My Battle

By April 13, 2016 No Comments

On average in the United States, 10 people die from drowning each day. For the past 12 years, since being diagnosed with depression, I have drowned over and over again.

On average in the United States, .005{c89cd7f4fa26d16537b3fe779361f4468ca92e80ef52e309b9ca31cbc1af2626} of the general population dies of a heart attack each year. Since being diagnosed with anxiety 10 years ago, I have had several dozen.

At any given time, approximately 3{c89cd7f4fa26d16537b3fe779361f4468ca92e80ef52e309b9ca31cbc1af2626} of the U.S. population is incarcerated. I have been a prisoner in my own mind and body on and off again for as long as I can remember.

On average, it takes 3 minutes to die from suffocation. Since as long as I can remember, I have suffocated over and over again. Sometimes it lasts hours. Sometimes it lasts days. Sometimes it lasts for weeks. Finally, 3 years ago, my doctor called this Bipolar II. It was the best news I had received in 26 years because it was a diagnosis. It had symptoms I could put a name to. It had medication options. It had support groups. It had hope.

Depression doesn’t always come in the form of crying and staying in bed all day. Anxiety doesn’t always come in the form of OCD or shortness of breath tendencies. Sometimes the people who look the most “normal” – outgoing, friendly, always smiling, are prisoners in their own mind. Sometimes we’re drowning. Other times we’re suffocating. Sometimes we’re smiling through the pain of what feels like a heart attack. Or a stroke. Or 206 broken bones.

The first time I cut myself was the day before cheerleading tryouts. The first suicide letter I wrote was 2 days after starring in my school’s performance of Footloose. How would anyone have known? I was the poster child for a happy teenager on the outside. When my depression and anxiety and side effects from trying multiple medication regimens got so bad that I dropped out of high school, everyone was in awe. “She was a cheerleader.” “She’s our grade’s student council representative.” “She’s a star in our performing arts program.” “She lives in a beautiful house.” “Her parents are so cool.” How could this outgoing, high energy 17 year old be so terrified of absolutely nothing and absolutely everything at the same time that she could no longer function in social settings, let alone a classroom, and no one even realized it?

I was drowning. I was suffocating. I was dying. Sometimes, I am still drowning, suffocating and dying. Other days, I am on top of the world.

Today, I am a self-aware adult. I embrace what some call a mental illness, a disease, a curse. Every day is a battle. Sometimes the battle is what to wear. Sometimes the battle is drowning. Sometimes the battle is finding a restaurant with enough gluten free options. Sometimes the battle is being scared of my own shadow. Sometimes the battle is that I’ve felt so good for so long that I forgot to fill my medication prescription and I’m out of pills. Sometimes the battle is which bar to pick for happy hour. Sometimes the battle is a heart attack. Sometimes it’s drowning.

I’m alive. I like it that way. I don’t ask for pity. I don’t even pity myself. I want to be heard. I want everyone to know what Bipolar II looks like – it doesn’t look like the Florida weather changing almost daily. It doesn’t look like your girlfriend posting selfies of you two all over social media one minute and picking a fight with you the next. It doesn’t look like daily mood swings.

Maybe one day Bipolar and other mental health conditions will be seen as what they really are – chemical imbalances, no different than your allergies, your diabetes, your migraines.

I’m alive. For the first time in a lot of years, after a lot of hard work, even though every day is some sort of battle, I like it that way.

Ariel Ivy Frechtman