In my early twenties, I went through a crisis that required all my resources to overcome. After dropping out of college due to mood swings, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I moved home, finished school, studied many different healing methods, and had a spiritual awakening. All told, it took me three years to heal.
Mood Swings, Trouble Sleeping, and Dropping Out of College
When I was 20, I dropped out of college because I couldn’t show up to class consistently. I would stay up for two days straight and sleep for a day and a half. I was battling depression and chronic feelings of uselessness and self-hatred, alternating with ambitious academic and artistic plans and fantastic visions of grandeur. Unable to keep up with classes due to these swings, I withdrew from school, and looked for full-time work. Around this time, I began to smoke marijuana as a way of exploring my mind, and to regulate my mood (with little success).
Medication and Diagnosis
My difficult feelings intensified, so I sought out counselling, and got some antidepressant medication from a friend. Although I had pridefully refused medication up till then, I felt helpless to manage my moods on my own, and agreed to give it a try. The meds seemed to help, so I went to see a psychiatric nurse at a counseling center, who prescribed me an antidepressant and diagnosed me with Bipolar (II).
The diagnosis had a paradoxical effect on me. On one hand, I felt that I finally had a direction to head in in order to get better, because I had a name and a set of ideas for understanding my experience. On the other hand, I felt like I was really crazy, and all my feelings of competence and intelligence were dashed— and the shame, fear, and self-loathing I had hidden from myself for years became more and more apparent.
Extreme States and Moving Home
Around this time, I took a trip to Europe with a generous friend, and experienced the highest high and lowest low I remember. One noontime in Paris, the entire world was completely perfect and luminous. As we sat in a cafe, the oranges stacked in a pyramid across the street seemed to shine intensely from within, and wherever I looked, I saw only perfection and fluid light. A few nights later in Brussels, I was reduced to a million keening shards below the stars, broken and crippled by the overwhelming force of my depression. My friend told me, “I don’t know if I can take you like this,” which neatly complemented my feelings of utter loneliness and wretchedness— indeed, I didn’t know if I could take myself like this, either. After I returned to the States, I found I had overspent my budget, and decided to move back in with my parents. (In fact, I really needed their help, and money trouble was a cover story for the humbling reality that I couldn’t make it on my own anymore.)
Unable to Read or Write – A Mental Disability
After I moved back home, I enrolled at the local college to finish my degree. When classes began, I found I couldn’t write an essay anymore— I had the ideas in mind, but I couldn’t connect them coherently. When I read my textbooks, five minutes later, I found I had forgotten the whole chapter. At my therapist’s suggestion, I made an appointment with a neuropsychologist, who administered some tests and wrote me a letter for a disability waiver from the university. For most of my youth, I played the role of prideful intellectual; I felt humiliated by this “mental disability,” and my self-concept took a real blow. However, I got extra time to finish assignments, and with this help, managed to finish my degree.
Psychiatry, Difficult Feelings, and Equilibrium
I started seeing a psychiatrist, who prescribed me pills using what he called “monotherapy” – using just one medicine at a time to achieve the desired result. I took a series of seven different medications, mostly atypical antipsychotics and anticonvulsants. With each new drug came a new host of side effects, and at times it seemed that the meds were making things much worse. This was my most suicidal period, and I contemplated throwing myself from the tall staircase in the school library, or veering into oncoming traffic. There was also a period on a particular medication where I had excruciating and frightening experiences— for example, sensations of my brain being torn apart, stabbed, or sawed in half. Sometimes, all I could do to manage the pain was pass out. Another medication made me lethargic and dull, and an expensive stimulant was prescribed to counter this effect, but life still seemed lackluster and tedious. Eventually, however, my psychiatrist prescribed me a medication that stabilized my moods without major unpleasant side effects, and suddenly everything changed— now, instead of being immersed in a raging sea of emotion, I was seated on a rock in the middle of the ocean, safe from the ravages of the waves.
Seeking Healing Alternatives
During this time, I had read everything about bipolar disorder I could get my hands on. What I discovered was that the Western medical establishment was clueless about how to heal it, had no idea what the experience was actually like, and recommended drugs for life and crossed fingers. I refused to accept this conclusion, and I researched the alternatives. For about a year and a half, I studied and practiced a host of different healing methods, and consulted healers of many traditions. In my quest, I made use of Western herbalism, yoga, ayurveda, homeopathy, aikido, shamanic healing, flower essences, art therapy, energy work, journaling, dreamwork, visualization, and meditation. It was this last that become the key to my recovery and subsequent development as a human being.
The Turning Point
After several amazing breakthroughs and eye-opening experiences with complementary healing and spiritual practices, I met with a holistic counselor who had a Ph.D. in neuropsychology and a background in Buddhism and meditation. He showed me brilliant sanity, a level of mind that is completely perfect, inclusive, fresh, and pure. It was this, I recognized, that I had been seeking my whole life, and after a decisive immersion in the experience of mind-beyond-mind one May afternoon, I vowed to attain it completely. I discontinued my psychiatric medication the same day, and haven’t taken any since. That was 2004.
Exploring, Integrating, Learning, Cured!
I have been free of the insanity of bipolar disorder since that healing moment. I kept up my meditation practice, which stabilized my rediscovered brilliant sanity, and continued to help me navigate the path of my experience, including emotions, thoughts, and spiritual understanding. I studied Tibetan Buddhism and other spiritual teachings, and in 2010 began graduate studies in psychotherapy. Worried that perhaps meditation was merely keeping my bipolar disorder at bay, I stopped my daily meditation practice for about four months, and took a job that disrupted my sleep schedule. None of my bipolar symptoms recurred, and in Summer 2011 I reaffirmed that I have healed from bipolar disorder. While I still sometimes have difficult feelings and experiences, I am able to cope with and learn from them, and I continue to lead a happy, creative, and productive life.
Sharing What I Learned
I learned how to heal bipolar disorder the hard way, and the only way— by actually doing it. My deepest wish is to help others heal, so they can give full expression to the brilliant fire within, while leading a happy, healthy, fulfilling life, and contributing to the greater good and healing of themselves, society, and the world as a whole— and beyond.