If you only knew how I really felt…ah, the story of my fucking life – in so many ways.

I’m an intensely private person. Most people, including my closest friends and family, know only bits and pieces of me. But every rare now and then, I meet someone with whom I do feel comfortable, and I do want to be completely honest about who I am. (And boy, does that feel WEIRD.) The unfortunate thing is that having a mental health disorder can make that difficult. It is hard knowing if you can trust someone, because, universally, such disorders like bipolar are still misunderstood, feared, stigmatized, and joked about. Only a necessary few know this part of my life. So when you have met or gotten to know someone who may actually mean something, you don’t want to scare them off.

For years, I was misdiagnosed as being depressed with “periods” of anxiety/OCD. It was easy to misdiagnose me. At that point, my depression was never severe, and my anxiety was never crippling, but when reflecting, everything made sense upon the bipolar II diagnosis. From my understanding, misdiagnosis happens quite often.

Before they get out of control, the bipolar hypomania symptoms can seem great. The diagnosis was missed because I never reported the upswings of activity and energy. In high school, my mother always referred to me as a “social butterfly.” I was friends with everyone and was voted “most school spirit.” I was involved in everything, from band and drama club to sports and pep club. What no one knew was that I was also very angry. I hid it, by channeling it into everything I did to achieve goals. (I still do.) At the time, I attributed it to being gay, adopted, and an ethnic minority in a small rural town. There were things that I was told that I couldn’t do, for one reason or another. I was made fun of as a little kid. As is common when you are gay, I was secretly in love with my straight best friend. I thought this anger would pass when I left home.

Fast forward almost over a decade and a half later, and I was still driven by anger. Any social injustice, perceived barrier, or someone’s inability to believe in me, still pushes me forward. I am seen as a classic overachiever. This relentless drive combined with a mind that could quickly come up with multiple solutions to problems seemed perfect when I went back to school. As one of the few non-traditional students at my very progressive small liberal arts college, I was immersed in the life of the campus. I was involved in student government; not only a member of numerous student organizations, but also founded two, which included co-founding the student-led newspaper; coached middle school debate; produced a televised round table political discussion; and worked part-time, while taking classes full-time and maintaining close to perfect grades. This was all in the name of getting into law school, but still, it did affect my relationship and my home life.

All of that should have been seen as a sign of hypomania- the need for little sleep, the increased activity, an overall feeling of invincibility. During this time, I also went through a period of “bad decision-making,” as we call the period of hypomania in our household. For me, that involved a need for speed and excessive alcohol, although not together. But both of those things separately, led to some bad decisions that when looked at through the lens of the disorder make sense. (Although, the alcohol related ones are still inexcusable.)

The thing that led to the proper diagnosis was the fact that I KNEW that there were times that the anger simmering inside seemed out of control, and that I had moments where I KNEW that I felt like I wanted to act on the anger impulsively. I had known this for years. I was afraid that one day, I would not be able to know right from wrong, and that I actually would lash out and hit someone, anyone. It got to a point where I felt like I was being torn apart, like there were two sides to me, a good and a bad. The anger, agitation, and the feeling of impulsiveness was getting so bad that I wasn’t sure which side was going to win. I was afraid I was going to have to check myself in somewhere.

While working at Johns Hopkins, I made an appointment at the Women’s Mood Disorder Clinic, and for the first time ever, someone sat, took my history, and talked to me for over 3 hours. What I came away with that day made sense, and eventually, gave me some normalcy.

The question now is how do I tell people who are new in my life, who I may actually want to keep in it? I know it shouldn’t matter, but we all know that it does.

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