My sister recently went away to college. She’s living in a dorm off the beach, studying marine biology and living the life she’s planned for since childhood. She is two years younger than me. I am proud of her. I want her to succeed. I want her life to be full and happy. I want the same things for myself. Yet when it comes to me, things are a bit more difficult.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was eighteen. I have been on some form of mood stabilizing medication since I was sixteen. I am keenly aware, at the age of twenty-six, of the limitations my disease places on my life. Most of them were expected. I expected to take a handful of pills each night. I expected days when depression would hit me like a brick wall. I even expected the inpatient hospital stays. But there were some things I didn’t plan on.
I didn’t plan on the crippling anxiety. I didn’t plan on my losing the ability to make meaningful relationships with others outside my family. I didn’t foresee other people becoming dangerous, threatening. I didn’t plan on the rapid weight gain and the constant war in my head each time I wake up, unable to sleep and end up in the kitchen, eating whatever’s in the refrigerator. I didn’t predict that I would eventually become imprisoned in my house, my illness steadfastly serving as my prison guard.
Today my sister streamed her baptism at her new church in her new town near her new college with her new friends on Facebook. My entire family, relatives both in my home and across the country, watched her move another step forward in her life. Later today I’m expected to go to a family gathering for my cousin’s eighteenth birthday party where I will undoubtedly be surrounded my questions like, “How is your sister doing at school,” and “Is she having fun up there?” Then questions will turn toward me. Those will be the worst because life for me is very much the same as the last time they saw me. Nothing has changed, except perhaps the number on the scale in my bathroom, which has increased.
I try not to be bitter. I try to be happy for the achievements and milestones of those around me. But on days like today, I feel suffocated by my illness. I feel trapped in my head, inside a mind that is, for the most part, not an ally. So yes, today I am feeling my disease.