When I woke up, I thought it had been a dream. Or maybe some sort of twisted nightmare. One thing I was certain of was that I had been screaming so much and so irrationally that they needed to inject me with a sedative to put me to sleep. So yes, a twisted nightmare.
It resulted in an overnight hospital stay, an ambulance to take me to a psychiatric in-patient ward, and three nights in said ward. Three nights felt like three years.
It was just like the movies. We had community groups, took our pills in tiny plastic cups, and had a bedroom we shared with a roommate. They let us keep our phones, but not the cables we needed to charge them. Those were kept in a separate room and we had to check in our phones for charging.
In one of our community art classes, I wanted to draw one of my fellow patients. No, they said, that’s against our confidentiality codes. I remember picking up a magazine instead and drawing from a picture of a woman in seated meditation, as if it was me, legs folded, seated in a moment of utter peace and quiet.
My sister brought me photos from home so I could hang them up next to my bed. I made a little collage from them. They were pictures of my friends and I, arm in arm and beaming happily, tacked up next to me. In the library, I found a Jane Austen book, and I started to read it to pass the time. And I journaled. I journaled a lot.
Now, it’s been six years and the memories can still bring me to tears. It wasn’t even about the psychiatric ward I was in. It was about what had come before.
It was a mix of laughing and crying. A mix of dancing and feverish poetry I tried to write on my bedroom walls. A mix of pouring my heart out to my sister, words sliding out faster than I could think them, and the utter silence and paranoia that followed and left me awake.
And awake again, for days and nights on end.
It had been a week of that. You couldn’t even call it insomnia, it was beyond insomnia. Later I found out the right word for it. It was an episode. A full-blown manic episode. Lasting a week, but its memories haunting me for the rest of my life.
I think the worst part of it all was the fear. I thought I was schizophrenic, that there was another me, inside me, doing all of these irrational things I couldn’t comprehend. Spilling out my secrets without my permission, taunting strangers, taunting my friends, taunting myself.
But that wasn’t the case. The psychiatrist I saw kept telling me it was Bipolar Disorder. I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t care. I didn’t have anything. I was fine.
I was fine. Maybe it was depression, I told myself. But it would go. And I’d be okay again.
I stopped taking the medicine that was prescribed to me six or seven months after the hospital incident. And I was alright. I was exercising every day. I was spending time with my family. I was writing in my journal again.
But what you don’t realize about Bipolar Disorder, is that it’s not just a one-time deal. Because it came back. About a year later, it came back, not as strong and intense as that first episode, but it was the same symptoms, the same feelings, the same rushing thoughts that kept me up all night.
My frequency was about one manic episode a year. Consistent, certain, and devastating every time.
Then there came a time where it was so intense and traumatic, another entire week of mixed moods, mixed feelings, mixed everything. My parents took me to their holistic doctor, and despite the ritualistic treatments I was given, I still felt fear, and paranoia, and discomfort rising up again and again. My mind was constantly flipping between rationality and paranoia.
I sought out my therapist at the time and I told her I no longer want to do this without a medical prescription, so she connected me to a new psychiatrist. The difference is, a therapist is the person you talk to about your feelings, and a psychiatrist is the one who decides what medicine to prescribe you.
I told the psychiatrist how much I disliked that first medication, and he found me another one suitable for Bipolar patients. It took a week or two of meetings to figure out what the right dosage was for me, one that didn’t leave me feeling too sleepy, or too numb and emotionless.
Ever since then, with the right medication, my frequency went down from one episode a year, to zero. That’s not to say I’m “healed” or that the disorder went away. If I don’t take care of my mental health, daily routine or, most importantly, my sleeping pattern, I still get symptoms of something called hypomania, which is a scaled down, compressed version of a manic episode.
But at least I feel secure. And that’s one of the things my psychiatrist had told me. For mental health patients, medicine can be that safety net that you can fall back into when you’re just not capable enough to keep up. In my case, my body was genetically susceptible to having these manic episodes. I later found out that it actually runs in the family and it didn’t just appear out of the blue.
And of course there are the Why’s? The why me? Why now? Why do I feel so alone?
But the Why’s will haunt you if you let them. It’s about looking at what you are grateful for, rather than what you wish you could change.
At the end of the day, my journey to where I am now was by no means easy. Today, my days consist of working out, seeing my friends, practicing my art, trying to remember to meditate every day. But most of all, my days consist of a peace of mind.
Maybe I am that woman, seated with her legs folded, finding utter peace and quiet.
What I know is this: it’s always going to be a learning curve. There are things that happen for a reason, and there are things we can’t change, but we can always learn to surf the waves, the ups and downs, that come throughout life.
And that it will be okay. You will feel okay.
Shams A. is a 27 year old Emirati, a practicing artist and writer. She believes in telling her story in order to share what may usually stay secret or hidden in our Eastern culture, and to show that through passing on these narratives, we realize that we are not alone in our experiences.