My name is Quinn and I am:

A dog lover, a gamer, 31 years old, a writer, transgender, a snack enthusiast, a hiker, and someone who lives with treatment resistant bipolar disorder.

Quinn

I guess it might seem like being open about having a mental illness is a scary thing, but I like to believe that the manner in which I confront it says a lot about me. I definitely haven't always felt that way, but things have changed a lot in the last few years.

I spent a long time in denial about how problematic my symptoms actually were. For some reason, no matter how bad things were during a depressive, manic, or mixed episode (even if it was just hours before) once it was over the comfort of being free from those symptoms was all I could focus on. In a sense I never found myself looking directly at many of my symptoms, they were always eclipsed by the immediacy of the present and I think that phenomenon had a lot to do with why it took me so long to get help.

Just because I wasn't always grasping how my bipolar symptoms were effecting my life doesn't mean they weren't. Through my early twenties I couldn't really figure out why I'd embrace the excitement of finding a new job only to find myself depressed a few months in, quitting and quickly rebuilding that fire of excitement when I'd found a new job to replace the old one with. I manically danced around my jobs and relationships in a constant effort not to let depression catch me simultaneously blundering into unsafe situations blinded by euphoria.

When things were really bad, I'd find myself in a mixed episode angrily pacing up and down the street at three in the morning too revved up to sleep but feeling too desperate and frustrated and confused to reach out to anyone. I'd get called into the office at work and get told I was being aggressive with my co-workers without even realizing anything had happened. Sometimes it felt like the things I said and did were being filtered by the people around me and when they reported back to me what they shared didn't even remotely match up with how I saw myself.

Of course, as I mentioned, every time an episode would end the recognition it had happened seemed to vanish. Any time I managed to see a glimpse of it in myself I let myself believe things weren't as bad as they seemed and clung to hope that it wouldn't happen again.

If none of that was enough to push me into a place to seek help, psychosis was. I had a 6 month long depressive episode when I was 25 and even when the intensity of that depression began to really weigh on me it wasn't until I began experiencing periods of mixed symptoms and psychosis intermittently within the depression that I knew things had progressed well beyond what I could deny, let alone control.

When the psychosis began I was lucky, in a way, to have already experienced it once before. I say I was lucky because I could identify what was happening to me, but at age 17 when it happened from a bad response to a medication I was given I had neither the language or the understanding to express what was happening. It took weeks before I was ultimately hospitalized and I could recover, but the experience had left me extremely cautious toward doctors. I didn't understand then that my symptoms didn't neatly fit into any diagnosis so they'd had a hard time knowing how to treat me and that being treatment resistant meant that most psychiatric medications I would take after that would have the same or similar effect.

Being able to identify that psychosis when it came on at age 25 was the first time I knew that I absolutely needed help. I was terrified by more than the psychosis itself, I was terrified because I could not identify anything that might have triggered it. It was the first true and undeniable sign that my symptoms were getting worse, and it was far too startling to forget.

Even though that period of psychosis in 2011 was a particularly difficult time for me it was a serious turning point in my life. The time I spent in the hospital when I was 25 prompted me to start mood charting and the result has been something tangible that has allowed me to cut through that fog where I couldn't see the big picture about my mood swings before. Being able to clearly see the ups and downs of bipolar disorder right on the page has made acceptance a lot easier and being unable to doubt that I have an illness is one of the things that has kept me pushing toward recovery.

I also learned along the way that I didn't feel good sitting back and letting a healthcare team direct my care after some of the bad experiences I'd had, especially with my treatment resistant symptoms. I've found it is really important to me to have a collaborative relationship with my doctors and to feel like we are working together toward my goals as a team, so finding doctors who will work with me in this way has been paramount in working toward my recovery. I feel much less afraid about reaching out in crisis when I have a more comfortable relationship with my providers but it also makes me feel good knowing that I am being an advocate for myself and working to help myself get better!

Finally, I spent a lot of time the past few years researching bipolar disorder. There were times when my bipolar symptoms were less of a problem than my fear of them, so it has been important to me to find ways to take that fear out of the equation. I spoke to other people about their experiences in peer support groups, I read about bipolar disorder, and I even started writing about my own experiences with my symptoms to help me understand the illness better. Understanding what bipolar disorder is and how it presents itself in my life has had the added bonus of allowing me to learn how to communicate about it. Whether I am using that skill to talk to my doctors, my family, my friends, or even strangers, knowing that I can express what I am experiencing at any given time has felt priceless.

I've been hospitalized twice since 2011 but things have slowly been getting better. I spent a year in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and found it to be helpful for a lot of my treatment resistant symptoms. I've also recently began volunteering at NAMI which I have really enjoyed. I still have some up days and down days but ultimately I find myself grateful and with cause to celebrate because I'm still here and I feel like I finally have more control over my life than my illness does.