A few years ago, I went through something no one should ever have to: post traumatic stress. I was always on edge, waiting for some proverbial shoe to drop. My anxiety level was super high. I’d wake up sweating from recurring nightmares. Vivid, frightening flashbacks hit me in the middle of my workday. The reason? I was recovering from a bad breakup.
You may find it surprising, but I’m actually thankful for my bipolar diagnosis. My dad—who struggled with bipolar disorder his whole life—died by suicide when I was 24. Four years after I lost him, I experienced my first major depression. I had a delayed reaction to his death because it was so traumatic for me. That was when I myself was diagnosed bipolar.
At the time, the diagnosis was terrifying. It felt like a death sentence. I just kept asking myself, “Will I end up dying by suicide too?”
My whole life, I’d struggled with inexplicable impulsivity, racing thoughts, irritability, and tumultuous relationships. I’d always known something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t until I had a psychological evaluation, underwent therapy and found the right mood-stabilizing medication that I was able to find answers. I finally had a name for the tornado that had been raging in my head for as long as I could remember. My bipolar diagnosis has ultimately made me stronger.
Last week, something frightening happened to me. I was talking to a friend about Downton Abbey—a TV show we both love—when I couldn’t remember one of the main character’s names. I pictured him clearly, and I could describe everything about his experiences on the show. He’s my favorite character, but I just couldn’t recall his name to save my life. I racked my brain, but I was stuck. The harder I tried to focus, the blanker my mind became. Before you say to yourself “Oh, I’ve done that, it’s not so scary,” consider this: I usually have a perfect memory for things like movie titles, and actor and character names. This was way out of the ordinary for me. I don’t know about you, but because I live with bipolar disorder, any potential disruption in my thought patterns worries me. It could be an indication of an impending episode, and that’s not something I take lightly.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has been used for everything from psychological assessment to career guidance. My mom is a psychotherapist who has access to the full Myers-Briggs personality test. When I was in high school, I begged her to let me take it. I was dying to find out who I was, and how I fit into the world. The instructions said to answer without analyzing or thinking too much, so I excitedly responded to each question based on my gut instinct of who I knew myself to be—at least at that point in my life. Once the score was tallied, I was designated ENFJ—short for extrovert, intuitive, feeling judging. I came out not just as an extrovert, but on the extreme end of the scale between I (introvert) and E. Of course, it made sense on paper. I had a lot of friends. I was a happy, fun-loving person who adored attention. I was one of those people who could walk up to strangers at a party and introduce myself. And—no joke—my first word wasn’t “mama” or “dada,” it was “hi.” The more time I spent around others, the more invigorated I felt. My personality test solidified my self-confidence.
By 2021, the raging pandemic had already worn my nerves thin. I’d been bombarded by bad news for so long, it seemed like the norm. People were dying, unemployment was spiking, politicians were fighting. The system was broken. It felt like I’d been stuck inside my house for years. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. It seemed everything was going wrong in the world, and it was stressing me out, to say the least.