Dear Brittany Ann,
You’ve always been the type of person who has trouble staying still. Constantly moving from one thing to the next, or at least wanting to. It’s hard for you to make a decision because you can’t choose just one thing or focus on one thing. And the worse things get, the faster you want to move. The less you want to slow down or stop or be quiet. You move as quickly as possible to the next job, the next bottle of wine, the next person, party, hobby. You can’t even focus on a 20-minute television show for more than five minutes. You can’t do what you love— reading or writing or digesting a film or a record because that would involve you being still and you can’t be still because that means addressing what is happening. Admitting there is a problem. Realizing you're once again broken. So you speed. You zig and you zag and you are too much. You drink too much. You cry too much. You buy too much. You go as fast as you can for as long as you can until you can’t do it anymore. Until you physically can’t take another step. Until you can’t feel too much anymore.
Until you're done.
I know you’ve been through a lot in the short amount of time you’ve been on this earth. You’ve endured more than many adults experience in a lifetime. I know you’re keeping secrets, and I know you’re scared and confused. It’s OK for you to feel that way. It’s OK to have a bad day or many bad days; you’re allowed. Please know I am not trying to scare you when I say you’re going to have a lot of bad days.
Unfortunately, what they’ve just diagnosed you with isn’t going to go away, and it’s not just some phase you’re going through. You have an illness, kind of like the way diabetes is an illness. It’s just that yours is an illness of the mind and is often highly unpredictable. Now you know you have bipolar disorder. I guess that explains a lot.
You will be forced to deal with this for the rest of your life, and I need you to be prepared for that and try not to panic. It can be managed; you just have a lot of work to do. The first thing I’m going to tell you is to stop locking yourself in your room listening to the same painful songs over and over again. It’s not going to get you anywhere.
Don’t isolate yourself from the outside world so much that when you finally venture out, you’ll date any guy who looks at you twice. Try to stay away from dating until your illness is more under control. Remember that when a man does break your heart, it’s going to feel like your whole life has collapsed. We feel things deeper; it comes with the territory.
Sometimes all you can do is sleep, and sometimes you won’t sleep for days. Give yourself some time to adjust to your diagnosis. We all handle it differently. Don’t ever criticize yourself for taking care of the most important person here– you.
You may see doctor after doctor and try what will seem like thousands of medications, but in between all of the bullshit, there will be good times. Your life is not over; it’s just beginning.
I just need you to be ready for what you’re about to do. You’re going to attempt to win the battle inside your brain every single day. Watch your step. There are pitfalls along the path for people like us. Just be honest with people. Tell them the truth from the start. That way you won’t have grown close to them if they exit stage left.
The worst part about being diagnosed with a mental illness is the ignorance you’ll face daily. There will be people who walk out of your life or treat you like trash because you have an illness— one you didn’t ask for or contract. It’s just how you’re wired. Some people may never understand or even believe no matter how hard you try to explain it to them.
Don’t let their ignorance tear you down, and don’t let them get to you. You have enough work to do just fighting the negative voices in your head. You will struggle, there is no question about that. Sometimes it will feel like all you ever do is get hurt. That is when it is easiest to give up, but you can’t do that. Not now. Not ever.
Please, whatever you do, don’t try to hurt yourself in any way. You may feel alone at times, but you are never truly alone in this fight. If family members can’t help, try friends or anyone you trust. Purposely being alone just to sit there and cry about how lonely you are is counterproductive. When you feel up to it, make a list of things you enjoy doing so when you stumble into that abyss, you’ve left yourself a breadcrumb path to find your way back out.
Always remember you’re only having a bad day. You do not have a bad life. Despite your struggles, there will be moments where you shine! And you’ll learn to appreciate those moments even more because you have fought hard to get there.
You can do this. I’ve witnessed it first-hand. There will be times when you want to give up. Unfortunately, at times the pain will seem unbearable, and it will get to you no matter how strong you think you are. Always remember, there will be a light around the corner. You just have to follow the path to get to it.
I am so proud of you. You admitted you have an illness that many people are still embarrassed by. You are going to go on and do great things! You’re going to figure out a way to turn the tables on your disability and use it to help people. I know patience isn’t your strong suit, but it won’t be long. You’re so young, just be 19-years-old first. You’re going to need a little time to figure yourself out.
You’ve got quite an uphill battle in front of you. You won’t have all the answers, but in time you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t compare your illness to someone else. Your journey will be completely different. When you’re more self-aware, your bad days will only amplify the good. You can do this. It will be a struggle, but if you weren’t a fighter, you wouldn’t be here now. I’ll be here waiting. You’ve got this.
Brittany Ann, circa March 2017