Content warning: Depression, pet death
I’m a solitary person by nature. I prefer to spend my time in my own company, watching a film or a TV show, or crocheting to keep my hands busy. I don’t mind being in my own head – in fact, for the most part, I prefer it. I wasn’t fazed by lockdown: being told to stay indoors didn’t substantially alter my daily routine, and I figured I wouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to the state of the world if I was already used to spending the majority of my time in my room. Back in April of 2020, I was chatting with a friend who asked me how I was coping with lockdown. At the time, I’d been unemployed since graduating from my MA five months previously; I was in the process of applying for jobs, but also considering undertaking a PhD. I said, and I remember it exactly, “My life literally has not changed at all, so I’m fine.”
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One afternoon in the summer of 2008: Boom! I found myself flat on the grass after being tackled by a friend during an outdoor student party. For a couple of days, I hadn’t been myself, and this day I was going sky high! I barged into conversations expecting everyone to listen to me, made many inappropriate jokes and jumped on stage to claim the mic from an unsuspecting artist. “What the hell are you doing?!”, my friend said to me. He helped me by (physically) getting me back on the ground.
The Long Road to a First Diagnosis
I have been dealing with having bipolar disorder ever since. I experienced quite the mental crash that year and spent a few weeks at my parents’ house resting, seeing my first psychologists and preparing for a return to university. After changing university course, I was a physics student and besides pushing myself through the degree, I was enjoying the social part of being a student. I was a member of a student association and this typically meant lots of fun activities. As I already had friends from all these activities, I skipped all the social introduction activities when starting physics. Because of this I became a student who did most of my studying alone. This carried on into my personal life too. I don’t share my feelings much and almost never ask for help.
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My body knew there was a problem before my brain. During my doctoral program, I began to suffer full-fledged panic attacks several times a day accompanied by sensory issues. Loud noises were piercing triggers, and a passing siren would leave me in a fetal position. I had never experienced anything like it, and I felt like I was spiraling out of control. There were other problems too. Opening a Word document to write or cracking the spine of a book sent waves of anxiety and panic through my body that came to rest in the back of my throat. I constantly replayed conversations with colleagues and faculty in my mind, highlighting my every fault. I needed hours before and after classes to work myself up and calm myself back down from these interactions. But the panic attacks were my primary concern: I couldn’t control them the way I could adjust my schedule to satisfy these mental rituals by which I got through the day.
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TW: Sexual assault
A Pragmatic Pollyanna
Fear. Denial. Avoidance. Guilt. Self-blame. Wavering or low confidence. Self-judgment. Self-punishment. For weeks, I have been avoiding these entities which I keep in my shadows. Generally, I pretend they have vanished. Mostly, they have. In their place have grown or returned: strength, courage, and resilience. These are coupled with strategic planning, tenacity, and optimism. Such attitudes have allowed neurobiology to work primarily in my favor with each new positive experience, and regeneration of new cells that have only understood fear as a residual, rather than direct impact, a balance that has taken years to achieve.
Those who have been affected with mental health issues in any walk of life have at least once encountered the phrase “chin up!” suggesting that the affliction is, in fact, their own fault. Consistently, on my journey I have encountered both such stigmas, as well as resounding cheerleaders championing my success. Because of the stigmas, I generally refer to my condition as “recovered.” Also, maybe, because it’s also hard to admit to myself.
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