National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255
"My name is Lindsay I’m 24 and from Holland, MI. I am graduated from Holland High and Careerline Tech Center in 2011. I joined the Army as a Medic in 2012 and have worked for both an ambulance company and security company over the years. I have bipolar disorder, been hospitalized 6 times for symptoms since 2013 and was diagnosed in 2014. I think I am trying to set a world record on hospital visits. If you already think I am crazy you’re not wrong. I know I am crazy, and I am totally cool with that. In fact if you don’t think I’m crazy by the end of this well then kudos to you. Then again you tell me what’s normal. I am considered a high functioning patient and currently I am in what you might call “recovery” which I find to be a silly word because who knows in 2 days or 2 months my symptoms may return especially if my medicine stops working. It’s a game of 1 step forward 2 steps back at times. Bipolar is a terrible yet wonderful disease if that makes sense, it’s where I find my creativity and love for life as well as misery and hatred. I hope that by me speaking about my story and my life events that you are able to take a glimpse into the mind of someone with mental illness and the complexity that comes along with it. Because it’s not simply take your happy meds and everything is fine or cut and dry like other diseases. I want to write this to make it okay to talk about because in all honesty it is okay to do so. It can actually be pretty amusing at times. So while it has taken me awhile to become okay with my illness and there are days I still struggle. I hope with my story you can see a side not often shown.
So where do I begin? Well let me start off by saying that I grew up in a house where A. Mental Illness wasn’t real and B. We didn’t show emotion. Mental illness runs in the family but the last person that sought out help was basically exiled from the family. So at 13 I went through that “my life sucks, I hate my parents” teenager anger and emo stage like everyone else. It was over the summer I had my first run in with mental health issues. I thought that a white van that belong to my neighbors that drove by my house everyday was a part of the FBI and was there to arrest me for music videos I made on YouTube. I was terrified. They were waiting for me to slip up so they could get me. We used to sit out on the porch all the time and watch the cars drive by but I tried everything in my power not to go out there. If I did I was anxious and fearful the entire time. This went on for 2 months. Eventually these thoughts vanished and I never told anyone because I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. Not to mention who would believe me? Throughout my teenage years I started to have issues with being hyperactive and also being depressed. Not anything major but definite shifts in mood. The hyperactivity was attributed to being ADHD (which somehow we believed in but not other illnesses) and the depression was played off as being tired from work or school. I knew something was wrong but couldn’t express it so I just went along with what my parents had to say.
At 19 I joined the Army. Knowing what I know now I should have never been allowed to join. I was depressed when I left but that quickly changed. Going through basic training and AIT was a blast, I loved it. It was so much fun. It was go-go-go all the time. Eventually training was done and I was sent to my unit. Which was okay at first but not too long after I started struggling with the same issues as before. I saw a tele-psychiatrist who asked me what my symptoms were. He decided that my depression was from my ADHD always getting me into trouble and so that same day I walked out the door with Ritalin. The medicine helped somewhat at first but not long after taking it I started having problems. I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day for close to a half an hour just staring. I couldn’t recognize the face I was looking at, it wasn’t me. So I told the doctor this and he decided that we would try Adderall instead. I assumed that he was the doctor so he knew what he was doing. Adderall didn’t help from the get go. I kept taking it to give it a chance but became increasingly paranoid of my coworkers and started seeing bugs. So after a couple of months I decided enough was enough and I couldn’t live like this and stopped taking the medicine. I decided these doctors were crazy and had no idea what they were doing and stopped seeing them. Not much longer after this I went through a 2-3 month long delusion. I was convinced that God had chosen me to overthrow the US Government and single handedly blow up the White House but the FBI knew about my intentions and once again were waiting for me to slip up so they could catch me. I was so stressed because I believed I couldn’t do it alone but if I told anyone they would take me to the police. I would sit in my bed at night scared that the FBI would break into my room at any time to kidnap me. One day I went to Subway for food. As I sat down to eat I saw a cop car pull up. I immediately thought “oh my god they’re here for me”. I of course did not want to go to jail so I took my food and ran out the door and down the street which I find hilarious now but not at the time.
Some point during this time period though not during my delusion I had my first manic episode. Words cannot describe how awesome a manic episode is, I’ve not done street drugs but I am pretty sure it’s something similar. I was so high, my heart and mind were racing. I felt happier than ever have, there was this rush within my entire body. I was blessed by God with an amazing gift. I could feel music and the molecules of energy in the air. The world was so beautiful, everything was so positive and amazing. I’d look up to the stars and marveled at them, If only people could see the world like I did there would be no hatred, no war, nothing but world peace. I had to show people the way. Mania made me do a lot of dumb stuff like try and buy a 40,000$ Mustang because I was obsessed with the color red, drive half way across Georgia and put 500$ on my credit card to buy a pet snake I wasn’t even allowed to have. Try to blow up and set candy Peeps on fire in my barracks room just because and start 8 billion projects. I would drive like I was Nascar driver and only sleep for 2-3 hours a night. One time I gave my beta fish different medications because I was a scientist and I was going to have the next big medical break-through. My all-time favorite was dancing in the street listening to music at 2am trying not to get hit by a car while abusing energy drinks. At one point during one of these episodes I drank 6 energy drinks in under 36 hours, I thought my heart was going to explode. These extreme episodes occurred about every 2-3 months like clockwork for the next year and a half. Everyone attributed this to me being hyper and a weirdo to begin with. I did have a friend question me one night when I was up at 3am on work night being obnoxious in the parking lot. I told her I was fine and having the time of my life. While this was true in some aspects I had a little voice in my mind telling me something was wrong but I refused to believe it because I felt so good.
However this did not last, as they say what goes up must come down. After a period of time in this euphoria my physical body was not capable of keeping up with my racing mind. I would get angry and anxious before falling off the deep end into a suicidal depression. I decided maybe I should go back to the psychiatrist and seek more help. While I probably hid my suicidality at first I was able to explain the dark feelings. So I was put on an antidepressant which did not really help. I continued down this path till October or November of 2013 when after a manic episode I feel into another depression and ended up in the 3A the psychiatric unit at Fort Stewart. Although scary nothing unusual happened I did what they wanted me to do and was let out. At some point during this period I was put on Wellbutrin which depending on who you are can go very good or very bad. I was no longer allowed to see the tele-psychiatrist because of rules that were in place. So I was set up another psychiatrist who did not listen to a word I said and frustrated me to no end. While taking the Wellbutrin I started becoming very aggressive and having violent urges. I wanted to go buy a baseball bat and start destroying police cars and every day that went by the urges became stronger. I told both my psychiatrist and my therapist. My psychiatrist decided the best decision was to raise my Wellbutrin which I was hesitant to do and told her my concerns but she insisted this was the right thing to do. During this time on Wellbutrin I started drinking when I never have really been much of a drinker. I drank to calm myself down because I was so anxious and agitated. 2 weeks after raising the medication I started having suicidal thoughts again so I went back to 3A. By the time I was actually up in the unit I had become delusional again. I was seriously convinced that my body was an empty shell and that my soul was on another planet and I had to die to get it back. I was also drawing disturbing images to express these feelings. A psych tech who I knew from my previous stay as a bit of a jerk to patients questioned me on why I was drawing these disturbing pictures. I explained to him the situation I was in to which he blew off and told me to that I shouldn’t be drawing such pictures in a psych unit. I don’t believe he told anybody what I said to him because it was never brought up the rest of my stay. Anyways that night things went from bad to worse and while there’s no need to go into detail I did some things I am not proud of. About 2 days later I “snapped out of it” and realized what I had done. I didn’t want to tell anyone about it because A I was embarrassed and B I didn’t trust nor feel that they would believe me. I did eventually tell them and was put in the “naughty kids” room as I call it and earned a few extra days in the facility. When It was time for me to leave the inpatient psychiatrist had a meeting with my unit (there’s no HIPAA in the Army) and attributed my behavior to being an odd person and an alcoholic. So I was put on another anti-depressant along with an anti-psychotic and sent to rehab.
Since this situation I have become very hesitant to trust healthcare providers. Now for me to go to the hospital I usually have to get pretty bad and have a friend convince me to go or have my psychiatrist lock me in her office and make me sign the “voluntary paperwork”.
Anyways I received a significant amount of criticism from people in my unit who believed I was just faking it to get out of the Army. I spent a fair amount of time trying to hide my symptoms which is maybe why they didn’t believe me. While I started to do a bit better I was getting burned out from how I was being treated and I was still somewhat unstable. I saw both 2 therapists and a psychologist during my treatment who were very helpful. They all agreed that I was struggling with bipolar and stressed to the psychiatrist that this was the problem. However the psychiatrist did not agree and deemed it a personality disorder. All my information was sent to board to determine if I was medically fit for duty or if I needed to be discharged from a disability. The Army rules regarding these situations are weird. Bipolar disorder exacerbated by service is considered a disability however a personality disorder is considered pre-existing. I found out later that during this time the Army had been caught discharging soldiers with PTSD from war under a personality disorder so they would not have to pay disability. So by no means were they going to let me slide. In all honesty I didn’t care about the money, I just wanted proper help, proper diagnosis and to be treated fairly. As anyone would have guess the board determined I did not meet the criteria for a discharge related to bipolar disorder.
May 2014 I was taken to 3A again and I admit I probably didn’t really need to go and I was just acting out because I was so done. I could have taken an appeal to the medical board but it was suggested that I be discharged under a personality disorder chapter. I decided this was the best choice even though I did not agree with the decision the appeal would take a few months versus the chapter would be a few weeks. However I did not meet the criteria for a personality disorder discharge. Instead I was discharged on a similar chapter of “Other Designated Physical or Mental Conditions” my mental condition being “Chronic suicidality”.
I didn’t agree with this chapter either but it was true. I have been chronically suicidal for a long time. Good days, bad days, mediocre days it doesn’t matter. For me being suicidal is like having a radio always playing in your mind. The radio is really quiet some days and barely noticeable. Other days the radio is blast so loud you cant think straight.
I saw the VA for a short period of time after I got out and was right away that I was in fact bipolar. Funny enough the VA considers me 70% disabled. Once again I ran into another psychiatrist who did not listen and had the mentality of take your meds and get out of my office. Still feeling burned out I decided that I didn’t want to deal with it anymore so I stopped going. I also decided I didn’t need my medication anymore so I stopped taking them. I was okay for quite a few months still having mood swings and suicidality but not as severe. Some of my mood shifts were not really noticeable until after the fact. The summer after I stopped seeing the VA I went through an upswing for a few months where I was weight lifting like Arnold Schwarzenegger for 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week, Running 5-6 miles every other day, taking Tae Kwon Do, running on limited sleep, under eating and being overly positive and hyperactive on top of working a job that required me to walk 2-3 miles a day. Something to the outside eye may not be too crazy but still not exactly normal and of course it did not last. Eventually at some point I did return to the VA most likely due to depression though I am not sure when this occurred. I requested a different psychiatrist since I did not like the one I had. I started taking the same medications again but they were not working as well as they once were. So it then became a game of throwing medicine at me and seeing what worked.
That same I started working for the ambulance company which inflated my mood. I am nerdy so I was very excited to start working in the EMS field as I enjoy medicine. For the first 6 months thing were good and I thoroughly felt positive and enjoyed my job. However after those first 6 months my depression started to make its way back. Probably due to stress of the job and having my own apartment, lack of sleep and the fact it was winter. I was started on a higher dose antipsychotic in January. My psychiatrist told me that it was to help me sleep but I am pretty sure it was because I told her I was angry because the sun was laughing and mocking me for being depressed. I also started another medication to control the mood swings. Both these medicines caused slow cognitive functioning and tiredness. I could feel myself slipping out of control and tried my best to hide my symptoms from the work place. However I ended up in 2 different psychiatric hospitals within a couple months. I continued to slip and was starting not to be able to work competently. I was anxious and trying to hold it together because I wanted to keep this job. I switched around positions at work doing what I could in hopes my spiral would stop and I could get back on top. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and dropped down to part time to basically try and hold on to the job until I was better. I ended up losing my apartment because I couldn’t afford it. Which was another blow to my already low self-esteem. The final straw was when I was at an arena event working with a paramedic. He asked me to palpate a blood pressure which is pretty easy. I literally could not do it and he had to show me how. I decided at that point I could not work this job, it wasn’t fair to me, my partner or the patient.
So off I went looking for a new job. I did multiple job interviews but was turned away. I was frustrated because I have always been a good employee and never had an issue getting a job. I knew something was up because I felt like I was having a hard time thinking, communicating and even slurring my words at times. Finally I got a job working for security to which I found out later my boss thought I was under the influence of something at my job interview because I was so sedated but he still gave me a chance. During this time I became extremely depressed to the point where I was sleeping or laying in bed for 16 hours a day and working a desk job for 8. If it was a weekend you could guarantee I was not getting up. I did this for good couple of months and the seasonal change didn’t help. Eventually things started to turn around and while I wasn’t great I was doing a bit better. Ultimately I stopped taking the anti-psychotic because I felt it was nothing but trouble, I gained 40lbs on top it already slowing me down. My psychiatrist also felt the mood stabilizer wasn’t benefitting me so we decided to try a new medicine in February of this year.
While I am not holding my breath as it is too early to tell but this new medication has seemingly been a god send. My mood swings have not really been significant and I have gradually come out of my depression become happier and more active. I’ve been getting out of the house, meeting with people, enjoying life and doing things. I started Paramedic school this summer and while I am not sure if that was a really smart or a really dumb move but I am happy to finally be doing something positive with my life. I don’t know how long this will last and only time will tell if this is the right treatment, it may last awhile or it may last a few months but I want to take full advantage of what I have right now. It’s like the doctor telling you you have cancer and only 3 months to live. What do you do? You go out and live life and do everything on your bucket list. As much as I don’t want depressed, inpatient, and sleep for 16 hours a day just trying to survive Lindsay to come back I am not an idiot, it is highly likely that could and will happen again.
I am not perfect by any stretch, there are times I stop taking my medicine because I believe I made it all up and I am not really sick or I was just overreacting. But I am trying to work my hardest at recovery. Recovery for me living life with a purpose, having goals, and caring for those I love. Do I get angry about it? Yes mostly because it takes away from what I want in life and hurts the people I care about. Would I change having it? I don’t think so, it’s a part of me and my story. It has taught me to appreciate the good days, the people I love and not take anything for granted. To understand that life can be both terrible and beautiful. To be honest I am lucky, lucky I never got into drugs or alcohol, lucky to have the funds to support my care, lucky to have people who support me, lucky it didn’t take me 10 years to get the care I needed, and last by not least lucky to be alive.
People like myself are just like everyone else are not just “crazies” we’re just different people fighting a different battle. We are people who want to love and be loved and yet many times people like myself are left out in the cold. When you’re in a psychiatric hospital you know what you don’t see? Get well soon cards, flowers, sometimes not even a phone call let alone a visitor. Which can be harsh when you already feel like the dirt of the earth.
I don’t say these things for pity because that’s not what I want, pity does nothing to improve a situation however this is the truth. When you reveal your psychiatric illness whether intentional or not you really start to see those who truly care about you and sometimes it’s not the people you expect. Sometimes your friend who lives 1800 miles away cares more than your friend who lives just down the block.
If you learn anything from this, don’t give up on someone who suffers from these things. It’s hard enough dealing with them, let alone doing it alone. It may not seem like it but when you support a person through thick and thin and don’t give up on them it really does mean the world to them.
This is not how I expected my life to turn out thus far, but it will be interesting to see where life takes me from now… In Neil Hilborn’s words, “I saw the future, I did, and in it I was alive”."
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