Confessions of a Former Overachiever
I am a former overachiever.
When I was about sixteen, my mom (a single parent) was injured and needed someone to step in and take care of my family—cooking dinner, cleaning, helping take care of my brother and cats. I was the person to step up.
It was hard. I felt like I had to give up my social life in order to take care of my family and to maintain my 3.8 GPA. We didn’t have very much money at the time, and there were times that I wouldn’t even eat lunch because I didn’t have the money to.
At times, I was so overwhelmed that I cried myself to sleep, but I pushed through despite my own personal hurdles. I admire the strength and courage I possessed at sixteen, but I pushed through because I knew things would get better.
In this time, I realized how desperately I wanted financial security. I wanted to wake up every day with my bills paid, food in my fridge, and without a dark cloud looming over my head. I wanted to feel safe. This was what I assumed was the key to happiness. This is where I saw myself at twenty-two, and I would work as hard as it took to get me to that point. I stayed after school for ACT prep, took extra math classes, and tried to maintain straight As. Even after I was accepted into the university that I wanted, not much could sway my determination.
When I was twenty-one . . .
I was diagnosed with bipolar II after struggling with depression and a loss of motivation during my first few years of college. Bipolar II is majorly depressive episodes with a few episodes of "hyperactivity" (hypomania) and somewhat risky behavior thrown in. Although the diagnosis came as a relief, it was the beginning of a battle that I still haven't made much progress within the last year or so.
I've had a lot of people warn me about the dangers of claiming bipolar as a part of my identity, but it's hard because it is something that has slowly crept into every aspect of my life. Although I know that many people find medication and therapies that help keep their mood disorders under control, I am not at that point. For the last year, I have simply been living around my illness. It almost feels like my bipolar depression is a sleeping baby within me that I'm trying not to wake up.
When I was a teenager, I lacked healthy coping mechanisms. Instead of addressing my problems, I often internalized them and threw myself into my schoolwork as a means of distraction. I continued to tell myself that it would get better over and over again, and it was what motivated me to keep fighting.
It wasn't until a few months ago that I was lying in bed and it occurred to me that I had everything I had ever wanted when I was younger—my bills were paid, I had food in my fridge, and I had no dark clouds looming over me—yet, I was so incredibly miserable—even more miserable than I was at sixteen. It was a crushing realization: my hard work meant nothing.
The months that followed . . .
It almost seemed as though I began to self-sabotage. Since my diagnosis, I've been hospitalized three times, spending a combined total of seventeen days in the hospital. I've been on seven different medications. I've put off school because I was failing out of my classes. I've alienated my close friends and family. I've bailed on a potentially good relationship. I've accumulated a lot of credit card debt from poor decisions. I've even put my job at stake because I was missing shifts.
What did it matter? I would never be happy! I stopped taking my medication, started spending like crazy, and I started drinking and smoking more. My self-destruction lead me right to a psychiatric hospital for five days.
For the last year, I've fought and kicked and screamed and cried because I have been trying so hard to put myself back on the path of stability that I was on up until my diagnosis. But it was like the harder I fought, the weaker I felt, and the more I wanted to give up and "accept" that my life would be a never-ending cycle of depression. For the first time in my life, I felt like a failure, and I felt the darkness of my illness engulfing me.
Although the months that preceded this hospitalization were absolutely terrible, something incredible happened—I had given up. The overachiever and perfectionist traits in my personality seemed to have been overtaken by the impulsiveness of my bipolar.
This sounds awful, and in many ways it was, but let me explain. By giving up, I had finally stopped fighting against myself.
I had spent nearly two years trying to go back to the person I was before my diagnosis, but I will never find that person because she never existed to begin with. The younger version of me was so discontented that she spent all of her time focusing on the future—she never found time to live her life and discover who she really was.
This past summer . . .
I finally made friends with co-workers, and then found out which ones were my real friends. I found out that I actually do like roller coasters and that smoking weed is a little overrated. I know which brands of cigarettes I like, and I realized that after $30,000 dollars of debt, I want to go into a completely different field than what my actual major is.
After spending my teens planning for the future, and then spending the last few years devastated over losing all control, it's finally as if I just let go and started living my life. I started saying "yes." Not all of my decisions were good ones, and I'm not very proud of them, but I learned to let go of my worries and to enjoy myself. Despite my mistakes, I learned more about myself in the last few months than I have in six years.
After my most recent hospitalization, I went back on medication to help control my depressive and impulsive symptoms, but I still intended to live every day to the fullest. Even if that just means going for a 2-3 mile walk or sitting with my friends and watching movies all night.
Everyone warned me about claiming bipolar as a part of my identity, but it turns out that it took me being diagnosed to start finding out who I am. Because of my choices a few months ago, I’m no longer in a place of financial stability. I have quite a large cloud looming over my head, but as I sit here now with my friends who have been here with me through my ups and downs, taking care of my cat while I was in the hospital, buying me food when I couldn't afford it, or simply just listening to me vent—this is happiness. This is exactly where I should be at twenty-two.
© 2017 Alexa J Cobb