In August of 2018, I snatched up a last-minute ticket to Burning Man, which is an annual gathering of artists in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada in the USA. I was about to willingly attempt survival in the blistering hot desert for nine days. I recently ditched three very high paying jobs, broke my apartment lease, rid myself of 99% of my belongings, and “moved in” to my little red Prius.
Sounds reasonable, right?
In my eyes this was all perfectly rational, courageous and BAD ASS! The truth is, I had cycled into hypomania as I danced with the idea of either leaving my career or ending my life. Just before this upswing I was trapped in an overwhelming state of depression. I had fought off taking medication for my bipolar diagnosis because of the profound stigma around pharmaceuticals and mental illness. The stress of my career had pushed me to my breaking point and my system responded.
Hypo-mania, here we go again!
Throughout my career as a medical professional it was normal for me to wipe tears from my cheeks while rounding the corner to a patient’s room. I faked a giant smile as I guided them through their speech pathology treatment sessions. I would sob in my car during lunch breaks. I had questioned my professional path as far back as graduate school, in 2006, when I had my first major manic episode, but it promised two things that I was desperate for; financial and occupational security. Graduate school created a ton of debt for me. I was convinced that working in this field was the only way I could afford to pay off my massive student loans. I told myself that when I finally paid them off I could change careers and then I would be happy. So, I never missed a student loan payment for 12 years, but there was barely enough money left for all my epic credit card bills, gas and groceries. I had at least 10 more years of debt to pay, I was absolutely miserable and hardly getting by.
My history is marked by persistent and intense lows with occasional highs. In 2013, I checked myself into a 28 day rehabilitation “resort” during my second major manic episode. I paid for it with credit cards, in true manic style, and it started me on a new path. Since then I have worked tirelessly to avoid stressors, or behaviors that may trigger manic states. I’ve attended counseling, eliminated credit debt, overcome an eating disorder and stopped self-medicating but until recently I continued to refuse pharmaceutical intervention. I convinced myself that my chronic depression was from my job, and not my diagnosis. Besides I enjoyed the manic episodes, no matter how destructive, because for a moment I was free from soul crushing depression.
In July of 2018, I decided that there were only two ways out; 1.) exit this world completely, or 2.) burn my career to the ground. Ending my life was not going to be my way out. Instead I quit everything. I deferred my student loans, gathered every cent I had and paid the next 4 months of my car loan and insurance to cover me from August to November.
Finally, I gave away – donated – or – sold damn nearly everything that I owned, broke my apartment lease and moved into my car. Obnoxious and cliche as if may be, I took off to Burning man as an epic way to kick off my new life.
I thought my plan was hilarious and genius.
Sadly, my “high” took a rapid nose dive into staggering depression while I was there. When I returned, I was lonelier and more disillusioned than ever before. I roamed the country for several months, free from the career I hated, but growing increasingly paranoid, anxious and confused. I could not deny my need for medical help, or the reality that I was now broke, homeless and unemployed.
Early on my parents were concerned by my Instagram posts that documented my leap into freedom. They were pleading with me to come home. Desperate for answers, I agreed to visit them from Thanksgiving to Christmas, at most.
Upon arrival I enrolled in Obamacare which covered and allowed me to start medication and psychotherapy, both life changing decisions in and of themselves. These interventions combined with diet changes, regular exercise, and self-employment, started me on a clear path to success. Because I spent over a decade struggling to survive with depression, I quickly became an over-achiever as I discovered what stability felt like. I suppose I’ve been making up for lost time.
It is April 2019 as I write this. Over the last six months I have accomplished more than I could have imagined possible. Including but not limited to:
- Earning a certification to teach English as a foreign language. I am using it to teach English to kiddos in China via the internet;
- Compiling and submitted a request for pardon, to wipe my criminal record;
- Successfully teaching myself the fundamentals of graphic design and how to use WordPress and WIX to build 3 beautiful websites;
- Designing a personal brand for my mental health advocacy work;
- Joining toastmasters to enhance my public speaking skills and commencing training through a professional mastery course in public speaking;
- Enrolling in notable business school with a focus in entrepreneurship; and
- Deciding to obtain an accredited certification in transformational life coaching.
I still do not have much more than my little red Prius and the clothes on my back, but I am content with my life and excited about the direction I am headed. This leap of faith has gifted me with a complete mental and emotional transformation which has proved to me that stability is worth far more than riches. By breaking through the stigma of bipolar disorder I have found healing through self-acceptance.
Author, Nicole Hathaway