*Originally written and published in 2018*
“I believe in knowing who you are but without limiting yourself to your own expectation of who you are.”-Charlotte Erikkson
Have you ever seen a movie where a character finds out some earth-shattering news and there is a moment when they fall apart and dramatically say, “My whole life has been a lie”?
Well, that was pretty much me when my doctor diagnosed me with and explained Bipolar II Disorder.
If you ask people who have known me for any length of time what adjectives they would use to describe me, some of the first words out of their mouths would likely be: smart, driven, highly motivated, over-achieving, focused, organized etc.
For my entire life I was the girl who enrolled myself in every activity and had a packed schedule. I was the girl who independently figured out how to petition for, load up on coursework and graduate high school a year early. I was the girl who did the same thing to graduate from college a semester early despite changing her major three times. I was the girl who pushed through a one year Masters program with a full year internship so she could be teaching full time and living on her own by the time she was 21.
I was known for being the girl who got everything done. The girl who finished first. The girl with the bright ideas. The girl who could be counted on to do it all, do it quickly, and do it well.
If you asked me who I was before my diagnosis, that is who I would have told you I was.
But now I’m not so sure. After learning about the symptoms of hypomania and Bipolar II, it’s hard for me to take pride in and identify with any of the things that I deemed accomplishments.
Yes, I graduated from high school early– a decision that I made on a whim in mere minutes without consulting anyone. I had no lunch, no study halls, took double ELA and history classes, three APs, was Drum Major of the marching band, took weekly violin lessons, played in two youth orchestras, maintained a social life and kept my grades up.
The intensity only increased when I got to college. When things were at their peak I was taking 28 credits, on staff for marching band, left my dorm room for my 8 a.m. class and didn’t come back until after my last violin chamber rehearsal at 11 p.m. Most of my meals were eaten on the go, but it was not uncommon for me to go the entire day without eating anything but protein bars and energy drinks.
Nearly every accomplishment that I used to determine my self worth followed this pattern. My hypomania kept me going at breakneck speed in order to get ahead. In fact, after talking through these moments in therapy, it is safe to say that living on this merry-go-round was how I achieved everything.
What if those accomplishments weren’t a product of my hard work but instead were a manifestation of my hypomania? Are they even accomplishments? Are any of those adjectives that I listed earlier still true now that my hypomanic episodes are managed? What if they aren’t? What if I’m a sham?
Who am I?
Feeling like I have zero idea as to the answer of this question is THE WORST. And trying to figure it out is like a first date that never ends.
It’s new, it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable trying to get to know this person that is supposedly “me”. What are the new limits? What can I handle? Can I trust myself to know when I should say “yes” to decisions born out of genuine enthusiasm? Am I confident enough to say “no” to an idea that might be tiptoeing on the edge of hypomania? What do I actually like to do/ what am I actually interested in vs. what did I just get involved with because I had the energy?
Sometimes the unknowns and possibilities for discovering something new about myself are exciting. Other times, they are massively anxiety-inducing and paralyzing because I worry that I will discover that I am actually not any of those glowing adjectives.
Alas, while I am sure that my true self lies somewhere in the middle of all my past extremes, I need stop limiting myself to the expectation of who I thought I was. After all, why should I settle for possibly being less than I actually am?