Psyche ward, Royal Columbian Hospital, early July, 2010
Finally the time had come. After twenty years of severe, often completely debilitating depression, wild mood swings, reckless manic behaviour and hellacious mixed episodes of paranoia and extreme irritability, all of which cost me several jobs, lost and damaged relationships, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, I was about to get professional help, I was about - I hoped - to find out what was "wrong".
Part of me was terrified; terrified that there was nothing clinically 'wrong' with me and that my troubles were just the way I was, that I was simply weak of character, foolish, reckless and with little moral fibre. God, I hoped it wasn't the case. I hoped so deeply it hurt. It was, I was sure, a matter of survival. Fearing that all of what I felt in my mind was "me" was what made me so intensely desire an end to my life. My own mind had become unbearable and I had reached the end. I wanted it all to end. I wanted to walk towards the light.
The psychiatrist was great, he just mostly let me talk, only asking occasional clarifying questions. It may have been because I overwhelmed him! I had so much to say, and once I started it was like I couldn't be stopped. It was not unlike a manic episode when one talks rapidly giving others little chance to speak. And I was finally speaking to a professional! Not just suffering through the endless internal process of wondering what the hell was wrong and beating myself up for being so mixed up and weak.
It was a tough process. How does one sum up twenty years of that kind of life? The more I talked, the more crazy it all felt, but it was simply just what I remembered happening. It took several intense sessions but finally we had a verdict - bipolar disorder. There was still work to be done to determine where on the scale of severity I fit, but the basic diagnosis was there.
I cannot adequately put into words the relief I felt. The problem was not with the core me, but an illness, a treatable illness. I felt a huge mix of emotions in the next 24 hours or so. I cried with relief. I felt that a horrible, horrible nightmare was over (it wasn't, but I didn't know that at the time). I felt that I could separate "me" from the behaviour governed by the illness. Not that I could completely shirk responsibility, but a lot of what I did was due to a mind deeply affected by an illness I could not control. Now I had an enemy to fight, something I could identify and try to do something about. For twenty years I'd fought an invisible foe, something I couldn't see or understand, something that was eroding all my abilities to think, remember, concentrate, make rational decisions, control my emotions and behaviour, an invisible foe that had cost me incalculable losses, painful losses, an invisible foe that had made life so much harder than it had to be, an invisible foe that was gaining possession of and destroying my mind and soul, an invisible foe that was sapping all my will to live, a foe that made me want to die.
But now, finally, I had some understanding of what I was fighting. Finally I had help to fight it. Finally, I wasn't alone. Finally, I was on a different path.
After a few more days of therapy I was allowed to go home. I went home a far different man than had entered the hospital. I went home with a new mission and a clear enemy. And for the first time in twenty years I understood the enemy wasn't me.