I took a big risk this week. I decided to tell my new counseling practicum supervisor that I have bipolar disorder and a dissociative disorder. Last week, my psychologist asked me, "Why take a risk you don't have to take? You are stable, you are doing well counseling clients in your university counseling center... Why introduce a problem when there is no problem?"
I have bipolar disorder, and I have experienced many manic or hypomanic episodes. I cycle at least once a month, and events and moods can trigger mania. I have to be careful to not get too excited. I used to flip to mania at every party, then crash into depression when I got home. The higher my mania escalates, the worst the depression is after the crash.
I have a dissociative disorder that includes multiple personalities. Here are poems from my 8-year-old personality, C. (I use their initials when writing about them online). I hope they can help reveal the experience of dissociation. I have been having her write poetry as part of the processing of merging out personalities. Through these poems she is exploring her emotions so then we can talk about her feelings.
My whole life people have treated me like I’m special. I was the precocious kid who learned to read and play the piano while in kindergarten and was placed in a gifted program for fourth graders when I was in third grade. I was the high schooler who collected honors and awards. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was constantly being told how talented I was, between my various musical and artistic gifts and my academic abilities. I continued to win honors and compliments. Then in college I began to show signs of severe mental illness. The mental illness had been there before but it was hidden. While in college I became severely mentally ill. So suddenly I was viewed as different due to my strange mental problems and my difficulty coping with everyday life.
The curse of being a people-pleaser. It helps us adapt in society; we do well at work since we are so "cooperative," we get along well in friendships, and people seem to like having us around because we're so "nice." On the outside we are pleasant, we smile, we seem to have things together. But on the inside we are a thick knot of obsessive, anxious thoughts.
I have a dissociative disorder that includes multiple personalities. Right now, with my psychologist's help, I am trying to merge us so we can be one unified person. The idea of being unified is so exciting. I will have access to all of the emotions and memories, and stop fighting with other parts of me. It should be a tremendous relief. But right now the process is difficult and overwhelming. My psychologist has experience with this process. But I have discovered there is no roadmap for integration.
I still don't understand how it happened. I had some sort of mental breakdown a year and a half ago. The "breakdown" was an intense dissociative episode where I flipped to another personality for a while. After I came back to myself, the panic attacks started. I had had panic attacks before. But these panic attacks were different. Now the panic was always triggered by the same type of thing: a crowded place, loud noises, bright colors, perceived chaos.
Several years ago, a college counselor told me I would qualify for disability due to my mental illnesses and encouraged me to apply. Surprised, I refused. “I can do everything fine; I don’t need help.” She studied me intently, then nodded her head, explaining, “You manage everything so well because you're a genius.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. I'm not a genius. These days I know the real reason I function so well: self-awareness. My therapists, psychiatrists, supervisors, and even friends all remark on how self-aware I am. Self-awareness has been the key for me to manage my mental illnesses.
As I prepare for the spring semester, I am breathless with anticipation of the coming months. I am in my third year of a master’s program for clinical mental health counseling. Right now I am completing my practicum in our university counseling center, counseling college students. I also have bipolar disorder, a dissociative disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. My life is balancing my mental illnesses along with school and my part-time job.
Recently a friend asked me how I am always so hopeful. She marveled at my experience of multiple mental illnesses and was impressed by my hope and determination. I didn’t know how to answer her question. I am a hopeful person and have been so for a long time. Eventually, after further reflection, I thought of several reasons why I have hope, even within the struggle with my mental illnesses.