“It is said that bipolar is partly hereditary, and can be triggered by trauma, acute stress, physical and psychological abuse, and substance dependence. It often manifests in a person’s late teens to early twenties.
HEREDITARY: My mother’s side of the family is solidly Irish Catholic with a history of psychological issues and a bold streak of denial and shame. My father was adopted by his stepfather, who was coarse and abusive. I know nothing of his roots.
TRAUMA: When I was 17, my father passed away suddenly while my family was on vacation. I wasn’t there, and received the news over the phone. The last time we spoke, we had a spat and I cursed him as they drove away. Incoming phone calls now make me anxious.
PHYSICAL ABUSE: When I was 18, I learned that I had been raped when I was between the ages of 10–12. The abuser lived in our neighborhood and was never brought to justice for those crimes.
Stress: When I was 19, I was held at gunpoint as two young men robbed the restaurant where I worked. Moments later, the person who held the firearm less than 5 feet from my heart accidentally shot himself during the getaway. When the assailants were captured, it came to light they were people I knew – and other people I knew were also aware and said nothing.
PYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: When I was 16, I recognized early symptoms of mood swings and depression. My parents dismissed it. My older brother was already costing my family large sums in psychiatry and medication with zero effect. I love my parents, but they were both violent in their own ways. My father had a temper, and my mother was verbally domineering and occasionally slapped and hit me. I spent lots of time standing in the corner during dinner. My older brother was sometimes kind, but often cruel and bullying.
I would seek out safe spaces outside of home; exploring public spaces, wandering everywhere, spending extended time at friends’ houses. I would stare out the window and daydream, listening to music, drawing, reading, playing sports, cultivating fantasies. Anything to escape.”