper tantrums peppered my childhood. A perfectionist by nature, getting anything wrong would result in my flying into a wild rage. On making a mistake whilst practising the piano or cello aged 5 years and onwards, I would pummel the piano keys, thrash the score and hurl my cello bow across the room, screaming like a demon. To which my dad would yell at me to shut up, unsurprisingly. My moods would shift from elation to despair in a matter of minutes. I’d put intense effort into drawings for art exams, sobbing with despair when they amounted to nothing more than a perfect 1cm square of a shell, a plant, or whatever: when faced with the acres of pristine white paper, I panicked with the realisation that the paper would never be filled, that I had failed profoundly to live up to the beautiful ideal in my head. And these are just miniscule examples of my behaviour, which became wilder and more furious with age.

Were it not for my supportive family and friends, I would have ended up in a bad place

Upon leaving school I went to pieces. An accomplished cellist destined to become a professional performer, I indulged my mercurial impulses to stop playing, to go travelling, to study Philosophy and Anthropology, to drink too much, to take drugs, to enter into a seven-year abusive relationship. I yoyo-ed from one extreme to another, always punctuated with the most intense self-loathing. Never good enough, never had been, never would be. Fluctuating from extreme self-hatred to arrogant self-love, depending on where I was on the spectrum, resulting in destructive behaviour at every turn. I was labelled as a moody cow, that’s just how she is, difficult, a pain in the arse…

I spent years looking for myself, reeling from the deepest darkest depressions to the conviction in moments of cyclical clarity, that I had found The Answer, that this project was the one I was destined for, that this was put on this earth to do, that this was who I was destined to be. But each time I saw others effortlessly walking the path they were destined for, expressing themselves with creativity, empathy, a profound understanding of life and the world with the utmost ease, I knew this was something I had never had and had no idea how to attain. After the safety, security and support of school, I flailed for twenty three years, swinging wildly from one personality costume to the next, to the befuddlement of my long-suffering and eternally supportive parents, sister, husband and friends. Were it not for them, I would surely have ended up on the streets, the wastage of my destructive, abusive self spilling out in pools around me.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s 'manic depression' was a taboo subject

So now I have a label. Although I have known in my heart of hearts for months that I have Bipolar disorder, it has taken the acknowledgement of a psychiatric professional for it to truly hit home. I still don’t quite believe it and won’t until I see the diagnosis written in black and white before me. I am in shock, in mourning for the years lost to self-destructive rage, wildly searching for a self that was right in front of me, within me, but whom I failed to recognise as I was looking for a discrete entity, not one of two halves. The bipolarity is me. The poles, the zero to the 100% on the scale are what I am, who I am, who I have always been. I just didn’t know. No-one knew. In the days when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, 'manic depression' was a taboo subject. It wasn’t something that well-heeled, well-educated, middle class girls had. It wasn’t recognised, let alone discussed.

I will learn to mesh the extremities, with the help and support of my family

It will take time, healing and forgiveness for the hatred I directed towards myself and others all those years, couched in ignorance as to my reality. I wasn’t bad, I was just unwell, a chemical imbalance in my brain causing me to veer drunkenly from one extreme to the next. Now I understand. I just have to learn to accept myself as someone of two extremes, not two separate personalities nor a person lacking an identity altogether. I will learn to mesh the extremities, with the help and support of my family, my counsellor, my doctor, my medications. It will shape the rest of my life as it has shaped my history, but with positivity, creativity and love, and I will fight the inevitable relapses that are sure to hit as life steers its precarious course.

I am Xaverine, I have Bipolar disorder, and I am OK.

Xaverine blogs regularly on mental health, art and other things.

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