I started behaving strangely staying up all night, shoplifting and going out. Turns out there was a name for what I was experiencing.

  • In 2019, I started behaving erratically, staying up all night, shoplifting, and dating multiple men.
  • I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which explained my behavior.
  • Finding the right medication and channeling my emotions through music helped me get my life back.

This telling essay is based on a conversation with Charlotte. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve always been a music person. In elementary school I started piano and voice lessons, and in high school I started studying classical music and guitar. In my late teens I started writing my own music. Now I write and record indie pop songs. This practice has always been an important creative outlet for me, but it has become even more important during my mental health.

While in graduate school for a business degree, I started acting erratically. I would stay up several sleepless nights, drawing on my newfound energy and motivation by writing music all night. I have also been involved in car accidents, fortunately two cars in total, no one was injured. I started shoplifting. I’ve even dated three men at the same time without them knowing about each other.

I thought my behavior was just part of ‘growing up’

All this was so strange to me, but I didn’t understand what was happening. At first I thought this was all just part of “growing up” so I didn’t see my questionable behavior as a problem. It was my family and friends who drew attention to the fact that I didn’t look “normal”.

The symptoms lasted for almost four months, and my family became very concerned. At the time, I was living with my parents and younger sister, so they saw a lot of it happening in real time. In January 2020, I was working at a special needs school when my mom showed up and told the school that I had a family emergency. We got into the car and she told me she was taking me to the hospital. I was surprisingly calm and agreed that treating my mental health was a good idea.

Getting the diagnosis was scary, but it explained my symptoms

When I arrived at the emergency room, the doctors evaluated me and I was eventually admitted.

I was diagnosed immediately at the hospital bipolar I, a mental illness that causes episodes of depression and mania. Manic episodes usually involve abnormally elevated mood, which can cause people to do things that wouldn’t otherwise be dangerous. This explained my actions in the previous four months.

Although the diagnosis was terrifying, it was comforting to finally have a name for what I was experiencing, along with hope for a cure. My doctor prescribed an antipsychotic called olanzapine, which helped at first. I was in the hospital for about a week, at which point the doctor decided I was stable enough to go home. It was so nice to sleep again and feel more like myself.

Music helps me channel my emotions when I can’t find the words

Of course, medication and therapy are the cornerstones of my treatment plan. But I also found additional ways to cope, especially through playing and writing my own music.

It’s not always easy to open up to people about what I’m going through or find the words to explain what I’m feeling. Music is a channel for me to express myself. I don’t have to tell anyone directly about my experiences; instead, I can just write a song. It was helpful as I adjusted to living with bipolar.

With bipolar disorder, it’s really important to stick to a predictable schedule. Writing and playing music every day creates a routine for me, which I believe helps keep me stable. I try to play guitar every morning after I wake up and I find that I get a little anxious if I don’t get to play.

The right medication helped me get my life back on track

Like most people with bipolar disorder, I’ve had a few ups and downs since my diagnosis. I was hospitalized again in March 2022 but have been stable since then. It took a while to find the right medication for me because of the unwanted side effects. I’ve tried six medications in total, and now I’m on one called Libalvi, which seems to be helping.

My mom says I’m back to being myself, thanks in part to my music. When I was diagnosed, I took music lessons for six hours every night. After my diagnosis, I had to stop working until I was stable. Now I’m back to teaching again, which is good. I’m not full time, but I’m working my way up to it.

I also continued to create my own music. I recently recorded a few indie pop songs, and I plan to release an album soon. I have also performed vocals with other musicians and hope to perform my own original music when I can.

My road to mental health has been rough, but I’m so grateful for the medical care I’ve received and the way music has provided a support system. When everything is so intense, it gives me so much comfort to have an outlet for my emotions and to do something familiar.

Update, 11/14: The subject’s last name has been removed to protect her privacy.

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