In the Aftermath of My Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I in July of 1989, after a suicide attempt. During a short hospitalization, I began taking the mood stabilizer, Lithium, and moved back into my college dorm, for my sophomore year, in August. Because of my suicide attempt, I wasn't allowed to have a roommate, so I moved into a single dorm in the same complex I had lived in my freshman year. Everyone in my new building had their own room.
Since I was on the soccer team, I moved into my dorm earlier than everyone else, because soccer practices started two weeks before classes began. No other soccer players lived in my dorm. That meant that I was living in the dorm by myself and going to soccer practice. Soccer practice was a disaster. I had been playing soccer since the age of 5, but it was like I had completely forgotten how to play soccer in the space of two months. I could barely run, dribble, pass, and shoot. I had always done all of those things effortlessly, and  they had suddenly become impossible. I felt really clumsy and disoriented on the field.

My life seemed to make no sense and, in my isolation, it was easy to slip into depression. I thought of my suicide attempt and the resulting shame. I wondered if I could just do something natural that could cause my death. I came up with headstands. I thought maybe if I did them for long enough, I might have a stroke. So, after soccer practice, I started doing headstands for longer and longer periods of time.

After about a week of soccer practice and headstands, I was feeling really desperate. I bought some razor blades and considered slitting my wrists. I thought I would do it in a hotel. I drove around and checked in and out of two or three hotels. Then I started thinking about killing myself somewhere in the wilderness where, hopefully, a wild animal would then eat me, so no one would have to find me.

It finally became clear to me that driving around, while dwelling on all of those thoughts, was dangerous, that I didn't really want to kill myself, and that I needed help. I called my mother and tried to explain everything as well as I could. She drove over an hour to pick me up and she said, "I want you to talk to someone about this." She ended up taking me to a hospital in my hometown and, in a short time, after speaking to a psychiatrist, I ended up in a psychiatric unit for a second time. I was angry and felt that my mother had tricked me into going to the hospital, but now, looking back on things, I don't know what else she should have done.

This second hospitalization lasted for about 6 weeks. Each day seemed almost the same as the last. Meals, groups, passes to go outside, killing time playing cards and hanging out in the smoking room, even though I didn't smoke, because the smokers laughed and told stories while the people in the non-smoking areas mostly stared into space and watched television. My experiences with hospitalization have shown me that the point is to get you stabilized on your medication and the therapeutic activities like art therapy and assertiveness training are secondary, and do more to help pass the time than actually improve your life.

When I got out of the hospital, I decided to live with some friends in my hometown, as it was too late in the semester to return to school. I shared an apartment with two of my best friends, a couple of guys I had gone to high school with, and one of their girlfriends. There were four of us living in a two-room apartment and rent was only $85 a month each. The entrance to the second floor apartment was off of an alley, and the stairs outside led to the kitchen. If you were cooking on the gas stove and someone came in from outside, the stove would often blow out. I got a job as a cashier at a grocery store and joined the YMCA. I was making enough money to get by, and I was still taking my Lithium. For those few months, I remember spending all of my time working, working out, and goofing off with my roommates.

I returned to my university the second semester of my sophomore year, and it wasn't hard to get back into the swing of things, as I had feared it would be, although I quit playing soccer, because I couldn't move as well while taking Lithium. I just gave it up and focused on my journalism and biology classes. I thought that someday I would become a science writer.

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