I am a survivor of Bipolar II Disorder, and that’s okay

A student reflects on how he overcame the turmoils that come along with Bipolar II Disorder.


Trigger Warning: This essay contains mention of drug use and suicide. If you find the content disturbing, please seek help at Tuttleman Counseling Services or click here to find resources regarding mental health, substance abuse and suicide.

I was 17 years old when my first depressive episode began. I remember sitting at a lunch table, wiping the uncontrollable tears from my face while I stared straight into my lap. I had to hide my face from my friends because I feared they’d ask what was wrong, and I didn’t have the answer. 

I was fearing for my life during the first few weeks of the episode, a wave of sadness replaced my positive outlook. I thought something was wrong with me because I was unaware of my condition, Bipolar II Disorder.

By March 2020, my world became black and white. The everyday pleasures I enjoyed, like getting pizza with my friends and watching movies on Sundays with my family, weren’t fun anymore. I was entering a world in which I could no longer be happy. 

My school sent students home on March 16, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and I thought it was a blessing at the time because now I had the chance to be sad in peace. 

I spent hours alone in my room, journaling and sitting quietly, which only led to my racing thoughts taking over my mind. 

In the brief moments I interacted with my family, I wanted them to ask if I was okay even though I knew I would keep telling them I was fine when I wasn’t. I wanted to hide my reality from the world. I hoped that one day I could tell them the truth, that there were moments I didn’t want to be here anymore — not just stuck in my room or house, but I didn’t want to be on this planet. 

I didn’t know why I felt the way I did. 

I began cutting myself in early March 2020, using my old pocket knife to write words like “hope” and “faith” into my arm with the switchblade in an attempt to convince myself my life was worth living. The cuts were deep, but my family couldn’t see because I was wearing a hoodie all the time. 

I perfected the fake smile, fake laughs and fake happiness that comes along with a depressive episode, but there were moments I could no longer fake my way through life. 

One Saturday in March 2020, my dad saw me drawing a peace sign with a pen on my arm, the black ink tinted with red because of how deep I was digging the pen into my skin. The blood trickled down my arm and onto my desk, pooling by my notebook. I turned around to look at him, eyes full of tears and both arms trembling. 

He asked what was wrong. I told him I didn’t know why, but I wanted to kill myself. 

I told him that no words could describe how scared I was. I had no control of my body or mind. I had lost touch with the young kid I was with goals and dreams. 

After comforting me for more than two hours, he asked to look at my notebook where I’d written a poem about what the afterlife could be. He didn’t know that if he had waited an hour longer to knock on my door, he may have been calling an ambulance instead of talking me off the ledge. He essentially saved my life. 

I began seeing a therapist two weeks later. In April 2020, after three psychiatrists examined me during the coming months, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, a mental disorder in which a person experiences mood deviations from hypomanic to depressive symptoms. 

I had mood swings that reached a low out of nowhere. My depression only lasted for three months, and was replaced by euphoric hypomania in July and August of 2020. 

I was on top of the world for those summer months. I’d partake in risky behavior like bridge jumping into rivers and sports betting. The only constant between my depression and mania was the loss of control and impulsive actions. 

The mood swings lasted for months at a time, even when I first started my antidepressant medicine in July 2020. I eased into a higher dosage of the pills, eventually reaching the maximum amount a bipolar patient should take three months into my initial prescription. 

My doctors prescribed two forms of antidepressants that forced me to adjust how I lived. They blocked any extreme emotion and allowed me to only find euphoria through things I enjoy. I was headed down the right path by speaking with my therapist and focusing on my mental state. 

Once I adjusted to the loss of emotion antidepressants can bring, I began a mental journey to love myself again. When my mind turned on me, it took a long time to repair the damage that was done. 

I utilized gratitude lists, reflection charts and deep breathing as coping mechanisms when I had a bad day, hoping it didn’t turn into a full-fledged episode. These mechanisms brought me self-awareness of my mental status. 

My life was changing for the better during the next year until I reached college. 

I forgot to take my medicine the night of Oct. 25, 2021 and woke up the next day with a sense of despair. I had never forgotten to take my antidepressants before, so my body wasn’t used to the sensation of being without them. 

I spent the next day trying to claw my way out of my own head, I had racing thoughts of life and death consuming my brain. I was beginning to lose sense of how hard I worked to reach a place of happiness. 

The next night, it all came crashing down. 

I sat in the common room of Morgan Hall South and wrote a message to my family, friends and loved ones. It was my suicide note — my last grasp — and it was how I thought I’d be remembered. 

I had no idea how I’d go about hurting myself, but it was the only thing on my mind. I folded the note into my pocket, but in a last-ditch effort to save myself, I began taking my pills. 

I started off with two or three of my antidepressant pills, swallowing them with NyQuil instead of water. When I didn’t feel their effects immediately, I took three more. By the end of the night, I’d taken about 1,400 milligrams worth of my 200 mg tablets. 

The good thing was, the suicidal thoughts were gone. I had defeated my demons for the time being. The bad thing was, I almost didn’t survive.

My last memory of Oct. 27, 2021, was being stretchered out of my dorm room, down an elevator and into an ambulance headed to Temple University Hospital. I overdosed, and if it wasn’t for my roommate who called 911 and the paramedic who rubbed my chest with enough velocity to leave scars, I would not be alive. 

I woke up the next morning knowing that something had to change. I could not keep crashing into depressive episodes, I would have to adapt to my Bipolar II Disorder. 

I began an intensive outpatient program in December and January of 2021 after consulting with my family. I spent more than 50 hours in the program, doing team exercises and learning about self-care resources at High Focus Centers, a mental health treatment center. 

Today, I have found hope through my self-care techniques. Mental health is a balance of coping through bad times and finding joy in life. 

Sometimes when I’m alone, I still cry. Not because I want to die anymore but because I am here, I am alive. It’s sad that it took facing death to learn that I have a purpose on this earth. Mental illness is real, and I somehow survived the turmoil within me. 

My Bipolar II Disorder has let me learn to respect my life and to be thankful for who I am. 

My illness is never going away, but that does not mean I need to hide it. I need to support my mental health, guide it and nurture it, because to love oneself is the best kind of love in this world. 

I gave serious thought as to whether or not I should put this essay out to the world, and I thought about whether or not a future interviewer would deny me because of my journey. As a sports editor and future sports writer, I know the extent to which my reputation matters, but I know this story will help more than it hurts and I am proud of this story. 

I am Nick Gangewere, and I am not only a survivor of mental illness, but I am a better person because of it.

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