Answering Questions: Erika Answers …

  • What were the symptoms and how did they affect you?

With depression, it was always the same: emptiness so heavy it was painful, a gnawing pull/yank in my gut; helplessness; hopelessness; and varying shades of grey. Constant crying. Sobbing. Sore tear ducts. I was in bed most days and most nights, accompanied by a looping tape on rewind in my mind telling me that I wasn’t enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not tall enough… not… enough. Then it would loop again… and again… and again. There was minimal eating and an avoidance of people and friends and activities that used to make bring organic joy into my world – like dancing and reading, or spending time with friends and family. I often felt trapped in a bubble. I was being held captive and I was running out of air in there. I tell people during my talks that this depression thing is similar to heartache. Really intense, crippling heartache. Humans can relate to that.

With bipolar, my symptoms ranged from extreme irritability to cluttered thoughts that raced through my head faster than I could catch them. Extreme paranoia almost crippled me. I’d also have a speedy heart rate, clammy hands, inability to focus on my schoolwork or pleasurable reading, or daily planning, or simple passive thinking. Often I’d feel “needles” poking into my skin causing me to want to peel it off. I ramble when I’m in a bipolar episode. My words don’t make sense and I can hear myself speaking in a jumbled language that is all my own. My words can’t keep up with the thoughts. So whatever comes out is shortened, like a mish-mash of sounds. I’ll also take on major projects, like writing novels or scripts, or moving to a new city to start a life and career in a new industry. But then there are times that I complete those extra-ordinary tasks and find a way to make it all come together and work. And work really well.

Very different from depression, my bipolar swings came with an intense paranoia that led to psychosis and breaks from reality. I’d hear voices and they’d tell me things. It got dangerous and that sent me right back to therapy. I had a pattern of not going to therapy when the pendulum of my life swung back to the other side of happy. And with each bipolar or depressive episode, that pendulum swung further toward insanity. And I’d end up back where I started: in therapy begging for God to take it away. Inevitably, I’d try a different cocktail of meds and surrender to being a zombie again until I regained some balance. Over time, I was able to manage the voices. I know I’ve been successful because I’m still here.