Hold onto the Hope: My personal journey through diagnosis.

Being discovered curled up and sobbing, on the floor of the bathroom of a psych unit in Denver, late 1989, was the final straw in my diagnosis as having Bipolar Depression. This was not your typical psych unit, it was a special unit for women with eating disorders and I was there voluntarily. But the behavior they witnessed during my time there and the family history that emerged gave the doctors what they needed to make a diagnosis and get me on some medicines. My first encounter with Lithium was life-saving. But that’s not where the story started.

I had suffered from major mood swings as a child, some of them making me mildly suicidal.  I had grandiose thoughts and dreams, which included being valedictorian of my high school class and getting a major scholarship so I could get out of state to college. Those I achieved.  It was during my first year of college, 1983, that the world I had carefully crafted around myself came crashing down. The stress and my age, as it does for so many, triggered my first manic-depressive episode. I had a major suicide attempt and landed in a hospital in small town Oklahoma that didn’t even have a psychiatric ward. After a week of hallucinations, I was released to my parents, with no diagnosis ever given to me or my school. I knew I had tried to kill myself and I knew this group of friends I had recently made in a campus ministry group had stood by my side, visiting, bringing me things I needed, taking my confused 3 a.m. phone calls. I am still friends with many of them and stay in touch with others. I owe them  my life and my sanity that long first year.

It was a long time, from ’83 to ’89 before I got a diagnosis. The Bipolar didn’t go away. I lay in my dorm room listening to people bang on my door, before missing some of the most important days of my life. I sat outside friends’ dorm rooms late into the night while they slept, keeping my personal dragons at bay. But I did survive. And my friends survived, too. I can’t thank them enough.

Then I came to Denver for grad school and got a diagnosis, Oddly enough, I never went through the typical tearful or angry stages of “Why me, God?” I was just so freaking grateful to have a name for what was going on with me and other people who were living with it too! Others, who have had other reactions, often feel funny that gratitude was my reaction but honestly that’s what it was. I had struggled and suffered since childhood and I was just so grateful to have a vocabulary to use to discuss it. It has taken me near thirty years to feel like I have a handhold on it and that is only three days out of five.  It still is a challenge, What meds? What treatment plan? What next?

So I encourage you to never give up. If there comes a time when  you cannot hold onto the hope, ask a friend to hold it for you overnight and remind you of it in the morning. I have done it millions of times and I would hold onto the hope for you, sight unseen, knowing you not. Write me. Start a blog. It doesn’t have to be great. Just look at this one! Just don’t let go of the hope,

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