Gracie knew she was bi-polar when she was 11. That was when she discovered her father had the illness and she recognized herself in his behavior. But it wasn’t until three years later that she was officially diagnosed.
“I’ve definitely felt different pretty much my whole life. I’ve had a lot of problems throughout my life,” she said in the matter-of-fact manner of a young woman who has battled her own demons.
She tells people she’s bi-polar as soon as she meets them, concerned that if she keeps it a secret, it will seem like a much bigger deal when they ultimately find out.
“And I’m not ashamed of it so I just let them know.”
Diagnosed with depression and ADHD in addition to bi-polar anxiety, finding the right combination of drugs has been particularly challenging. Amphetamines, mood stabilizers and atypical anti-psychotic drugs make up a cocktail of mind altering, mood-enhancing substances that keep her walking a tightrope of normalcy.
Until recently her manic episodes were damaging her relationships, especially with her mother and she admits to making bad choices. She spiraled into alcohol and drugs, cocaine mainly, felt she had no control over her actions, and her college grade-point average suffered as a result.
Her own words are powerful and belie her youth, attesting to an unusual self-awareness and intelligence.
“When I was first diagnosed I thought bi-polar was a terminal disease because I inherited from my father and my grandfather and when I was four my grandfather killed himself and my father attempted suicide a couple of times. But I’ve never considered suicide because I understand exactly what it does to a family and how much pain it causes the people that love you so I’ve never contemplated it even a little bit, but I do understand….I’ve been to the very bottom of the very bottom and I’ve felt what’s it’s like down there and I do get how it would seem like an easy escape, but it’s not. It’s the most selfish thing you could possibly do and it ruins the lives of the people around you. I had a friend tell me once that he wanted to kill himself because he had been hurting everybody that loved him over and over and over again and he thought he could end it by just doing one big hurt and removing himself from their lives so then they would eventually get over it and move on. But I had to explain to him that no, they would never get over it and it would haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
Now back in college, Gracie is studying psychology to pursue a graduate degree so that she can counsel teenagers like herself. She wants to work in suicide prevention and feels her own experiences have provided her with empathy and understanding that give her credibility and will enable her to make a difference in other young people’s lives.
Like an explorer discovering secrets from mysterious and dangerous outposts, she returns with stories of her darkest moments, sharing hurt that she hopes will bring light into the lives of teens just starting their mental health journey.“Being at the bottom of the bottom basically feels like you have no hope for your life, you feel like you’re alone in the world, you feel completely empty, you feel incapable of loving anyone and you feel you’re not able to be loved by other people. You feel other people can’t love you because you just hate yourself so much and you have to learn to love yourself because, it sounds kind of selfish, but you’re the most important person in your world. Because you can’t love other people and you can’t have relationships with other people that mean anything if you don’t love yourself. “
A year ago Gracie had no love for herself. “But I’ve become stronger” she said, “and I do love myself now. I love myself very much and I have a lot of very meaningful relationships with people and I’m really starting to be a better person. “