Part 16: Friends Kept Me Busy, My Therapist Was a Disappointment

Continuing the Surviving Bipolar series.
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My 10-day hospital stay was over and so was my mini Florida vacation. It was back to the real world, and I was anxious about what would come next.

I imagined my time in the hospital had cured me. My bipolar brain told me the doctor put me on the right medications, and I would never have problems again. I even wrote in my journal:

I’m feeling much better now. Much better than I have been. I have a lot of energy, but I don’t feel manic this time. I pray this is working.

I wanted to believe the worst was behind me, but part of me knew there was still a long road ahead. It was a truth I would have to face repeatedly during the months and years ahead.

Surviving Bipolar is a monthly series telling the story of the early days of my journey with bipolar disorder. Read it from the beginning here.

I wrote brief journal entries, rarely more than a few sentences. Then I kept returning to my journal at various times during the day. In one entry, I wrote:

I really don’t have anything to say, so I’m not sure why I picked up my journal again. My mind keeps running. Writing in here keeps it occupied with something to do.

My determination was clear in my written words. I was sure I was not manic. The mania was over, and I was free of mental illness.

The worst impulse was still there

My friends Patrick and Margaret were still concerned about me, so they weren’t letting me spend much time alone. No one said anything, but we were all walking around with a very real fear in our minds.

I never mentioned feeling suicidal again or the events of the night that led to me being committed to the hospital. But the thoughts never left me.

Truth be told, it’s nearly three decades later, and there’s rarely been a day and all that time that I haven’t thought about suicide at least once. It’s odd, but somehow having a plan of how I will end things is comforting to me. It’s a truth you can only understand if you have bipolar disorder or another mental illness.

To be clear, suicide and self-harm are never the right answer. I have no plan to act on the impulse, but it’s an all-encompassing thought process I carry with me every day.

Part 16 of the Surviving Bipolar Series tells the story of what happened the first few weeks after my stay in a psychiatric hospital.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
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Friends kept me busy

The weekend after our Florida trip, Margaret took me to her mother’s house, who lived two hours away. It was another distraction to keep me busy and around people.

I wish I had appreciated Margaret and Patrick as much in the moment as I do now. I was 23 and full of negative energy, and I’m sure I was a much bigger challenge than either of them wanted to handle.

My friends saw the darkness in me even when I wasn’t willing to admit it. Without telling me, they made plans to keep me from being alone. They filled my weekends with trips to Gatlinburg, to Indiana, or to stay with Margaret’s mother.

Little by little, they gave me more time to be home alone. Most of the time, though, they had somewhere for me to be or a friend assigned to hang out with me.

As hard as it is to be around people, it’s critical not to be alone after a mental break. I refused to admit it then, but it was a bad idea for me to be alone.

I needed to be with people and to be accountable to the ones who loved me. As awful as I was to Margaret, I needed her mothering, and that of my own mom, too. I needed them to care for me and to watch for danger signs.

There were still a lot of them.

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Disappointed with Dr. Burt

I saw Dr. Burt once or twice a week, based on his availability, in the weeks after I left the hospital. His therapy methods felt pointless, but he kept telling me I had to commit to him and therapy.

One session went well. I explained in my journal:

Today, I laid the first brick in the foundation of a safe place. I’m giving Dr. Burt three years to help me. A lot of money, I agree, but so it goes. If I’m not considerably healthier by then, then I’ll move on from him.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t take three years for me to recognize that Dr. Burt couldn’t give me what I needed. Two weeks later, I decided I was done with him, though I saw him for several weeks after that.

I didn’t feel Dr. Burt understood any of the things I was trying to say. His desire to steer every conversation back to addiction left me frustrated after every session.

In the days since I walked out of the hospital doors, I had not had a single drink, nor the desire to have one. Yet Dr. Burt only wanted to talk about being an alcoholic.

I knew I wasn’t ready to discuss all the monsters haunting my head, but I also knew there were more important issues we should be talking about.

A few weeks later, I stopped seeing Dr. Burt. I’m sure he helped some people, but he was not the right fit for me.

Not every therapist will work for every person. If you can’t connect with your therapist, you’ll never make progress. The best thing to do is to find a new therapist if possible.

Finally spending time alone

I was discharged from the hospital on April 26th, but it wasn’t until May 9th until I was finally back home in my trailer alone.

Being back “at the scene of the crime” was a tricky situation. Margaret cleaned my place while I was away and cleared out all of the pills and alcohol. She took control of my meds, only giving me a week’s worth of pills.

Margaret controlling my medication was a wise step, but it ticked me off. I felt like she was trying to mother me, and the last thing I wanted was another mother. Besides, Margaret is only seven years older than me. How much more about life could she possibly know?

“I’m old enough to handle my own medications,” I growling to myself while looking in the bathroom mirror. “I don’t need anyone telling me when to take my meds.”

If only bipolar disorder were that easy.

As much as I tried to pretend everything was well and wonderful, the beast in my mind was still there. The new meds were helping, but I was far from cured.

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Not everyone is kind

As I mentioned in part 12, one of my fears after being in the hospital was people viewing or treating me differently or like I was dangerous.

Sadly, there were a few insensitive ones who also judged me as having weak faith. I pretended their words didn’t bother me, but they gutted me every time I thought about them.

Growing up, I always felt like something was wrong with me. The feelings go back to the earliest years of my childhood. Voices inside told me I was adopted, or an alien sent here to live among humans. There had to be a reason why I felt so different from everyone else.

I learned to play the role of a happy human and kept a smile on my face. Every day, I strove to make other people happy, but I never felt inside like I belonged anywhere.

The feeling of being an outsider was much worse after I got out of the hospital. When the people I thought cared about me distanced themselves from me, it made me feel like even more of a mutant.

Every demeaning comment stabbed my heart, but it was a pain I kept hidden. My self-worth dropped to zero. I was no longer actively trying to end my life, but the feeling I was unworthy of life became stronger than ever.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was to keep everything locked inside. Had I opened up then, I would have worked through those painful emotions much quicker. Instead, it took decades for me to unpack and process all the baggage I packed up then.

Part 16 of the Surviving Bipolar Series tells the story of what happened the first few weeks after my stay in a psychiatric hospital.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
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You are not an alien

Recently, I read a post by another writer with bipolar disorder who said she also grew up thinking she must have been adopted. She described feeling completely different from the rest of her family.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s a common belief among people with bipolar disorder. Have you ever felt that way? If so, I’d love to hear your story. I wonder how many of us have carried that terrible feeling our whole lives.

For today, I want you to know that even if you feel like an outsider; you fit in here. You are welcome. You are part of the Speaking Bipolar family, and we’re thrilled to have you.

If any of my words touch your heart, then you know you’re never alone. You’re not the only one who feels this way, and neither am I. With each other to lean on for support, we both can get through anything.

Back in 1995, I was making better decisions about how I treated alcohol and handled other self-destructive habits, but I was still prone to making many terrible choices. I’ll tell you more about those in the next chapter.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Read Part 17

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