Although I know many readers have trouble identifying with those of us who have alcoholism and another mental illness, I am so encouraged when I read great posts of those who have made it to the other side. Mental illness is generally totally debilitating but mine was not. I was a mental illness functioning person. The following had a tougher battle than I did.
However, I was ill, I spent weeks confined to bed, exhausted and unable to get up. Things piled up and I sank deeper under the depths.
At the beginning, I’d be able to drag myself to the very sporadic social gatherings to see friends where I’d put on a bright smile and exist, feeling alone amongst friends whilst inside I felt black, exhausted with myself and empty. Eventually, I stopped seeing anyone, began to tail off contacting friends as the effort was too much. People knew I was severely depressed as I never hide these things but I just drifted further down. There was this post from earlier last year where I’d started to unravel as I’m no stranger to being pinned by heavy, dark emotions.
Another great love of mine is food but I couldn’t face or handle the thinking and processes to make a meal. Staring vacantly, I stood for ages in-front of an open fridge door with less and less food inside and drawing blanks on what to eat or how to make it. If I got out from under the duvet, heating up a tin of beans was the most I could manage. Things reached a head when a friend came round and did my dishes as I sat with a cup of tea he’d made me. I’d be lying if there wasn’t shame in writing that but that was reality.
This depression was different, I felt driven, an irritation brewing to just do. A growing impulse was pushing and pushing and felt increasingly insistent though I had no more energy. Frustrated that I’d ground to a halt, I kept deriding myself for not achieving anything. I’d failed at the simplest task of being a human being.
Without warning, I woke very early after weeks of sleeping all day and felt good and bright and followed my driving impulses. Some of that I want to remain private, I’m all for confessional first person stories but this is not about airing my dirty laundry. Over days, I’d bought a collection of items I didn’t need in a vast spending spree and was convinced I needed all these ‘things’. I’d removed labels, worn clothes, used things and didn’t think my actions had consequences. Ideas and puns spun around my head, lines of songs repeated over and over and I wasn’t sleeping.
What began as productive wellness turned into out of control unpleasantness, ramping up my irritable angst. Unable to stop, my concentration fractured and focus went on the wrong areas; this feeling of immense confidence and connectedness to the world continued to mushroom. After over a week of constant going and doing and being, I crashed into another dark depression as I’d exhausted myself and driven my body over its precipice. At this time, I wrote an anonymous guest blog post on a friend’s blog during December as I felt I couldn’t write as me and followed it up with this post very recently. Charlotte is an award winning mental health blogger and was one of the people I spoke to during this time. Interviewing her last year and hearing her describe being ‘driven from the inside’ sparked warnings. She writes beautifully and with searing honesty about her experiences of bipolar and I recommend you have a read.
After difficulties with the NHS, finally, I was diagnosed at the end of January with Bipolar Affective Disorder where moods go from immense highs to immense lows. After being put on the mood stabiliser Lamotrigine, I began to feel better for the first time in ages. The noise, ideas and thoughts cleared and I could relax. The feelings of unhealthy drive, of having to keep going outside of my will had disappeared. For years I’d been rumbling along with this burning away in the background. I suspected I was bipolar but every time I raised concerns with health professionals, it was swept aside as anxiety or severe depression. After all, the usual statistic is it takes on average over thirteen years to diagnose and a person is misdiagnosed at least once, like I was.
So where do I go from here? I’m not sure. Hiding ill mental health is not what I do but I didn’t write openly at first to protect myself. As I am a journalist and photographer, there is stigma in these highly competitive industries and being ill has already cost me as you can read in my anonymous post. Journalism isn’t just about the journalist, I write in a variety of styles and didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a mental health personal perspective writer, as I have been restricted by past editors to niche areas. My journalism doesn’t appear on this blog much and this has always been a personal writing space but I’d like it to be that and more.
I talk about bipolar and mental health to take small steps in breaking down stigma and shame, including my own. I tweet ‘outed’ myself on 6th February as part of ’Time to Talk’, an initiative to get people talking about mental health.You can read the tweets on my Twitter page, @GraceWongPhoto as I don’t believe in Storifying monologues. Presently, I’m figuring out what is my personality and what are the beginnings of illness and becoming good at recognising when I’m going up. Spotting it and heading it off isn’t easy and to be honest, the highs feel good so it’s counterintuitive to stop, reduce stimulation or force myself to sleep and not go with it. Not being able to trust my own senses and intuition is painful. Trying to stick to a rigid pattern of sleeping by 11:00pm and waking early and needing to be careful of not running on adrenaline. Of course this is why I can’t do a Friday Night Ride anymore. Thankfully medication has removed any emotional effects of depression, though if I have a week of highs, I exhaust myself. I’ve coped with depression over the years by seeing it as an external illness but with bipolar highs, I can’t make that distinction. I am both it and not it at the same time. It’s early days, medication is being increased slowly and it will gradually make sense. I’ll find my power in it and grow as I’m adaptable.
Cross your fingers and toes that one day, I’ll see the sun rise again peddling on my bike, for now back to the writing and that is good enough for now.
Thanks for reading.
It wasn’t until after I seriously contemplated suicide that I was ready to handle a $30 million check.
I closed the doors of my first start-up in the summer of 2001. I was throughly broke, depressed, and feeling the burden of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money. Loneliness, darkness, hopelessness… those words don’t capture the feeling of the profound self-doubt that sets in after a failure. Loneliness. Darkness. Hopelessness. Those words describe the environment of depression. Self-doubt? That shakes you to the core and starts a fracture in your identity that makes you question if you should even exist anymore.
Then, a few short months after closing up my dreams, the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was 23-years-old, just a year older than the late Ilya Zhitomirskiy of Diaspora. It started a descent down to a depth I never knew could exist. Whatever it was, it was over. I knew things would get better. It probably would get better, but I just lost the energy and will to try. Until that point, my life had been a series of struggles and successes. Life was hard, but if you worked hard, if you suffered, if you lived for your dreams, it wasn’t supposed to end this way. There were plenty of examples of winners. People were getting funding, going public, creating change. Was I not meant to be an entrepreneur? Will I never get to pursue my dreams again?
I spent a week in my room with the lights off and cut off from the world, thinking of the best way to exit this failure. Death was a good option — and it got better by the day.
I don’t remember why I left my room. The most meaningful act I performed on my long climb out was to leave that room. It was the best decision I made in my life. I left that room and I got back to my job managing a very dysfunctional Internet radio startup where I was the cause of the dysfunction. It was a actually a positive thing that I left that room to leave a really bad situation to go to a bad situation.
It wasn’t for several months that death no longer became an option, but leaving that room and dealing with reality was the best antidote to a make-belief world where life just wasn’t worth it. When I was fantasizing about death as the panacea, the harshness of reality actually helped — it presented me with problems that I could actually solve.
9 years after I left that room, I would call Brad Feld to invest $30 million in my odd-ball company. Before I picked up the phone, I thought long and hard about losing that money — every single penny of it. And I was OK with it. Failure is an option, and a real risk. Failure and risk something entrepreneurs understand well, and learn to manage. However, death isn’t an option, it’s an inevitability. And before I die, I want to take as many swings at the fence as I can.
For those of you who struggle with this, I’d encourage you to keep walking out that door everyday.
Ilya, I’m so sorry that we didn’t know. From a long line of entrepreneurs who suffered alone and quietly under our own self-doubt, I wish I could talk to you and tell you to bash the shit out of your own self-doubt, or just even slink away with your tail tucked between your legs — either way, the world would have let you take more swings at the fences.