I was officially diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II back in 2011. Funny enough, it was a very high point in my life; I had been at my job for just under a year at the time. I was never one who typically succeeded scholastically, but with this job I was able to push myself academically. I studied hard and earned my Property and Casualty Insurance license. This was a huge win for me! I thought everything was going great at the time. I was settling into my new role and getting acquainted with my new coworkers. I was comfortable enough with them that I began to participate in their recreational marijuana use.
Now, my history with marijuana has been quite a lengthy and slippery slope. I had been previously denied jobs due to my usage and made the decision to cut back - and almost completely quit - after moving to Connecticut in 2010. I decided that had more important things to do than light up during my job search, but now that I had a job and license under my belt, I thought I deserved the reward. Everything was going fine at first; it felt just like old times, but once I smoke, it’s pretty hard for me to not continuously crave the high. Let’s say I have quite an addictive personality.
"... this habit combined with work stress and my natural brain chemistry led me into my demise."
I began purchasing weed more than I needed to, and so this habit combined with work stress and my natural brain chemistry led me into my demise. I started experiencing paranoid thoughts, which at the time felt too much like reality. I couldn’t trust my family or friends. I thought my coworkers were all plotting against me, even when I wasn’t high. I was terrified - it felt so real. Everything and everyone seemed suspicious to me, and felt like a threat. Eventually, it escalated to the point where police needed to become involved, and I was taken by ambulance to the hospital for the very first time.
I spent over a week in the hospital. I was still very confused and suspicious but was eventually released with my Bipolar II diagnosis, and the recommendation for outpatient therapy and medication. I remained in therapy for a short stint of time, but never took to the idea of medication. I resigned from my job, and returned to Antigua to see my mother and daughter. I just couldn’t bring myself to face my coworkers and all of my conspiracy theories that I had crafted there.
"... it was harder for me to distinguish between what was real and the story that my mind had decided to manifest."
Eventually, I returned and decided to move on with my life. I had work to complete and a daughter depending on me. In 2012, I landed a job to start a new chapter in my life. Aside from my ‘normal’ bouts with depression, I was able to keep myself relatively stable and avoid going down the rabbit hole of paranoia. After my hospitalization, I had decided to abstain once again from marijuana use and stuck to it for a few years.
Now, here’s where it gets sticky. In 2016, I started a new relationship and began working in a remote position, making it even easier to take part in my old pastime. The recreational use began again. It was all going well until the relationship came to a screeching halt, turning me into a depressed insomniac and triggering my next hospital stay. It was June 14th, 2017 - my daughter’s 10th birthday and unfortunately, my daughter had to go through all of this with me. My hospital stay lasted two weeks - it was harder for me to distinguish between what was real and the story that my mind had decided to manifest.
The doctors eventually was me as fit to return to work, but I slowly started spiraling again. The thing with paranoia is that you really can’t tell that you’re paranoid when it’s happening. As far as you’re concerned, your thoughts and feelings are completely justified. It’s such a confusing and terrifying time. My daughter was away with my mother in Antigua for the summer, and when she returned, the poor girl had no idea what my condition was; no idea that I thought everyone was out to get us, no idea that our lives were about to be turned upside down.
"I finally broke, but I am blessed."
I lost my job as the paranoia began to creep back into my professional life. I lost our home after believing that it was ‘bugged’ and people were spying on us. I was in a state of full-blown psychosis. Eventually, I decided to drive cross-country to visit my sister, with my daughter and our cat in tow. I needed to escape the fictional terrors of Connecticut. We drove and drove, making short stops here and there. We stayed in hotels along the way until I ran out of money. I was forced to call my mother, even though I thought she was ‘in on it’.
I had made it to Nebraska before I was arrested and put into jail. I was transferred to the hospital and my daughter was put into foster care for the three weeks that it took my parents to make their way up from the Caribbean. I finally broke, but I am blessed. In Nebraska, I met people who cared. I had my family that cared. My parents and I eventually got my daughter back, and started the long, emotionally-draining journey back to Connecticut.
It took me quite some time to make sense of what happened; it’s 2019 and I still have a hard time coming to terms with it. I can ask ‘why me’ - and trust me, I ask it - but why not me? Everyone’s story with mental health is different. This is mine. Every day is a new day to heal, to learn, to love myself, and to forgive myself. I’m working again, I’m able to be a mom to my daughter, and I’m back to ‘normal’ - whatever that means to you.
I now know when I may need a break and pay closer attention to the warning signs. I’m still learning about my illness and it’s going to be a journey. God has delivered me through these experiences because I’m supposed to continue this journey. Maybe I need to share my story with others to help them overcome their hurdles. Maybe I can help them get back on their own path.
This story was submitted for publication to the AB Korkor Foundation for Mental Health. If you wish to share your story, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.