Landisa: I had bipolar in a South African university, and how I survived

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

At age 19, I had a breakdown.

My close relative, who was ill all throughout my university career, passed away. Their passing triggered something inside of me.

A week after the funeral, I was back at university attending a short course, trying to normalise my world.

And then, while in a taxi driving for a weekend away, I felt my mind experience a mental eruption. My brain felt as though it had exploded like an atomic bomb.

And, yet somehow, nothing had changed. Everyone was still seated in the car. My blood was not splattered on the seats. But, my mind, was gone. My thoughts ran faster than I had time to process them.

I had no control or say on what they might do. To lose control of oneself is scary and lonely. All I could do was watch my life play out like my worst nightmare. 

I had always felt a presence, and, as a Christian, I believe that presence is God. When the bomb went off in my mind, I could no longer sense that presence.   

I was home-bound for six months.

I dropped out of university.

My concentration was like that of a five-year-old child.

My ability to reason was gone. My sense of time had become circular and I thought I could somehow travel through it. I could not read but somehow I could still write.

I wrote nonsensical stories of almost 10 000 words in less than a day. The following day I would do another strange activity.  Once I felt compelled to address the issue of non-recyclable waste. I cut up old bras, scattered them all over my room. I wanted to repurpose them.

This highlight reel is a condensed description of my breakdown.

Determined, I fought every day to get better. I had a diagnosis of bipolar two. I got the right medication. I went for weekly talk therapy. I had support from my family and friends. I underwent lots of positive lifestyle changes. I had faith.

Within six months, I was back at university.

I did return but with shaking hands. I had intense social anxiety. My hair felt out in clumps.  I had little confidence in myself. I was, for the first part of the year, a shell of my former self.

But, I persevered. I forced myself to do things I knew made me happy before I lost my loved one. I saw friends for tea. I went for walks. I went to birthday parties.

I could feel my brain healing and the parts I had lost were returning.

There were countless phone calls with my loving parents. There were many teas with my housemates. I binged on series to soothe. I read a little bit every day and healthy habits were mending my mental wounds. I was learning how to be me again. 

After two years, I was able to feel the presence again. I felt the presence of God again.

Writing this, I have two degrees and some other qualifications. I own and drive a car. I have hosted workshops, and led projects. I live a life I was not sure I would have the capacity to experience. 

A trauma, whether physical or mental, changes you.

I do not believe it is punishment for something you did or did not do. Trauma provides its own messages for the soul to prepare for far bigger things to come. 

A year after my loved one passed, another close relative of mine passed away.

Though my heart grieved, it did not cripple me.

I try to honour my late relatives living with my whole heart.

Their suffering does not have to live on in me. Rather, it is the joy that they did live, that we must honour.

- A pseudonym was used to protect the identity of the writer.

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