• Madison Kolla

Part Two ~ What Goes Up Must Come Down



The effects of my experiences in the world of psychiatry were not initially apparent. After discharge from inpatient care, I was still mildly hypomanic - that is to say, I felt pretty good. I was embarrassed by what had happened, and worried about what people had heard about me, about who knew what. I was aware that some of my neighbors had probably witnessed me screaming and fighting police officers on my doorstep.

There was shame, to be sure - no doubt about it, I had gone crazy in a big way. But when I left the hospital, my doctor hadn’t been too insistent about pressing a diagnosis on me, and he seemed to be willing to work with my desire to reduce my medications as soon as possible. {I’d like to point out that psychiatric medication truly can save lives, but that it also ruins some lives. I believe in a harm-reduction approach to its use. If it’s helpful for individuals, that’s great, but for me, at this point, it’s not ideal.}

I wasn’t in denial - I was very aware that I had experienced a manic episode, I just didn’t agree that this should automatically land me with the lifelong diagnosis of Bipolar 1. Unfortunately, having a manic episode is the single diagnostic criteria for Bipolar 1. And within a couple months, it would become clear that I was just as capable of reaching the clinically depressed end of the pendulum.

My goal after I left inpatient treatment was to discover what this experience was going to look like for me. I wasn’t willing to immediately subscribe to the diagnosis of a broken brain, happy to hold onto the hope that I could have a single manic episode and not require psychotropic medication for the rest of my life. And with that, I tapered and then quit taking my meds. My initial energy for anti-psychiatric anarchist activism (I wrote a “Book of Madness” in a matter of days) quickly faded as the dark and rainy autumn descended. As energy disappeared and anxiety increased, depression become apparent - and I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake.

I tried to continue with my yoga practice, as that had been a stabilizing daily influence through the past 6 years of my life, but I found that I was often in tears within minutes of arriving on my mat. Tuning into my body, a practice that had brought peace and grounding for so many years, was suddenly a cause for hysterical sobs, and debilitating panic attacks. I had no desire whatsoever to go practice with others, feeling extremely sensitive, and an absolute aversion to being touched or assisted in any way.

I developed persistent anxiety, the likes of which I had never thought possible. Intense, visceral pains in my stomach, my chest - like the whole front of my body was vibrating and cramping. And no matter what I tried, I couldn’t sleep properly - waking terrified from horrific nightmares, laying wide awake with heart-racing panic, covered in a cold sweat. The mornings brought nausea and emptiness, leaving me curled up in a ball of hyperventilating nervousness.

Was this healing? It really didn’t seem like it. It felt impossible to understand what the hell had happened to me. That sense of joy, of connection, of freedom, of utter safety ~ it was all so far away. So inaccessible. I learned more about Bipolar Disorder, and as I became more and more depressed, it seemed likely that lifelong struggles awaited me.

As soon as you begin to internalize an identity of mental illness, it strips you of the right to believe in yourself. You become increasingly identified with your role as the victim. I relived the trauma - police and security and straps and force and cold empty cells.

Confused, broken, wounded, incapable, dependent, helpless.

Betrayed, diagnosed, labelled, stigmatized.

And deeply, deeply afraid.

Afraid of going crazy all over again.

Of going through anything like this ever again.

Any goodness that came out of my mania was completely devalued.

It was madness, craziness, pathology.

It was illness.

It was wrong.

I was wrong.

I tried to keep in touch with friends, but the more I internalized this feeling of having an illness, of being different, being wrong - the more I shut down and shut people out. I started pushing people away, isolating. I didn’t want to be seen, heard, touched. I felt too vulnerable, too ashamed, not good enough. Full of self-loathing, hatred and anger.

Depression allows very little in terms of perspective. It shuts out all that is hopeful and positive. It feels so very real, becomes so terribly all-consuming, that believing in anything other than your depressed experience is downright impossible. It’s that painfully melodramatic depressive script that I described earlier, stuck on repeat, applied to everything, for months and months on end. It’s the inability to see beyond, to have faith in there being another side, no visible end in sight.

Depression is pointlessly reliving all of the pain and trauma of the past, and projecting it into an endless future of suffering. It’s feeling completely alone, like no one anywhere, ever, could possibly relate or understand or join you in your misery. It’s the complete disbelief in any and all reassurance offered.

It’s terrifying groundlessness, with nothing firm to stand on, the feeling of falling ever more behind in the race of life. It’s knowing all of the actions you could be taking to help yourself to feel better, and doing absolutely none of them - either because you physically cannot, or you can’t bring yourself to care enough about your well being to bother, or because you’ve stopped believing that “feeling better” is even possible.

Depression is staying small, curled up and fearful - attempting to protect yourself from something that has already wound itself deep into the core of your being. It’s a total and utter lack of motivation, and upon seeing motivation in other people, it’s the irrefutable belief that you must actually belong to an alien species.

It’s feeling unworthy, uncertain and afraid in every conceivable situation, unable to find any form of comfort or safety. It’s waiting, frozen - not able to move or think or feel - helplessly hoping to be freed. It’s suffering for so long that you cease to care - about yourself, about anyone or anything.

It’s wanting to die.

Because living is too painful, or too much work, or too exhausting. Because you see the effects of your depression on the people you love most and you truly believe that they would be better off without you. You believe that you are dragging them down, causing them to suffer, costing them time and energy and resources better spent on anything other than worthless you.

Suicide is a very seductive fantasy - it becomes the answer to every worry, every concern, every fear. It is the promise of peace, of deep and dreamless sleep. Of nothingness.

Suicidal thoughts are actually a pretty normal part of the human experience. They say most everyone has at least contemplated dying or ceasing to exist at some point or other. Obviously, suicidal ideation can vary greatly in intensity and seriousness, and it’s clearly horrific and awful and heartbreaking when people manage to achieve their goal. However, it’s very important that we aren’t so terrified of suicidal thinking that we suppress all expression of these thoughts. When someone is suicidal, they probably can’t hear your assurances that life is worth living - because to them, it simply isn’t. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t comfort to be found in the simple act of honestly expressing your feelings, and having them heard and held by someone who cares.

And so we hope against hope, that at some point, eventually, there comes some peace.

Some form of acceptance.

Yes, I lost my mind. But most of it came back again.

I am always changing. In all ways.

I am not what I do. Because right now I don’t.

I was forced to let go of everything I thought was me.

Who am I?

I used to know. And now I do not.

I do not know, but maybe I can be.

I can be anxious and fearful and uncertain and paralyzed.

And maybe that can be okay.

In each and every moment we can be.

We can begin. Begin again.

A breath in, a breath out.

Calmer, quieter, more trusting.

Those thoughts are just thoughts.

They are circumstantial, are always changing.

They are testing you.

These shitty feelings are. This depression is.

These fears of failure, of not being perfect, of not being strong, of not being enough.

They are.

But so are you.

You Is.

Enough.

This time is worthwhile - this falling apart time. This decay time. Down time. Rebirth time.

These messy times are difficult to see beyond.

It’s okay to feel angry. Defeated. Lost. Afraid.

We can learn to integrate these experiences. Learn to use them.

Use them to mature, to grow, to help others.

We can only sit with the most dark of times and hope that the sun will one day emerge.

I know the world to be a beautiful place.

I know that I am fundamentally safe.

I know that I have help.

There’s a space for me here.

Somewhere.

And that is enough.

There may not be a perfect plan, but there are always options.

There are many paths through the forest, though they may be obscured by brambles.

And there are hidden safe places to weather the storms.

#mentalhealth #healing #breathing #learning

© 2013 by Madison Kolla | Photography by Michelle Pichert, Douglas Ludwig, Sherida Rae Taylor & myself.

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