“If my armor breaks, I’ll fuse it back together”

It took me a month to find the words to write the latest chapter in the story of my life. I was on a flight back home to Istanbul after driving cross-country back to the east coast. 

My close friends and my therapist knew as soon as I did. Leading up to the assessment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I honestly thought that there was nothing wrong with me and depression or GAD could answer everything I was struggling with. Once I passed the age that schizophrenia could present itself, I expected to be in the clear. 

Following the days of receiving a diagnosis like bipolar 2 is odd. I had to move forward with my day-to-day life while adjusting to this piece of the puzzle that had been unlocked. The day of my diagnosis wasn’t the day I began living with bipolar 2. It had been a part of me for the good part of two decades, a constant presence painting my entire existence.

I wrote about being bipolar strong a few months following my diagnosis. The most difficult aspect of having bipolar 2 and not bipolar disorder is the lack of community. Search social media for #bipolar2 and what you find is conversations and memes mostly around bipolar and borderline personality disorder. 

Being fully open about my diagnosis and living with bipolar 2 serves two purposes:

  • Owning my narrative and presenting myself fully, as I’ve always tried to do
  • Become a beacon for people like myself who have felt the same loneliness around our diagnosis

Turns out, there are a few people in my life who are living with bipolar 2 disorder, some of them having received their diagnosis in the past 5 years. 

That gives me hope.

But what does my life look like a year after beginning treatment?

Medication

This was the part that scared me the most. What if the medication didn’t work? What if I couldn’t actually tell the difference? What if I’m not self-aware enough to answer my doctor’s questions during our check-ins?

What if I forget to take my medication? 

Listen, remembering to do things like taking medication at the same time every day is not my strong suit. 

After explaining my diagnosis to me, the first thing the doctor asked me is whether I want treatment, because not everyone is ready for actual treatment when they receive their diagnosis.

I was ready. I wanted to take control of my life. I wanted to be armed going into battle every day.

She prescribed me 2 weeks’ worth of a small dose of lamotrigine, which is a mood stabilizer and anticonvulsant approved to treat bipolar and seizure disorders. Because side effects are common with introducing medication like this, I was feeling extra cautious. I also didn’t want to muddle the effects of the medication, so I stopped drinking alcohol for those two weeks.

Two weeks later, during our check-in, we decided I would continue with that medication. I didn’t actually suffer from side effects. I was getting ready to go to Istanbul for 2 months, so my doctor prescribed me enough medicine to last during my trip – but with the caveat that 2 weeks later I would double my dose, and then a month later, triple it to the dosage that would become my daily treatment.

The purpose of my trip to Istanbul was taking a literal mental health sabbatical that I had already planned prior to my diagnosis, so the timing turned out to be serendipitous. 

When I came back from Turkey, I had a new job. I was continuing the medication, went back to therapy, and had regular check-ins with my prescribing doctor. 

Adjusting to the new normal took time, but I recognized my triggers easier than I had before, especially when I could feel myself spiraling toward a hypomania episode.

Depression, however, was a different story. I found that while it evened out my hypomanic highs, my lows became lower. They were deeper and harder to get out of. I literally felt like I was suffocating.

We increased my lamotrigine dosage, but I felt like something was missing.

So, a few months later, during a regular check-in for renewing my prescription, I asked my doctor about antidepressants.

The fun thing about SSRIs when you have bipolar 2 disorder is that they can actually trigger anger and mania. 

My doctor sent me literature on the two antidepressants she would recommend for me and I talked them through with my therapist. We decided on Wellbutrin because it’s an NDRI. 

Unlike my good luck with lamotrigine, Wellbutrin’s side effects hit me hard, specifically nausea. I was working one morning and the next thing I knew, a wave of nausea washed over me. All I could do was lie down. The first few days were rough, but by the time I had my two-week check-in with my doctor, everything had stabilized. We moved forward with the lamotrigine and Wellbutrin combination.  

The 4-day nightmare

Around the time my next prescription renewal came up, the pharmacy fucked up, saying that they didn’t receive the call from my doctor, even though she had proof that it had been processed. But because it was a weekend, by the time everything was squared away, I ended up without medication for 4 days.

Turns out that my treatment is actually effective because those 4 days were like before times.

The highs and lows were intense. I felt like I was constantly losing control and just didn’t feel like myself. I couldn’t focus. There was nothing productive about my life during those 4 days.

And then I realized this is how my life had been for years. When I was in school, starting my freelance career, dealing with relationship problems, dealing with anger issues.

How did I ever actually get anything done living in a constant state of turmoil? How had I made it to my mid-30s as a functional adult?

When I could finally get back on my medication, it took a couple of days for my brain to remember how to process the meds and I felt armed for battle again.

My medication is my armor, but it’s not impenetrable. 

One year down, the rest of my life to go.

Squeaky Wheel for Life

I was always the kid with my hand raised in class.

Yes, I’m an overachiever.

No, I don’t like standing still.

But that’s not all.

Let’s take a closer look at this impostor syndrome-filled squeaky wheel’s humble beginnings, shall we?

My mom taught me how to read and write when I was 4 years old. When I began first grade, I was bored out of my mind and my school told me they would consider letting me skip to 2nd grade if I passed a test. My mom and I studied for a week. Reading, writing, arithmetic. I was ready for anything they would throw my way. The day came and you know what the test was?

They asked me to read a sentence. Write another one. And there were maybe two arithmetic questions. Needlessly to say, I passed, but now I was the youngest in my class by 2 years, which meant that there were a lot of frustrated and scared tears when I fell behind in class. My teacher was seriously tough but in the best way. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to her for pushing me and teaching me that hard work would pay off. 

My constant desire to prove my worth and belonging in that 2nd-grade classroom is where it all began.

When we moved to the US, I was placed into an ESOL class and since we moved in the middle of the school year in fifth grade, I already felt a million light-years behind everyone – this time in a brand-new country. I placed out of ESOL within 2 weeks and proceeded to overcompensate by getting perfect scores on my spelling tests. 

And so, on and so forth. 

As you can guess, I was bullied – often. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Yes, I do love to learn, and I do like to engage with my teachers and classmates, but there was something deeper in my need to be the squeaky wheel. I constantly felt the need to prove that I belonged in that space. 

This feeling evolved from the classroom to the workplace as soon as I turned 16-years-old.

There are two fundamental reasons why I began creating friction at a young age:

  • Simply doing the bare minimum was never enough for me. My first job was as a cashier at KMart, but as soon as I got comfortable in my responsibilities, standing still was no longer an option. The older cashiers who had a rhythm didn’t like that I was actually speedy. There was a customer at the service desk and no one around to help? I was free? I would walk over and at the very least engage the customer while I paged a coworker or manager. I stood out because I went above and beyond, which is how I moved to the customer service desk within 6 months. 
  • I helped not just to help, but to learn. I asked questions about how everything worked. I shadowed our loss prevention officer. I asked our HR person questions. I wanted not only to be a useful part of the team, but it’s always helped me to see the big picture and understand where everything fits. 

Gosh, it’s a mystery that I somehow evolved into a strategist.

As a young, ambitious, sometimes “too energetic” squeaky wheel, I always stood out. At times, I’ve jumped into situations where I didn’t have a complete grasp but fully embraced the “fake it till I make it” mentality because I knew that was the only opportunity I would have to learn. 

This mentality has served me well over the course of my career in digital marketing, but after 15 years of experience, I am noticing that I am still aggressively raising my hand to simply prove that I belong here

I referred to this briefly in The Nostalgia Conundrum, and I’ve talked about how being the squeaky wheel has paid off in my career.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have three modes:

  • Squeaky wheel to learn, to contribute, and to keep moving forward
  • Squeaky wheel causing a little too much friction to overcompensate for impostor syndrome
  • A squeaky wheel on fire and burning bridges, destroying credibility.

If it happens very infrequently and doesn’t appear too obvious externally, the second scenario is usually manageable but when it begins to spiral out of control, that’s when I tend to get into trouble.

Yet, I will always be that girl raising her hand, asking questions, and volunteering to help whenever possible.

How does impostor syndrome manifest itself in your daily life and career?

How do you manage?

All things are subject to interpretation

Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. – Frederick Nietche

(Originally posted on Jan, 2020)

Who are you, at this moment? As you’re reading these words, in this moment of your life, what’s the energy you’re giving out into the world?

I’ve been thinking a lot about social perception and how at any given moment, a new person who comes into our life has a snapshot of who we are in that fleeting moment in time.

What if it’s a new coworker or a customer?

Maybe it’s just an unknown person seeing one of your tweets in their timeline because someone else shared it and well, there it goes again.

Their impression of you.

As humans, we grow and evolve constantly.

We express a different side of ourselves in different situations, sometimes with the same people.

What are the conclusions people are drawing about you at this moment of your life?

It’s funny, isn’t it, how a moment in time can define a person’s understanding of who you are, where they choose to place you in their life, and whether or not they will be open to evolving that perception as they learn more about you.

I deleted my Facebook account a a few months ago. I’m still active on other social media networks but that platform was no longer serving a purpose in my life. At a gathering a couple of weeks later, a couple of friends who are relatively new to my life and have limited daily interaction with me asking how life is without social media. Their perception of me has been largely shaped by my activity on Facebook specifically outside of our get-togethers and game nights.

A few years ago, the only impression my friend’s husband had of me was that I post a lot on Facebook because we hadn’t met in person yet. It became a running joke. Who I am in his life evolved from that point because our friendship grew.

When I was job-hunting a couple of years ago, I emailed a friend of mine about a job at her company and asked for her insight. She told me that it wasn’t a good fit for me because I was just a content strategist. What she didn’t know was that I had evolved as a marketing strategist and now beyond just a “content” strategist. Her perception of me was frozen in time because even though we stayed connected on social media, the passing snapshots were not enough for her to see my career evolution.

Where does social perception fit in my daily life and how I put myself out into the world?

It’s not so much about being so concerned with what people think of me but what it is I’m putting out into the world at any given time. I don’t want to curate who I am but I want to be cognizant of any external circumstances, which is why I also tend to try to give people the benefit of the doubt in my daily life.

As a society, we’re so quick to judge. We make snap judgments without even thinking about how others may perceive us in passing on the next bad day we’re having but still have to be out in public because life goes on.

It’s human nature. It’s preconceived. It will become confirmation bias until we make an effort to recognize the factors that influence social perception.

Our perception should be more than the sum of the momentary snapshots we experience.

Do you know how others perceive you, right now, in this moment?

What can you be doing to continue to express your evolution as a person?

The Emergence

Every few days, I have this jolt of a thought come out of nowhere: “Oh, I’m vaccinated.”

After the year we’ve had, it feels surreal. I’m ecstatic about the fact that my friends can come into my apartment without wearing a mask. I had my first indoor dining experience at a dive bar in LA with a friend a few weeks ago – we sat by the open door. 

I’ve flown since the pandemic began. The first time was involuntary because I had to jump on a plane the morning my dad had a heart attack.

The second time, voluntarily, as I flew across the Atlantic to Turkey. 

And yet, when I went down to LA, after being vaccinated, I drove.

I still make sure I get outdoor seating when I go out to a restaurant. 

I still haven’t gone to my favorite bar. 

My gym is now letting us work out without our masks if we’re vaccinated, but I will keep mine on.

It’s not that I don’t trust science or my vaccine.

It’s because we’re not “post” pandemic, and the trauma from the last year is very real. I’ve talked about the collective grief we’ve all felt but that means that as things “open up” and people are talking about “back to normal,” it’s normal to feel anxiety. You don’t have to be ready to jump back in. Nor should you be.

I will not list out the data because this article does a good job of it but let’s say it point blank: We’re all experiencing Post-COVID Stress Disorder and I cannot stress this enough, you are experiencing it even if you didn’t experience a loss. A loss of life, a loss of job, a loss of anything. Even if your life, comparatively, is good and you didn’t have any health issues and no one close to you experienced trauma, guess what: You still lived through trauma. So did those close to you. 

Are you feeling anxious about going to public places? 

Do you feel like your priorities have changed during the pandemic? 

Good. That means you’re processing your feelings properly. 

We go through changes in our lives as we grow. It’s a natural part of growing and evolving as a person.

What happened during 2020 wasn’t the natural course of growth. It was an unprecedented event for you (unless you were born in the early 1900s). 

We’ve seen health crises and pandemics and diseases happen at a distance, in the news.

We know people who’ve gone overseas to help communities through the events but nothing has hit us all at once, suddenly, globally, without giving a shit about borders, the way COVID-19 did. 

2020 showed us the best and worst of humanity. The experience brought questions and mistrust to our backyard. It made us reevaluate our relationships with work, our families, our communities, and even our homes. We realized the tiny routines we’ve been taking for granted. 

Swinging by a coffee shop.

Grabbing a drink after work.

Hopping on a plane for a long weekend.

Hugs.

Spontaneity.

The “insignificant” moments that make up our life went under a microscope.

So, we grieved. Collectively.

And now, with the light teasing us at the end of the tunnel, of course we’re apprehensive.

Of course we’re anxious.

Of course, our coping mechanisms have changed.

Of course we have trust issues.

As with any kind of grief and trauma, it’s a personal experience. You can be ready to strip the mask as you walk into your gym tomorrow. You can also be the person who’ll wear masks for the foreseeable future. Both are valid responses. 

Your experience and trauma and grief are unique to you, and so will be your recovery and healing.

I, for one, will cheer you on every step of the way without an ounce of shaming you. 

This is your life. You made it through one of the hardest years of your life. 

How you emerge out of that experience is completely up to you.

And it is valid.

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”

“It’s loving things and people passionately and enthusiastically without justifying my feelings.”

That’s from my birthday blog post when I turned 34. That’s two years ago. Before a pandemic. Before burnout brought me to the edge, so I finally took a break from life.

I didn’t write a post on my birthday when I turned 35 because it was at the beginning of the pandemic. I cancelled a trip I’d been planning for over a year. I cried. I sat alone on my couch, eating a birthday cake shaped like toilet paper by myself while friends from all over jumped on a zoom call with me to keep me company that night. That is the most 2020 sentence I can write.

I wasn’t alone in having a pandemic birthday, but it triggered a lot of traumas for me. Birthdays are difficult, but they’ve gotten easier over the past few years because I am so incredibly lucky to have so much love in my life.

💗Love that’s dependable.

💗Love that’s not afraid to call me out on my shit.

💗Love that sees all of me and accepts me unconditionally.

Despite the overwhelming grief, 35 was actually a year of growth.

35 was the year:

💭I finally began therapy.

✈I reconnected with my roots.

💞I found the strength to walk away from toxic situations.

📢I actively began telling my story again, all of it, without holding back for the sake of others.

It’s funny. I began reclaiming my narrative a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I really spoke my truths, editing none of the parts out.

My best friend and I were having one of our famous wine-buzzed Friday night heart-to-hearts a few weeks ago. She’s that person who just cuts to my core. We were talking about how I feel like I missed out on enjoying life in my 20s living in DC. We lived there at the same time but didn’t become friends until she moved to Seattle after I did. Whenever she reminisces about her life in DC, it triggers this sadness for me, as if I was living in a parallel universe back then.

As much as I tried to live life on my own terms, until this past year, there was always an external force that kept my light on a dimmer.

Family. Friends. School. My ex-fiance. Friends again. My job. Politics. Family. Money.

Until now.

So when she asked me if I would want to go back and get a chance to rediscover some things I missed, my answer was no. Do I think about the what ifs? Do I feel like I missed out on a few key experiences throughout my life? Of course. I would be lying if I didn’t, but that’s the fun thing about growing up.

This is 36.

I get to finally shine bright and light the path ahead of me.

What’s funny is that I haven’t changed. Not really. A fun discovery I made recently is that my original Twitter handle is still active, and this is the bio from 10 years ago.

I mean, all of that is still pretty accurate. The only thing that’s evolved is my career.

This is 36.

A personal brand so strong that my closest friends regularly “replicate my selfie face.”

A personality so effervescent that the ridiculous spills across borders.

A heart so resilient that I know I’ll always make it through.

A brain so combative that fights against me, but most days, it fights for me.

Like I recently told a friend, I am a lot and I’m OK with that.

I like who I am. 🍾

“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.”

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks. March 30 is World Bipolar Day, so it made perfect sense to me to share an update on living with Bipolar 2 Disorder. Well, more accurately, living knowing that I have Bipolar 2.

I’ve shared the good, bad, and ugly in my life in some shape or form for the past 20 years. When I opened up about my diagnosis in November, it surprised me to hear from various connections about their personal experiences with bipolar 2. Not everyone wants to share their story publicly and that’s perfectly fine. I share my life because it helps me feel connected and like I always say, if there’s one person out there who feels less alone because they come across my experiences, then it’s worth it.

The first thing I did after I got my diagnosis was to look for stories about others to see how they live their lives.

Bipolar 1 is the most common, therefore there are a lot of personal stories out there, written, spoken, and depicted in pop culture.

“(I’m) a human who’s had her fair share of challenging and unhappy experiences. Over time, I’ve paid attention, taken notes and forgotten easily half of everything I’ve gone through. But I’ll rifle through the half I recall and lay it at your feet.”

Carrie Fisher

It felt a little frustrating to not have examples I could point people to when they asked me about bipolar 2. There are links to articles about the difference between 1 and 2, but that still doesn’t feel like enough.

I can’t point to a medical article and have people in my life understand what it’s like for me at a particular moment.

When I’ve talked about anxiety or depression, it’s been easy to get across my mood and struggles. It feels like people have a frame of reference for what it’s like to experience those feelings. But not when it comes to bipolar disorder.

I found this graphic on Instagram, which helps me express the bipolar spectrum a little better. My experiences range from hypomania to severe depression.

Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know why I couldn’t just go to sleep or why my brain wouldn’t shut up. It felt like I couldn’t do anything right and any time I had something positive in my life, I would try to destroy it. I never felt in control, so I thought choosing to be reckless somehow gave me back that sense of control. Turns out, that wasn’t always my choice either. I constantly felt like a shit person because I was so incredibly self-destructive. I didn’t understand what was going on in my head, so I lashed out at people in my life. But mostly, I lashed out at myself.

Here’s the thing about mental illness that we all know but don’t express often: It’s so incredibly personal. My brain chemistry, life experiences, day-to-day life – everything creates a unique experience for me.

Hypomania can be a pretty enjoyable state, really,” Dr. Bearden says. A person’s mood can be elevated, they may have a lot of energy and creativity, and they may experience euphoria. This is the “up” side of bipolar disorder that some people with the condition actually enjoy—while it lasts.

For living with bipolar 2, it’s honestly scary some days. Although I feel more in control of my triggers and my medication is helping, it’s literally out of my control. Because of where I am on the spectrum, most of my days are more mixed than clearly defined. It’s not an even split of 3 days of being depressed and 3 days of being hypomanic. I’m lucky in that my hypomania is on the mild side compared to those who suffer from severe manic episodes, but it turns out my depression is actually quite deeper. I now refer to them as #badbraindays because sometimes, I’m too exhausted to find the words to explain the range of emotions I’m feeling waking up after a night of vivid nightmares, or when I’m having a good day and in the middle of writing an email, my brain flips a switch.

Even while writing this post, it feels like I can’t quite get a handle on the words. You can imagine how fun that is for a writer.

I’m #BipolarStrong because

➡I keep showing up to life.

➡I’m getting better at expressing my needs.

➡I’m not letting my emotions control me, but I’m not trying to suppress them either.

➡I’m owning my narrative even when I’m not in control of my brain.

➡I’m recognizing toxic triggers and getting better at removing them from my life.

➡I’m going to keep sharing my story and do my best to help others who may be feeling alone.

Here’s the thing.

This isn’t going away. This is my life. I’m in a constant and exhausting battle.

But I’m here.

World Bipolar Day is on March 30 in honor of Vincent Van Gogh.

Title quote attribution: Vincent Van Gogh

The One Where I Am Ridiculous in Turkish (updated)

March 9 2021 update: So, I went to two tapings of the show and they actually aired my conversation during the first taping tonight. There’s no snorting for that one but you can hear me pronounce my name. Adding that video to the bottom of this post as well.

By the end of this blog, you will get to watch a video of me voluntarily sharing my story of snorting in front of 3500 of my peers at a conference. BEFORE YOU SKIP TO THE VIDEO, you’ll want the context.

I love comedy. Laughter is in my DNA. It’s the way I deal with both grief and joy. When my dad had his heart attack in September, during his recovery, we watched hours of a Turkish comedy sketch show.

Think SNL meets Whose Line Is It Anyway.

Between each sketch, as they’re setting up, the host asks a question relevant to the following sketch. They get stories from the audience, both to make them feel involved and give the crew time to set up.

When I was in Istanbul during my leave of absence after my diagnosis (more on that in a later blog), I really wanted to go to a taping of the show, but I knew it was probably unlikely because of the pandemic.

In January, I got lucky. I could safely go to 2 tapings before I left the city.

One of the questions during the second taping was on something unusual happening during an event. My hand went up and for some reason, I wanted to share the story about how I snorted while accepting an award. Obviously, I was telling this story in Turkish and because I couldn’t think of the word for “snort” I just… made the noise to illustrate my point.

Now, a piece of crucial information: One of the regular cast members is notorious for breaking character and snorting when she does because she can’t stop laughing. They refer to it as her “stage monster.” So as I told my story, sound effects and all, she came out from backstage.

Doğa Rutkay
The moment she came out from backstage

And challenged me to a snort-off.

I can’t even make this up.

I couldn’t believe it happened when it did. After the taping, I posted on Twitter thanking Doga for the experience. She replied.

And for the past few weeks, I’ve been waiting to see when that sketch would be shown (they stitch an episode together from different tapings so I didn’t know when it would be).

The day came. I saw the sketch was part of this week’s episode. I waited until they posted it to YouTube to see if they edited out my story (they do that sometimes for timing).

Nope. There I was, sharing my story in Turkish and snorting. Multiple times.

I don’t really have much to add except to say that I’m glad it happened.

Life is too short not to take advantage of moments that could turn into experiences you’ll remember forever.

So, without further ado, the video is below for your entertainment.

Keep watching all the way to the end. You’ll see that she comes out snorting at the beginning of the sketch, points at me, and they show my reaction.

A couple people requested captions, so a rough translation of the exchange is below the video.

Ali Sunal, Doğa Rutkay ve bütün Güldür Güldür ekibine çok teşekkürler.

Transcript:

Host (Ali): Is there anyone who had something funny/unusual happen to them in a public gathering like a wedding or funeral?

Me: It wasn’t a funeral or wedding but there’s a conference I go to every year. And I hate surprises.

Ali: Where?

Me: In the US. They have an awards show every year.

Ali: What do you do?

Me: Marketing. [This is the part where they cut out a little bit because I went into detail about how I didn’t even know I was nominated for the award but it was edited out for time] I was going to receive the award. They said my name. As I’m going up to the stage, I’m trying not to cry because there are cameras and 3500 people in the audience. I got on stage. As I started talking and was trying not to cry or laugh, a sound came out of me. [This is the part where I couldn’t think of a Turkish word for snort.] My “stage monster” came out in front of 3500 people. [I snort.]

Ali: Yeter does that every day.

Me: I know. I tweeted at her about it. After the awards, people who saw me in the elevator or at the parties during the conference recognized me.

Ali: So you’re famous.

Me: Something like that.

[This is when Yeter comes out]

Yeter: Let’s have a snort off. [We do.] See. I found someone else like me in the world.

Ali: Yeah, I noticed that it happens to me sometimes too.

Yeter: Let’s all do it.

[He doesn’t]

Yeter: Who cares if we laugh like this?

Me: Personally, I think it’s a good thing to laugh deeply.

Ali: Yeah, from way deep.

Me: [After she exits] When I was watching old episodes and saw her stage monster come out first time, I really enjoyed it.

Ali: She does it involuntarily.

Me: You think I do this on purpose?

Ali: OK, thank you for sharing.

[Then the sketch starts, she comes out snorting when she isn’t supposed to be, points at me and I die.]

Here’s the video where you can hear me pronounce my name in Turkish. The rest of the clip, I share about being a realistic planner who plans for the worst case scenario, and then go on to thank the cast and crew for making us laugh for hours when my dad was recovering from his heart attack. No snorts in this one. Transcript to come maybe later.

“My attic is full of bones and full of hopeless young emotions that just won’t grow up”

Completely blanking on the English word for milk and panicking on the plane.

Landing at Dulles International Airport.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air playing on the TV when I walked into my cousin’s house.

These are the only three distinct memories I have from December 18, 1995. It was probably just a normal winter day for most people in the Northern Hemisphere, but for me, it was the day my life changed. I wrote more about that day in this post

It’s been 25 years since my family left our home to become immigrants in a foreign land. This is the first time that I’m home on that anniversary. 

There have been a lot of feelings. 

But I’ve been thinking about my life as I’ve worked on taking back my narrative and healing my wounds. This year has been pivotal for my mental health, for my relationships, and for my identity.

Much like the beautiful city I get to call home, my soul lives on two continents, but the bridge in my heart is not as steady as the one over the Bosphorus. 

Until recently, I felt that this sentiment was an exaggeration, but to be perfectly honest, I have felt completely alone since that day 25 years ago. In being a first-generation immigrant who had to grow up fast, I’m not the first nor am I unique. 

But as with everything in life, my experience is uniquely mine. 

My family, my thoughts, my fears, my struggles to belong to two worlds that never completely felt mine. 

There are a few distinct patterns in my relationships and struggles for the past 25 years. 

They bullied me the first few years I went to school in Maryland. My first “best friend” in middle school was the first in a lifetime of people who would take advantage of my need for belonging and gaslight me. I hated my life in middle school so much that I made my parents transfer me to a different high school so I wouldn’t have to spend 4 more years with those people. In hindsight, I had people try to reach me in middle school to help me separate from that person, but I am so fiercely loyal that I saw them as the threat instead of the one in my life.

High school was the first time I found my footing, and I made some pretty great friends, even though I was a transfer. I’m still best friends with one, though she and I didn’t really become best friends until junior year. I floated through a few disparate groups my freshman year, the most reliable being the seniors I met through my cousin. It wasn’t the first time I connected more with people older than me. My experience in high school wasn’t the worst, but my home life was getting worse and the loneliness I felt grew. Everything was a constant battle. It was exhausting trying to explain to my friends the hoops I had to jump through to simply go to a movie or why I had to always bail on plans. I began to feel like I couldn’t actually really belong anywhere and I kind of floated in and out, even with my closest friend group.

High school was when I carved out a secret life for myself, at times destructive but mostly, just wanting to have a moment of relief and control. I always got along with authority figures, gaining their trust, so when I would walk into my first period class my junior year, asking my teacher if I should be there and walking out without being marked absent wasn’t uncommon. 

I didn’t realize it then, but I was building a fortress around me because if I was going to feel lonely, I would also feel protected. I don’t think I was ever truly protected because my heart has been shattered so many times. 

In friendships and in love, I’ve been drawn to the people who “needed” me in the sense that they would use my energy until our relationship got so incredibly toxic that it blew up. It’s the friendship breakups that hurt the most, to be honest. 

I have trust issues. While I felt alone in the place where I had to learn how to belong while fighting daily battles with my family, I was feeling more and more disconnected from my home and my identity. Anyone who’s met me knows that I have fierce pride and love for my Turkish identity and my home. But every time I visited, I felt more and more disconnected. I felt like an imposter, so much that I stayed away for 11 years

I don’t look or sound like an immigrant

“Wow, you don’t have an accent.”

“Oh, you’re Muslim?”

I’m white-passing, but any time I fill out a form, I always put Middle Eastern. I no longer have an accent unless I’m extremely tired or drunk. And the accent I have is more east coast than Turkish. 

I’m more of a foreigner in my home than I am in the United States. 

I can’t even explain the toll that takes on a person and how makes me feel alone, but the one thing that’s been the hardest has been my name.

I lost my name. 

Unless you’re Turkish, you’ve been pronouncing my name wrong for the past 25 years. I was 10 years old when we moved to the US. I was already in battle when I finally began school that the first time a teacher tried to pronounce my name and it came out as “Brock” I just said “Yeah, that’s how you pronounce it” instead of correcting her. I was already an outsider. My outfit was already getting weird looks. I had an accent. It was the middle of the school year.

I gave up my name to keep fighting bigger battles.

Later on in life, I would take on a pen name, losing my identity more and more. 

It wasn’t until when I was in Turkey last summer and I could use my real name when ordering coffee and hearing the barista call out my name I realized how completely lost I’ve been without my name.

I’m not unique in this but the thing is, after 25 years, I now have an accent while pronouncing my name so I have to get over that before I can teach others how to say it correctly. 

I still don’t know where I belong.

I think I will always feel alone because the older I get, the harder I’m finding it to tell my story over and over again to people that I want to let into my heart. The more I share, the more alone I feel because how do you fit in a lifetime of straddling two worlds and every scar that comes with it into a conversation over a bottle of wine or two?

How can I trust people not to take a sledgehammer to the bridge in my soul with every microaggression or every letdown? 

How can I explain the battles in my head when I don’t fully understand them myself?

25 years ago, my world got split into two and I’ve been trying to keep the bridge from crumbling ever since.

I was hoping to have a clear epiphany by the time I finished writing this post, but honestly, I’m still not completely sure how I’ll ever feel complete.

The only thing I can do is keep healing and hope that along the way, I eventually find peace.

*Lyric in title is from “My Attic” by Pink

“When I find ground to rest my feet on, I will lay my weapons down”

As the flames rose, the rational voice in my head told me that it was getting late and I should go inside. The louder voice in my head kept whispering, “But I don’t want to go inside. It’s still early, and I just want to sit here and read my book by the fire.”

All the windows around my yard had gone dark, and yet I still felt exposed. But I didn’t care. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go inside, and there was nowhere else to go because my safe escapes were all closed due to the pandemic.

I ran out of firewood a couple of hours into my Saturday night plans of sitting in my yard, having a whiskey drink, and reading my book. Instead of just enjoying my book in the soft breeze of the night, a voice in my head kept yelling that it didn’t feel right without a fire going. I needed the fire. But I’d been drinking, so I couldn’t drive to get more firewood.

Then I remembered the pallets against the side of the house. The massive, imposing pallets that were twice the size of my fire pit.

As if I was just grabbing a small piece of wood to throw into the fire, I walked over and grabbed one of the pallets and calmly walked it over to my firepit, putting it on top, with its sides hanging off the edge of the pit. 

I threw a little starter brick into the middle of it.

A couple of small flames began to take form under the pallet in my fire pit. In my head, it made perfect sense. I went back to my drink and my book.

About an hour later, as the flames got going, the wind started picking up. It was a soft breeze at first. 

It was only 1 AM, it was a Saturday, and I wasn’t listening to any music or anything, just sitting quietly in my yard.

My rational voice started to speak up, but there was no way I could go back to the house. Not yet. I couldn’t do it.

The flames got higher as the wind picked up. A light went on in one of the apartments around my yard. My neighbor walked out of his house. Asked me what I was doing. I looked up and noticed that the smoke had started making its way to their third-story window.

Without saying a word, I stood up, grabbed the hose, and watered down the flames that had engulfed the pallet. My fire pit was deformed. The pallet was more than half gone. I went inside my apartment and waited an hour, holding my breath the entire time. Then I went outside, grabbed the remnants of the pallet, put them against the side of my house, moving my fire pit back to its place, and making sure my yard was empty. I didn’t leave my house for two days after that. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my most severe hypomanic episode, followed by a depressive one. 

The following Monday, I talked my therapist through what happened, and that was the session where I finally suggested that it might be time for me to do a psych evaluation. 

It took me four months after that to schedule my psychological evaluation. It was supposed to take 90 minutes. The doctor had me diagnosed in 30 minutes flat. 

In addition to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I also have Bipolar II Disorder. 

At the end of the diagnosis, she asked me if I was interested in treatment options. 

“Of course,” I replied, surprised. It turns out that a lot of people who get the diagnosis aren’t ready to tackle it.

I wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis. I was surprised at how emotional and relieved and overwhelmed I felt once there was a name to everything, but that also meant that I would need to go back through memorable points in my life and evaluate what my diagnosis meant.

Bipolar II vs. Bipolar I

When people hear “Bipolar Disorder,” they usually think of Bipolar I. Think Claire Danes from Homeland or Ian Gallagher from Shameless. Part of the reason why Bipolar never occurred to me is for that same reason. Sure, I’ve suffered from insomnia and depression and made some reckless decisions, but I’ve never had extreme manic episodes. 

A few years ago, I had a psychiatrist as a client and wrote copy for his webpage around depression and bipolar disorder, but I didn’t dive too much into Bipolar 2 during that project. 

After I got off the phone following my diagnosis, in tears, I looked up Bipolar 2. I found a chart outlining the symptoms of depression and hypomania associated with it, took a screenshot, and sent it to one of my best friends.

“This is literally me.”

Here are the symptoms of hypomania that I can map to precise moments in my life: 

Having higher-than-normal energy levels, being restless or unable to sit still, having a decreased need for sleep, having increased self-esteem or confidence, or grandiosity, being extremely talkative, having a racing mind, or having lots of new ideas and plans, being easily distracted, taking on multiple projects with no way of finishing them, having decreased inhibitions, having increased sexual desire, engaging in risky behavior, such as having impulsive sex, gambling with life savings, or going on big spending sprees.

OH, OK. I THOUGHT I WAS JUST A CREATIVE, RECKLESS FAILURE OF A PERSON FOR MOST OF MY LIFE.

Hypomania differs from full manic episodes because they don’t include hallucinations, paranoia, or delusional thoughts. 

The depression is pretty much the same.

What’s next for me

I’ve checked off the most difficult steps: Getting diagnosed, beginning treatment, and talking to my brother and dad about it. 

But the diagnosis is just the beginning.

I can’t just write off responsibility for 20 years of decisions. 

Yes, the average age-of-onset of Bipolar Disorder is about 25, but that doesn’t mean every reckless decision I made in my 20s (and OK, early 30s) was because of my disorder. Without a doubt, it probably increased the severity of everything, but what does that look like?

And more importantly, can I begin to forgive myself without holding on to the “What ifs” of my past?

Would I have finished getting my degree? Would I have drunk less? Would I have been more successful in my career? Would my finances be in better shape if I didn’t ruin my credit in my 20s?

WOULD I HAVE SLEPT MORE, MAYBE?

I don’t know. Possibly. 

All I know is that I’m not scared of my brain as much as I used to be.

I have a road map. 

There are signs to recognize.

And there is so much more to understand about my disorder, my own brain, and what this means for my future as a creative professional.

As I do with everything in my life, I will be sharing this journey as it makes sense for me. I’m not sure what that will look like just yet, but if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I imagine I’ll be sharing more frequently on there and when it makes sense, share longer posts on here.

I also have to reflect and come to terms with what this means for my professional past and future, so if you’re at all interested, that post will be over on my Substack.

One thing is for sure: I have felt so fucking lonely and lost in my mind for 30 years, and if I can help one person feel a little less alone in their journey by sharing mine, it will be worth it. 

As with everything in my life, there will probably be memes and jokes, and I am always open to talk about it. But it is a heavy lift for my emotional state, so if you ever reach out to me and I don’t respond right away, give me space and time to get back to you.

I will leave you with this one distinction: When it comes to the language around bipolar disorder, there is no consensus around whether or not you should say someone is bipolar or has bipolar disorder.

My personal preference is that I have or suffer from bipolar disorder.

If you want to learn more about bipolar disorder, NAMI is always a great resource to start, but I also really like this breakdown by healthline.

*Title song lyric from “Take It Easy” on me by Beth Hart

You Can Go Home Again

Eleven years.

It had been eleven years since the last time I stepped foot in Turkey. 

Somewhere along the way, I decided that I wasn’t worthy of returning home. 

Part of me felt that I wasn’t worthy of seeing my family until I could prove that my work and life have value. 

Until I could make them proud.

Because I’ve taken an unconventional approach to my life and my career, I had some missteps.

I failed a lot, but at some point, I felt that I couldn’t explain away my failures until I had an undeniable amount of success.

But it turns out, all I needed to do was be a good person and show up. 

Well, I had to show up and be vulnerable. 

“Hello, have we met? This is who I am now.”

It’s scary to show up with your scars in a place where you feel whole and wholly misunderstood at the same time. It’s strange being home and feeling like a foreigner because you have an accent when you’re speaking your native tongue.

It’s difficult overcoming the Nostalgia Conundrum.

But it felt right. I knew in those moments, no matter how difficult it may have felt, there would be nothing that kept me from going home once a year. 

I’ve been working on defining my values. If I’m honest, it’s been for the past year, ever since I got on a plane to leave Istanbul. On the flight back, I had a plan. I would split my time between my chosen home (Seattle) and explore my roots, but then 2020 happened.

Not only did we get hit with a pandemic, but my company got acquired, which meant that I could no longer work remotely from a different country. 

I was lucky to have a job. 

It would be irresponsible of me to quit while my friends were getting laid off and struggling to make ends meet.

But we were in the middle of a pandemic, and I kept yearning to be in a place where I belonged. 

A place where the simple act of walking down the street would surround me with the sights and sounds of home, even with a mask on.

I felt stuck.

I screamed. I held on. I lashed out. I felt burnt out on life (and work).

I discussed it over and over with my therapist. 

The decision was clear.

I put in my request for a leave of absence.

I budgeted. 

I discussed it over with my brother.

I tossed and turned.

I planned for worst-case scenarios.

The decision is made: I’m going home, and not just for two weeks this time.

I’ll be home for two months, even if that means sitting in my aunt’s apartment because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.

Even if it scares me because the last time I made a life decision this major was when I packed my car and moved to Seattle.

Even if I’m going to miss the hell out of my cat and the people in my COVID bubble in Seattle.

Even if it means that this will be the first time in 8 years I won’t be spending the holidays in my chosen home.

Because I’m worthy and I belong at home.