Hey Ker!!! It’s me!
I’m writing this letter to you for a number of reasons. I’m a tad bit wiser now, have gone through some trial and (major) error, and I have a few things to share with you. This isn’t a letter about changing your path; maybe just one to keep you a little safer.
It’s the summer of 2013 and you’re off on a new adventure to experience your freshman year at the University of Vermont. It’s so much more than that. It’s escaping an abusive mother. It’s leaving history of trauma and pain behind. It’s a fresh start. That’s all you want, to start over and find happiness. However, all is not going to go according to plan.
The moment dad drops you off at college and says his final goodbyes, you find yourself overcome by overwhelming terror and fear. Your heart is racing, and you can’t breathe. Alternating between gasping for air and vomiting in your dorm garbage can, you can’t understand what’s going on. Looking for any way out, you’re going to spot your fridge fully stocked with beer. Alcohol, along with your best friend weed will become your dependencies in the next few weeks. Drinking every time you need to leave the dorm room, to get to class, to socialize, to perform the normal tasks required to function in society. That first weekend of college will begin a time filled with painful self-harming behaviors.
The people around you won't notice your failing mental health. They just see you as the wild party girl from California. And you're going to ride that identity. It's easier than being able to admit to strangers that something really wrong is happening, and your whole world is falling apart. Don’t worry. It isn’t your fault.
You’ll eventually stop going to classes your first semester. A beer or two doesn’t do the trick anymore to ease your racing heart and thoughts, but you’re still going to drink heavy the rest of the semester. Covering up your pain with the burn of Burnets. Day time will be hard. The anxiety is worse in the morning as the alcohol wears off. You’ll spend your time sobbing, hugging your arms tightly around your skinny body. Wondering if everything your mom told you growing up was true? “Am I worthless?” “Am I never going to succeed in life?” “Would everyone’s lives have been easier if I wasn’t born?”
As weeks go on, you’ll be put in situations that nobody should have to experience such as waking up barely clothed on a guy’s floor in the dorms, to find cruel words written all over your body. Circles of imperfections. Rude innuendos and symbols. Making your way back to your place you’ll be overcome with emotions and that’s ok. Rumors will also start flying. You’ll become known in your dorm as H.G. Heroin girl. You’ve never touched heroin. People can be so cruel. I know you’re taking people’s words to heart and they’re killing you. All you’re asking for is compassion. You’re going to make it. These people don’t know you or your inner struggles.
The semester will come to an end, and it will be time to fly home. You have a plan to die, and for once feel peace. That flight home will feel like eternity. But hey sis the story isn’t over yet. For some weird and unexpected reason dad will meet you inside the airport right at the terminal exit. He never does that. He’s going to wrap you in his arms and tell you it’s going to be ok. It’s not, but you’ll feel a sense of comfort. You’ve always been daddy’s little girl.
Your first night home will set the tone for the rest of the month of Christmas break. Mom will come in and say, “The family would have been better off if you had killed yourself.” This will rip your heart into teeny tiny pieces. Writing this letter, I’ve managed to not shed tears until now. Unfortunately, that moment will play over and over in your head every day. It doesn’t go away and will remain as clear as if it had happened only moments before. You’ll deal with the usual verbal and physical abuse that month.
Luckily for you, UVM is understanding, and mom and dad don’t want you around. UVM will give you a medical leave of absence, and mom will send you back to Vermont for community college. Still 18 years old, you’re going to face the challenges of living in an apartment on your own. Paying bills!!!!! Buying groceries!!! Trying to attend classes while STILL battling anxiety and depression!!! WILD. HANG IN THERE.
Spring semester and summer will come and go. You think you know the battle you’re fighting, but I’ll tell you right now… you haven’t seen anything yet. Back at UVM once again, you’ll be put on anti-depressants. BOOM! Someone missed something big, but we’ll get to that.
Over the next few weeks your behavior will become more and more erratic. Staying up for days at a time, drinking uncontrollably, lashing out at friends and loved ones; it will be a time where you will hurt others because you are hurting. Like many people with bipolar, traditional SSRI antidepressants can trigger manic episodes. And as soon as you start taking that drug, mania will rear its head.
You will feel euphoria, recklessness and impulsivity. You’re incredibly creative and productive during these periods, going for days without sleep. Your mania looks different from the typical mania because to most it appears like you’re in a really really really good mood. Mania makes you feel immune to consequences, and to be honest, you’re going to do some pretty stupid things while you’re manic. All your choices are going to seem like a good idea at the time. Trust me, they weren’t. Out of habit you hide the reckless and impulsive decisions you make. Unfortunately, this is going to make proper diagnosis much more challenging. This will be a time period you’ll have to work to come to terms with and then get over. Regrets about actions taken and friendships lost during this MANIC time.
One day after a particularly rough night, someone will take you on a drive. “I think you’re bipolar” he says. It’s going to be a relief to hear. An answer to the crazy feelings inside. The next day he’ll take you to your psychiatrist and sit with you as you learn about the diagnosis that has shaped your past and will now shape your future. Your dad will leave your mom and provide you a safe space to live, away from the monster.
When you finally accept you have bipolar disorder, you’re going to see your doctor and start on the path towards stability. If you do these things, your next 5 years will be a bit easier.
I’m not going to lie to you. Everything doesn’t get better after you get diagnosed. It’s a time of trial and (lots of) error with medication. You’re going to get very familiar with the psych ward. It will feel like a safe place eventually. You’re going to undergo electro-convulsive therapy, having forced seizures every week in hopes of breaking through that cloud of depression. You’ll have a few more suicide attempts. Once again, you are so loved. Please keep fighting. Your life is worth it. You’ll slowly begin to discover this… helped by your new friend Sweet Pea. Let her guide you through life and learn to appreciate the small things. She will always be there for you. Loyal as hell.
The next few years will be overwhelming, and at times you’ll be a danger to yourself. But I’m here to tell you that you will survive - it gets better. Even when you’re at your lowest, you have friends and family who LOVE you. Reach out to them and let them help you. I’m counting on you to not give up.
Wishing you a happier future,