Part 5: If You Ignore It, Does Mental Illness Go Away? (Patient Story)

Spoiler: It doesn’t.

A sad guy looking off in the distance. | Graphic made by author with Canva.

Continuing the Surviving Bipolar Series. Part 1 starts here.

Part 5

Have you ever played peekaboo with a baby? You hide your face and then uncover it, and the infant will giggle with glee, surprised every time.

Sometimes, though, when you cover your face, the little one might cry. To their young minds, it’s as if you disappeared, and the possibility fills them with sadness.

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. But does mental illness just go away?

Reality has an ugly way of bringing the truth back to us. Part 5 of the Surviving Bipolar Series is about when my bipolar disorder refused to be ignored.

About the Blogger

Hi! My name is Scott, and I’m the voice behind Speaking Bipolar. Since February 2019, I have been sharing my experiences of living with bipolar disorder and chronic illness. I hope to spread understanding, reduce stigma, and give hope to those who feel alone.

In Part 4, I shared how I ran away from Wisconsin. I believed running was the way to escape the memories I wanted to forget. In Tennessee, I strove to create a new family and life for myself. Was I successful? Read on to find out.

Washing the Past Away

During my first weeks in Tennessee, many things fell into place. First, whether by God’s guidance or pure coincidence, I met a woman who basically gave me her business. She wanted out and only cared that someone would take care of her clients. Her gift solved my problem of being jobless.

Next, I needed a social life. I quickly found a new family, one without all the baggage and terrible memories I longed to escape. My new clan knew nothing about me, so I was free to be whomever I wanted.

My chosen family introduced me to new friends. Before long, I packed my social schedule full again.

The only dark spot was a quickly declining relationship with my roommate. Part of the problem was he was a link to my past. It felt vital to leave everything behind, so the more I grew closer to my Tennessee friends, the colder I treated my roommate.

Hindsight Is 20/20

I started my Tennessee adventure thinking my roommate was my best friend. Part of me knew he wasn’t, but I ignored my doubts. The person I talked to about everything was the girl I liked. She was really my best friend, no matter what I tried to tell myself.

My roommate and I were harmful to each other. Looking back, I can see how damaged we both were. It took years to stop blaming him for all our problems, but now it’s clear where my mental illness added to the chaos.

In my anger, I often told him he was a bad person, a failed parent, and an unreliable friend. Those words I regret, but there’s no taking them back. My friendship with my roommate became another relationship destroyed by me and bipolar disorder.

Maybe it was for the best. As two damaged souls, our friendship only created pain.

Does mental illness go away? If you ignore it, will it disappear? Read an important lesson from an author with Bipolar Disorder in part 5 of the Surviving Bipolar Series. | #SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva.

Cracks Show Even Through Fresh Paint

Within a few months, my new friends recognized something was off with me. One friend, let’s call her Margaret, was notably aware.

I loved Margaret and her family, but it irritated me how she could see through me. No matter how hard I tried, Margaret always saw the cracks I tried to hide.

While Margaret could be critical, the bulk of her concern came from a place of love and a desire to help.

Margaret and I are still friends, though we now live hours apart. I still love her and her family very much. She and her husband, Patrick, literally saved my life. That’s a story for another post, but let’s just say Margaret and Patrick saw me through my darkest hours.

I never made it easy for Margaret to care for me. Even when I allowed myself to open up to her and her husband, I would quickly freeze up and put on my party face. Everything in my world was wonderful. With my smile wide, the lie of a perfect life was the only story I wanted to tell.

For poetry lovers, on the bottom of this page there’s a poem video about how it feels when you know your depression is returning . The text version is here.

Sleep Is Not Optional

My new business filled around 50 hours of my weekly schedule. I loved being self-employed and reveled in my newfound freedom. Like a typical 20-something, I made lots of terrible choices.

For one, I spent most of my daylight hours and early evenings socializing. Then, because insomnia was a constant problem, I would work most of every 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 showed 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 didn’t exist in the real world.

Does Mental Illness Go Away? Um, No…

The hallucinations were okay, though, because part of my mind knew they weren’t real. If I saw something no one else saw, I laughed and pretended I was playing a joke. Hallucinations were easy to hide.

The mix of untreated bipolar disorder and insomnia created other troublesome problems. One issue was hearing voices. The less I slept, the louder the mental noise got.

My friends without mental illness often ask what it’s like to have voices in your head. Did they talk to me? Sometimes. An angry voice often told me no one liked me and that I was worthless.

Most often, though, the voices were like being at a party. When in a large group of people, you may hear lots of voices, but if you’re not concentrating on one, they become meaningless background noise. That was the noise in my head.

All. The. Time.

Dozens of voices chattered on, but none of them were clear enough for me to make sense of what they were saying. Like a radio trying to tune into a station, my brain searched but never found the right signal. So the noise went on and made me angry.

The other big problem was missing time. Chunks of time disappeared. Friends would talk about things I did, but I had no memories. Days would disappear, sometimes weeks. The blank spaces never filled in.

Amazingly, I kept my business running, my house clean, and my friends happy.

Sanity, a precious gift I didn’t know I had, was slowly slipping away.

A sad guy leaning against a wall. | Graphic made by author with Canva.

Things Change Again

In less than a year, my roommate fled back to Wisconsin. I’m sure part of his escape included fleeing from me.

I was angry, and hurt that he left, but it was for the best. Life was leading me in the right direction, even if it would take me decades to understand.

I grew closer to Margaret and her family. We created a close-knit circle of friends with another woman, Penelope, and her family.

Both Margaret and Penelope had kids. Having children in my daily life was new for me because I’m the youngest in my family. I quickly realized I loved kids, but they come with their own challenges.

Often with kids in tow, Margaret and Penelope became my partners in crime, my Thelma and Louise. I spent most of my free time with them and their families.

Grocery Shopping at Night

I live in a small town which was much smaller when I moved there. We often felt cut off from the outside world. The town had two small groceries, and both closed at 8:00 p.m. There were no fast-food joints except a lone Hardee’s, but it too close at 8:00.

Grocery shopping was much easier for Margaret and Penelope without kids. We started a tradition of shopping after the kids went to bed. The dads stayed home with the little ones, and the three of us disappeared into the night.

I can’t remember why I started going with Margaret and Penelope. I had no kids limiting when I could shop, but those late night trips to the nearest Walmart became our little escapes. Flying down a rural highway, often the only car on the road, we blasted 1980s music with the windows down. Each mile was a celebration of not having to listen to The Lion King Soundtrack on repeat.

The hour-long trip home from the nearest 24-hour store was our time to bond. It was then we shared our secrets and connected over similar histories.

Making a Confession

One night, I decided to open up.

“I think I’m going crazy,” I told them.

The girls exploded with laughter, but there was no cruelty in their chuckles.

“Going?” Margaret asked, and I laughed with them. I knew they would never judge me.

I opened up about what I was feeling. Margaret turned the radio down. The three of us shared stories of what I would later see as symptoms of mental illness.

To my surprise, both Margaret and Penelope understood. Even my darkest feelings found some common ground. Maybe they didn’t get all of what I shared, but they connected to enough of my story to give me validation. I wasn’t alone in what I felt, and that opened a new world to me.

With the whole mental illness subject finally broached, it was time to seek help. But looking for help became its own adventure.

Mental illness—I was finally accepting what I was fighting—was not going to just go away. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, the illness needed treatment. I’ll continue this story in the Part 6 of the Surviving Bipolar Series (link below).

If you think you or a loved one are 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 be open with your truth.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Does mental illness go away? If you ignore it, will it disappear? Read an important lesson from an author with Bipolar Disorder in part 5 of the Surviving Bipolar Series. | #SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva.

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