Being a teenager is hard — but being a teenager with a mental illness is even harder.
My mother was the first one to notice my symptoms. She forced me to see a psychologist at 16 years old because she found marijuana in my bag. The psychologist explained that I was just a normal teenager experimenting during my teenage years. A year later, I was admitted into an adolescent psychiatric hospital where I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, given some medication, and sent home. Three months later, I graduated from high school with honors and a full scholarship to college.
Not long after the start of my freshman year, I decided to drop out and lost my scholarship as a result. My mother was the first to notice that, again, something was wrong. This time I was sent to see a psychiatrist.
I was sitting in his office when he pronounced me dead, I mean, bipolar. I thought my life was over. I thought, just give me blue eye shadow and pink lipstick, put me in the psych ward, give me a straitjacket, and leave me alone. I refused to have bipolar disorder, and I was going to prove to everyone that I didn’t.
Over the course of the next 10 years, I managed to get arrested, married twice, divorced twice, had two children, buried my first husband, kicked a drug addiction, checked myself into two hospitals, and survived my 20s with significant collateral damage. This had to be bipolar disorder at its worst. I remember being suicidal a few times and my mother not leaving my side, awake for hours to make sure I didn’t hurt myself, despite my yelling at her to leave me. I have suppressed many memories as a coping mechanism in order to survive.
My 30s were the calm after the storm. Despite living with untreated bipolar disorder, I graduated from college and worked as an accountant. My life seemed normal but was still a roller coaster. It was nothing like my 20s. I did have bouts of depression where I didn’t want to get out of bed and would cry for days, not going into work or answering my phone. A couple of times I swallowed a handful of my anxiety medication just so I would stop feeling the indescribable pain in my soul. I just needed some relief from it all.
Before and after each bout of depression was hypomania or mania. I would go out until the early hours of the morning, drinking and partying. I was the life of the party. People loved to go out with me because they knew we were going to have a good time and it would be an adventure. All of my adventures ended the same for me, though: alone and depressed.
Everything in my life was out of control including my spending. After running up thousands of dollars of debt, I was forced to refinance my home to pay my bills. Most of my relationships were toxic, and my parenting skills were not the best.
My breaking point
Fall of 2017 is when my life changed. I had a 2-year-old, a stressful job, a husband who worked late, a mom with cancer — and I just couldn’t hold it together anymore. I went to the doctor and was prescribed Prozac. Little did I know my life was going to change forever and it was going to get worse before it ever got better.
I started losing weight, sleeping less, forgetting what I was doing, losing things, running late all the time, talking fast, thinking fast, and didn’t even notice until it was too late. My husband had grown aggravated with me along with my co-workers. I was unmanageable, to say the least. I couldn’t process information, finish a task from start to finish, or drive without running into things. I would even forget to wear my seatbelt. I decided I needed a psychiatrist because I was losing my mind.
My brother had to drive me to my appointment that day because I hadn’t slept for days. I was beginning to hallucinate, and the intrusive thoughts were getting louder in my head. The counselor told me I was in a manic episode, possibly psychosis. I kept insisting that I didn’t have bipolar disorder and that I didn’t need to go to a hospital. She considered admitting me that day but to do it against my will, I had to be a threat to myself or others, and I wasn’t there yet. She ended up diagnosing me with bipolar disorder. Even though I needed to be hospitalized, I wasn’t. I went home to lose my job, most of my friends, and almost my family.
Life after acceptance
Even though I was on antipsychotics and mood stabilizers and had stopped taking my other medication, which may have caused the onset of the psychosis, I still hadn’t stabilized. I would get into fights with my husband and be so angry that I would throw things, break things, punch the walls, and yell at everyone who tried to help me. I was paranoid my husband was going to have me committed and take my daughter away. My life was a nightmare. I didn’t think I was ever going to be OK again.
After adjusting my medication multiple times, I began to level out after 4 months of misery. Life as I used to know it was over. I believe the day I accepted my diagnosis was when my life began to change.
I have a great support system including my husband, parents, friends, therapists, and my doctor. I work a full-time job with little accommodations. I make sure to take my medication, get enough sleep, make all of my appointments, exercise, take supplements, practice gratitude, and journal daily. I let go of toxic relationships and began to heal my trauma. Each one of these things plays a significant part in my recovery.
Life is good these days. If I knew then what I know now, I would have accepted that diagnosis 23 years ago, but I didn’t. I thought it was a life sentence of insanity. I didn’t realize bipolar disorder was just a mood disorder that could be controlled with medication and therapy. I didn’t understand that despite bipolar disorder, many people are able to live full, happy lives. I believed the stereotypes portrayed in movies and books. The stigma surrounding bipolar disorder was not something I could live with at that time. This is why I have such a strong passion to educate people about bipolar disorder so that no one has to endure what I did.
I had a vision 3 years ago that I was on a stage sharing my story to help others understand what it’s like living with bipolar disorder and to help others living with it to recover.
My newest adventure is my podcast “Balanced Bipolar Life.” I have doctors, therapists, coaches, fellow friends with bipolar disorder, spouses, and loved ones of people with bipolar disorder lined up to share their stories. I also have plans to write a memoir. My life is a story of hope and recovery.
Tracye Bergeron is a speaker, mentor, and educator who works to educate others on life with bipolar disorder. Tracye shares her advocacy work on her Instagram account @balancedbipolarlife and on her podcast “Balanced Bipolar Life,” which is available on all podcast streaming services. Tracye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.