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I got bipolar and this is my story

Saba Malik

Where bipolar all started...

I remember that day as clear as the screen you see.

I walk on the sidewalk, on my way to the chemistry building at my university. It's my first year and for the first time in months, I feel full of hope. For the past six months, all I did was sleep and skip classes. I just didn't have the energy to make it to the lectures. My mind was all foggy and listening to the professor go on and on about chemical formulas hurt my head.

But now, all is gone. I have my chemistry midterm and I know I'm going to ace it. I enter the building and take the elevator up to my class. I sit in my chair and start the exam. It's too easy. The answers are just flying in my head. I finish early before anyone else and leave the classroom.

Everything seems bright and fresh. Even the gloomy subway is full of life and color.

How the bipolar mania episode started...

The excerpt above might just seem almost normal but it was the beginning of my journey on the road of bipolar. I came home that day and for the next week, I didn't sleep or eat for seven days straight. I had the energy of a horse. Nobody could hold me as I ran up and down the stairs. My dad couldn't even hold me because I would break free. I was having delusions like thinking that my mom was trying to poison me by putting lice in my rice. It was cumin. Cumin I tell you but all my mind saw was lice. I was both hypersexually and hyper-religious at the same time. Yeah, try wrapping your head around that one! I thought I was pregnant and that Allah sent me to rid the world of evil.

The shaykh comes

So after a week, my parents, like many innocent Muslim parents ignorantly, thought I was possessed by jinns. So they called the shaykh to perform ruqayah to rid me of the evil spirits. Surprise: nothing happened.

That's when they took me to the hospital and I was injected with a whole bunch of sedatives. Later, I found out that I was in isolation and I slept for 2-3 days straight. I finally came out of the episode and I remember sitting in a boardroom with a bunch of doctors. nurses and other professionals.

When I asked them what happened to me, they were very reluctant to diagnose me with any illness. Instead, they just said I had a nervous breakdown because of stress. I did have many stressors from the pressures of trying to get into a prestigious program and relationship troubles. They handed a bottle of some medication (I forget what it was) to me and sent me home.

Poof, the bipolar is gone

Like any good patient, I followed the doctor's orders and took the medicine. Once it was finished, I thought that was the end of it. I went back to life as I knew it. Little did I know, that the bipolar would come back to not just haunt me but attack me, torment me, and destroy every fiber of my being. I am not exagerating.

The Bipolar Beast Attacks

I am dumbfounded now as I try to tell you my story. This part is difficult to narrate and in hindsight, it is the most profound and life-altering part of my life. It's the juice behind why I continue to advocate for Muslims with mental health despite not seeing any worldly benefit.

After two years of being "clean," if I can say that, the bipolar came back. There was a huge trigger in my life. Pro tip: bipolar episodes or getting sick mentally always have a trigger. Identify your triggers and you overpower the beast and black dog.

When the bipolar came back, it was the same spiel. The hyperreligiosity, the hypersexuality, the delusions, sleepless nights, no eating for days, all the classic bipolar symptoms, only I didn't know it.

Words matter because they give you a vocabulary to move things and concepts from the unknown to the known realm. Being able to express your mental illness through words gives you power over them.

Breaking the bipolar barrier and writing my story

I didn't have such words. It was only during this second mania episode that I saw bipolar in my doctor's notes. It was only when I saw those letters B-I-P-O-L-A-R on that paper that it hit me.

I have no recollection of a doctor or any medical professional telling me that I had bipolar. Why do I stress this point? Because it's important to speak up for yourself and advocate for yourself to know what is going on with your health.

You are not always going to be handed a paper with all the information you need to succeed in life. You need to dig for it yourself. This unwilling ignorance cost me my health, relationships, school, and eventually my job. Sadly, when I'm not on my toes, bipolar strikes at night and stabs me in the back.

Thankfully, the barrier was broken. I knew the beast I was dealing with: bipolar. Little did I know that it would also become a beauty.

When the vultures feast

I'm sorry but I don't have a better word for those people. Vulture is a compliment actually because vultures come, do their damage, and leave. But the people who backbite and spread rumors cause irreparable damage that is impossible to fix. It can have a lasting impact. And for someone with a mental health challenge like me, the repercussions can be even worse.

Those people or vultures were some people in my community. I made the mistake, during my episode, of exposing myself and telling people I had bipolar. SubhanAllah, was I hit with the stigma brick!

I didn't know I was facing stigma. I didn't even know about my own misconceptions and ignorance so how could I expect the aunties to know better? I don't blame them. I forgive them and I thank them. I pray for them.

Thank your enemies

I do call the backbiting aunties my enemies because you don't let the same snake bite you twice so I steered clear of them. Interestingly, our social circle dwindled to a few kind souls. I don't call them my enemies out of spite. Far from it. I call them that because when you want to improve yourself, look no further than what your enemies say about you. Analyze what they say (rumors) and select the things they are saying that you need to improve upon. This helps you write your bipolar (or insert any other mental health condition) story.

Be honest about your bipolar

The biggest lesson the vultures taught me was, to be honest with myself. What a profound lesson for mental health success. People fail with their mental illness because they won't accept their diagnosis. I've seen the harm and damage this denial does.

Once I accepted the bipolar in my life after this second mania episode, little did I know the depression dungeon I was headed toward. Mania kills as swiftly as a sword but depression keeps digging painfully and slowly with a butter knife.

Bipolar Rise to Bipolar Fall

After the mania, come not 3 weeks or 3 months but 3 years of long depression. Without questioning or researching, I took any and every drug my doctor gave me. Like 90% of psychiatric drugs, I put on a whopping 60lbs in less than two months. Not only was my mental health deteriorating but so was my physical health. That also included my social life, my studies, my work, and my spiritual life. Those three years were personified by this. I would be locked in the psychiatric ward and then discharged. Without having showered for days, my mom would pick me up from the hospital and drive me to my class on campus because if I missed one more class, I would fail my course, again.

Importance of a support system for Muslims with bipolar

I'm blessed to have a great supportive family. It's not just my siblings and parents who support me but my uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even cousins. Some of the biggest donors to my nonprofit are my family members. I got spiritual, physical, mental, social, financial, and even medical support from my family. Hey, every desi family has doctors so I'm no different. My aunt, who is a doctor, kept me out of the hospital for ages and fixed my medication regimen, and helped me have a baby.

My mom made sure I finished university so I would feel accomplished and a contributing part of society. My siblings made sure I had my mental health services set up. They even supported me financially. I call one of my siblings "Apple tree" because they have bought me Macbooks, iPhones, AirPods, and an Apple watch.

My whole family supports my work. Support is important. It's crucial. That's why I have my membership set up. But how did I learn this?

Release Yourself from Depression

After my three years of depression, my sister took me to a seminar about "Releasing Yourself from Depression." It was life-changing! It was shortly after this that I got a life coach. I had a therapist and a psychiatrist but I was making little or no progress with them.

Once I got this life coach, I felt supercharged and there started my mental health advocacy work. I later became a life coach myself and continue to coach Muslims with mental health challenges to this day.

Bipolar still plagues me

I still get sick and end up in the hospital to this day. Recovering and mastering bipolar doesn't mean you never get sick. It means you learn from each downfall and become better with each turn. I'm constantly learning my new triggers (yes they change!) and adapting to them.

One big trigger for any mental health patient is stress and changes in life. These two are sure to cause upsets in health. For that reason, marriage, getting pregnant, moving, changes in my social circle, and changes in my financial health have all made me get sick and go to the hospital.

With each visit, I make a new friend, hand out another copy of my memoir, learn about a new drug, meet a new mental health professional with fresh insights, and repair the damage that bipolar caused.

Allah breaks you down to build you back up

I truly believe that I'm blessed with bipolar brought so many great things in my life. No doubt, it's a voracious beast. But I see it as a beast that chases you and you have no choice but to run for your life. And once you become fast and strong enough, you jump on the damn thing, grab it by the reins and you become its master.

Allah gifted me with this beast to test me and make me thrive. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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