A year ago today, I announced to the world that I would be leaving Chapman in the middle of the Spring 2018 semester because I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This diagnosis came after 20 years of life, and it’s not easy finding out that your brain isn’t typical. Leaving school was a comfortable choice in the sense that I hadn’t shown up for a full week of school in I don’t know how long. But I left with a feeling of failure.
My understanding of bipolar disorder was Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” and an episode of “Law and Order Special Victims Unit,” where Detective Stabler’s mother and daughter are both diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But the illness goes far beyond some of the stereotypes that lead people to use “bipolar” so loosely. I have Bipolar I, and more recently, I’ve noticed that I suffer from the illness seasonally. In the fall, I’m more likely to have depressive episodes, while in the Spring I am more likely to experience mania.
There’s no cure for bipolar disorder, and while I wish I could say I’m one hundred percent better than this time last year, that’s not the way that mental illness works. Bipolar disorder will be a lifetime struggle for me, regardless of the amount of treatment I receive. Bipolar disorder is caused by genetics, and yet I blamed myself and was cursing God for giving it to me.
But being diagnosed was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve always felt abnormal. Sometimes my mom jokes that she should’ve named me Diva because everything was always so dramatic. I’m a passionate person, and I don’t know if I would have the same impact if I didn’t see the world through a bipolar lens.
After a year of diagnosis and trial and error, I have finally found a medication that works for me (It only took nine tries). I have the best psychiatrist and therapist. I have a great support system with my mother and the best of friends. And while none of these things can stop my symptoms from occurring, it makes it easier to get right back up on my feet when I fall.
Just last week, I had a setback. And it was pretty scary now that I am less than two months from graduation. But healing is not linear. It’s tattooed on my rib cage for a reason. And each time I pick myself up off the floor, I get a little wiser, a little stronger and overall just become a better human being. A diagnosis is more information to help you understand who you are. Being mentally ill does not make me a bad person. I am still perfectly capable of holding myself accountable and reaching my goals.
Originally published at https://www.oliviahardenportfolio.com on April 10, 2019.