Have you ever played peekaboo with a baby? You hide your face and then uncover it, and the infant will laugh and giggle, surprised every time.
Sometimes, though, when you cover your face they might begin to cry. To their young minds, it is as if you disappeared, and they’re not happy at the prospect.
Many of us like to play a form of peekaboo with mental illness. We try to convince ourselves that if we hide it, it will disappear. Does mental illness go away?
Reality has an ugly way of bringing the truth back to us. Today’s post is about when Bipolar Disorder decided it would no longer be ignored.
About the Blogger
Hi! My name is Scott, and I am the voice behind Speaking Bipolar. I have been blogging for a little over a year, hoping that by sharing my experience of living with chronic and mental illness, I might inspire hope and comfort for someone else.
This post is Part Five of the Surviving Bipolar Series, where I have been sharing my personal experiences with Bipolar Disorder. You can read the story from the beginning by clicking here or Part Four here.
Last time, I talked about how I ran away from Wisconsin, hoping to escape the memories and events I wanted to forget. In Tennessee, I set out to create a new family and life for myself. Was I successful? Read on to find out.
Washing the Past Away
It was a new day. I had been in Tennessee a few weeks, and everything had fallen into place. First, by pure coincidence, I happened upon someone who basically gave me their business. That took care of my problem of not having a job.
Next, I needed a social life. I quickly found a new “family,” one that didn’t have the baggage and bad memories that I hoped to leave behind. They didn’t know me from Adam, so I was free to be whomever I wanted.
My new “family” brought even more new friends, and soon I was back to being just as social as I had ever been. The only thing that wasn’t working entirely was my roommate, but the problem there was that he was my only link to my past.
Hindsight Is Always 20/20
At the time, I thought my roommate was my best friend. Part of me knew that wasn’t true. The person I talked to about everything was the girl I liked at the time. She was really my best friend, but I tried to convince myself that my roommate was instead.
My roommate and I were not good for each other. I can see now how damaged he was.
For a long time, I tried to blame him for everything that went wrong between us, but now, looking back, it’s a little easier to see how my issues and mental illness also took their toll.
He gave me lots of reasons to be unhappy, there’s no doubt about that. In exchange, though, I often made him feel like he was a bad person, a failed parent, and an unreliable friend.
For that, I am deeply sorry. Unfortunately, he is yet another of the relationships from my past that have been obliterated by me and Bipolar Disorder.
Maybe it was for the best. As two damaged souls, we were bad for each other.
Cracks Show Even Through Fresh Paint
It didn’t take long for my new friends to recognize that something wasn’t right with me. One friend, in particular, let’s call her Margaret, was notably aware.
I loved her and her family, but at the same time was frequently irritated that she could see through me. No matter how hard I tried, Margaret always saw the cracks that made up my imperfections.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. While Margaret could be critical, the truth is that the bulk of her concern really came from a place of love and a desire to help.
Margaret and I are still friends, though we now live far apart. I still love her and her family very much. In fact, she and her husband quite literally saved my life. That will be a story for another post, but suffice it to say, they were there in one of my darkest hours.
I never made things easy on Margaret, though. Even when I would allow myself to open up some small amount to her and her husband, I would just as quickly freeze up and put on my party face. Everything in my world was wonderful, or at least, that was the story I was trying to sell.
Sleep Is Not Optional
My new business took a lot of time. Being self-employed, though, was wonderful. I had never had such freedom. In true fashion as a young twenty-something, I made all the wrong choices.
For one, I chose to spend most of my daylight and early evenings socializing. Then, because I didn’t sleep much anyway, I would often work most of the night.
Sleep is optional, right? That’s a lie you can only tell yourself for so long.
The less I slept, the more irritable I became. In my mind, I was always my happy, fun-loving self, but the strain started to show in my new relationships.
Lack of sleep also brings on its own set of problems. I began to hallucinate. Nothing severe, but I often saw people where there were none, I imagined conversations that never happened, and more than once, I reached for something that wasn’t really there.
Does Mental Illness Go Away? Um, No…
The hallucinations were okay, though, because I knew on some level they weren’t real.
The other problems were a little harder to deal with. One was voices. The less I slept, the louder they got.
Have you ever been at a party or in a large group of people? Do you know that sound where you can hear the drum of everyones’ voices, but if you’re not concentrating on one, you don’t understand what any of them are saying? That was the noise in my head. All. The. Time.
Then there was the missing time. Chunks of time began disappearing. Friends would talk about things I had done that I couldn’t remember. Days would disappear with no memory of what I had done.
Amazingly, I managed to keep my business running, my house clean, and all the little things accomplished. Sanity, though, was slowly slipping away.
Things Change Again
In less than a year, my roommate fled back to Wisconsin. No doubt, in part, he was fleeing from me.
I was angry and hurt that he left, but it was for the best. However, it would take me years to figure that out.
I continued to grow closer to Margaret and her family. We also grew closer to another family. Let’s call the mom in that family Penelope.
Both Margaret and Penelope had kids. That was a bit of a new experience for me because I’m the youngest in my family. There hadn’t been a whole lot of kids in my experience.
I learned quickly that I loved kids, but that they can be a challenge for a young single guy. Still, Margaret and Penelope became my partners in crime, my Thelma and Louise, and I spent much of my free time with them and their families.
Grocery Shopping at Night
I live in a small town. At the time, things were even smaller, and we were cut off in some ways from the outside world. There was no superstores or all-night groceries. There was very little for fast food other than one aging restaurant.
It was much easier for the ladies to shop for groceries without their kids. Why I went grocery shopping with Margaret and Penelope, I don’t remember. I guess it was just another reason not to be home alone.
To solve the kid problem, we used to go grocery shopping late at night, after the kids were asleep, leaving the dads home to keep an eye on things. It was the one time we didn’t have to have The Lion King Soundtrack on repeat in the car.
It was often on those shopping trips – it was nearly an hour drive to the closest 24-hour store – that the three of us would get into long and deep conversations.
Making a Confession
One night, I decided to open up a little.
“I think I’m going crazy,” I told them. The girls laughed heartily at me but not in a cruel way.
For once, I didn’t hide. I opened up about some of the things I was feeling and experiencing. Margaret adjusted the radio to a softer level, and the three of us had a rousing conversation about mental illness.
To my surprise, both Margaret and Penelope understood where I was coming from. I mean really understood. Not everything, but enough to offer me some validation and to know I wasn’t imaging things.
With the whole mental illness subject finally broached, it was time to seek help, but that turned out to be its own kind of adventure.
Mental illness was not going to just go away, no matter how much I tried to ignore. Come back next week so see what happened next.
If you think that you or a loved one might be coping with mental illness, the first step is to start the conversation. Talk to someone about how you feel. Find the support you need, and always, keep fighting.