Many thanks to Whitney for writing this post!
To whom it may concern,
I am a mad woman. I believe I was born a mad woman. When I was just a zygote the madness was brewing. Nobody knew it was coming. To be honest, as it was creeping in year by year, no one believed my desperate cries for help. My first memory of my madness was when I was around 4 or 5 years old. I saw what I believed to be God while I was playing in my Aunt’s backyard. That image would follow me and shape my beliefs for years to come. At 5 years old, anything you hallucinate tends to be viewed by others as a vivid imagination. I did not mention hallucinating again until I was 12. The abrupt mood swings began to get out of control when I was 9 years old. I would fly into a rage and run out of my 4th grade classroom in search of the school counselor. I wonder now why no one thought that to be unusual. Nobody seemed to think any of my behavior or claims of being crazy were anything more than the dramatic efforts of a young girl to get attention. That is, until it all spiraled out of control on December 26, 2001. I was 16 when my life as I knew it and that of those close to me changed forever. The madness took hold that day and strangled me. Panic set in and I collapsed into a kitchen chair following several hours of screaming, crying, throwing objects, and desperately seeking solace. I looked up from the table at my mother and simply stated, “I think I need some help.” The help came, but slowly. In 2002, mental health parity was not what it is today. I waited for doctors. I was denied hospitalizations. I was drugged into such a stupor I have few memories from that year or the one after it. The madness ebbed and flowed for a long time as I tried different treatments.
Flash forward. I am still a mad woman. I live with bipolar disorder. Madness is a life sentence for me. After years of trying different medications with varying degrees of compliance, I feel mostly healthy. I believe the combination of medications and talk therapy I have utilized over the years has allowed me this state of being. I put in WORK to get where I am on this Madness journey. My choices about how to deal with bipolar disorder may seem conventional, but for me, it works. Kay Redfield Jamison said, “People go mad in idiosyncratic ways.” I believe we also find our healing and coping similarly. Friends I have with the same Madness, throughout the years, have chosen different paths. Some believe substance use, what society calls illicit drugs, are the answer to the pain and suffering their Madness causes. Some believe that god made them Mad and that is the way they are supposed to live. Others believe eating specific foods and getting regular exercise can help them overcome the Madness. Everyone has their own journey. There is no right way to be or treat Madness. That is what I’ve learned working as a mental health therapist.
I am very open about the state of my brain. I do not mind telling people I have bipolar disorder. I do not mind sharing my choices for treatment. I am firm in my choices though. My current therapist disagrees with my choice to take medication for the rest of my life. She asked me if I’d ever thought about using other coping strategies to manage my Madness. I explained that I use a lot of coping skills along with my medication, but that when I’m not taking meds, the pain is too great and I suffer. In my Mad mind, I should not ever have to suffer unnecessarily. If I have something that allows me to have a job, a partner, feed my cat, and take care of my hygiene, I am going to take it!
Most days, strangers would never know just how Mad I really am. Generally, I like it that way. Sometimes having an “invisible illness” is challenging. I do not look sick. It’s difficult to tell my supervisor at work that I’m feeling fragile or agitated when I look perfectly fine. It’s hard to explain to new friends who have never seen me in my dark days that I can’t hang out because I’m too depressed and anxious to get in the shower. These things do not happen as often anymore, but when they do, I feel like a burden from the stigma. I am a healthy person with a chronic Madness. I am a fully functioning adult 95% of the time. When the Madness breaks through the Abilify and the Zoloft barriers I put in place, I am no less worthy than I was before. Madness, while part of my identity, does not define me. So, yes, I am a Mad woman. I am a Mad woman who chose to live. I chose to live true to myself. I sincerely hope you do, too.
With the deepest love,
Whitney H. Applebaum