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My name is Laura and I am 35 years old. I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember and was recently diagnosed with bipolar II.

“I’ve been called an “old soul” for most of my life. In retrospect, I think my feelings have always been too big for my body. As a teenager, I was seen as sullen and attitudinal. I was told I was too sensitive or to just “be positive” on a regular basis. It’s incredible to me, how easy it is to dismiss someone because it’s not a visible illness. Mood disorders are often dismissed with the excuse of a bad attitude or “troubled” mind. I grew up believing depression was a made up issue and never held any real meaning. I grew up in the church, where I was told that prayer and “spending time in the word” would heal my depression. Spoiler alert – it didn’t, which just perpetuated my feelings of failure. Why couldn’t I get better?

As the years went by, it didn’t get better. I am a mother of three now… with each pregnancy and post-partum experience, my moods would get worse and for more prolonged time periods. I thought that it was post-partum depression, and then it was anxiety, and then it was rage with thoughts of suicide. The thing that kept me grounded was the love I had for my children and knowing that I couldn’t leave my little baby without her mother. The suicidal ideations were as recent as the summer of 2019. The one thing that had changed was that I was no longer hiding it and had confided in a couple very close friends and my husband. They were all checking in on me, regularly.

When it got that bad, I knew I needed help. So, I sat down and made phone calls. Over a 3 day period of time, I spent 10+ hours making calls and tracking down any mental health professional I could find within a 50 mile radius. I had no mental health coverage so I needed a sliding scale. I couldn’t find ONE single provider that charged less than $150/session. When I finally found one that charged $80, the therapist was very religious and had religious knickknacks all over the office – this wasn’t going to work as it triggered a lot of feelings I’d worked through with regards to my own spiritual deconstruction. I finished that session and never went back.

I was on my own. No one cared. I was terrified. I am lucky to be alive today. This is mental health care in America. This is why mothers die and then people wonder “why” and what could have been done differently. I could have been a statistic. My baby saved me from myself because I was exclusively breastfeeding her and she would not take bottles… I feared she would starve without me. That is LITERALLY the thread that bound me. A tiny thread.

To this day, I’m angry that this was my story. How many others had this happened to? How many others didn’t survive?

Fast forward to 2020 – this year has been hell for EVERYONE. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. The earth – quite literally – is on fire. We are a nation divided by injustices, the haves and the have nots.  I was finally surfacing from the crippling effects of PPD and went straight into the winter months, which are never great for my mental health. Then March came and with it, quarantine. I fell apart.

I finally reached out to a family member that worked for a psychiatry practice, in hopes that I could get an evaluation. I hadn’t been able to get off my couch. I was forgetting to feed my kids. I was always angry. I was a mess and I couldn’t even fathom how to get on the road to recovery.

I finally had my appointment. I was thinking, this will likely be a “well, you have depression AND/OR ADHD..” or something along those lines. You see, I’d been researching and couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with me, but I KNEW.. I knew it wasn’t nothing. Imagine my surprise, when all was said and done, when he had finished explaining all the issues I had brought forth in the session with a diagnosis…”you fit the clinical definition of bipolar II.” I sat and blinked at him for a bit. And after the session was over, I cried. I cried for hours. I wasn’t prepared for any of that and wasn’t prepared to consider long term use of medication (he prescribed one for me during that session). I made excuses and thought I could work through it…And then, I talked to people I loved –  my husband and siblings, some close friends… and I accepted what it was. I accepted that I had been looking for what was “wrong” with me and got an answer, even if it was an unexpected answer.

I started my medication the next day. Since getting on my medication, the difference in my daily life is remarkable. I had what the doctor called “racing thoughts”. He explained that it was as if my brain was too smart and fast for me to keep up with and that those thoughts were essentially the source of my crippling anxiety. I’ve described it like this, because it’s been this way for as long as I could remember: Imagine sitting in a crowded bar – there are voices and conversations everywhere. Some are louder than others, but there is always a constant din of noise and a sea of voices. That’s what my mind always sounded like, even at night. I just got really used to the noise… Now imagine leaving that crowded bar and stepping into another room and shutting the door. The noise cuts off and there is quiet…That’s what my brain felt like after about a week on the medication. It was so disarming that I had trouble sleeping for a couple of nights.

Now, I’ve been on medication for about 3 months and have noticed significant difference and change for the better. I am STILL looking for a therapist and haven’t had any luck with that part of my journey yet, but am so thankful for access to the doctor managing my medication at this point. Even though I never imagined this answer, it gave me something to focus on and a road to healing.

My diagnosis made sense. After really digging into it, everything sort of clicked. My meds have helped stabilize me, but I am also making strides to better myself in other ways. I have more patience with my kids and have stopped constantly worrying about the future. I am taking it one day at a time, one step at a time. It’s not to say that I don’t have bad days, but they are much fewer and far between. I don’t know how I lived that way for so long, but I am thankful not to be in that space any more.

I’ve come to accept that this isn’t an illness more than it is just a part of how my brain is wired. I fight stigmas. I work to normalize things that may not be seen as “normal” to our society. This was something I had to face, head on. I had to face my own internalized ableism and know that there isn’t anything WRONG with me. This is part of my story but it doesn’t define me. For the first time in my 35 years, I finally feel like I have the drive and focus to accomplish some of my goals. I don’t intend on wasting the time I’ve been given. “

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