Kathleen Burr

from Jackson, MI

I was diagnosed when I was 17, and refused to believe it until today. I am now 23 years old. I realize that my bipolar manifested itself when I was about four and a half. I think it started when my younger sister first came home from the hospital, or somewhere close to that. I remember flipping out as a child, and unable to control myself. My anger was so violent, I would break stuff in my room, scream until I would be on the verge of passing out, and then start crying for hours. I remember having to hide my crying, because it would get me in even more trouble. I would also become unresponsive to my environment, and begin hitting my head on the wall over and over again.

As I became older and my parents divorced, around 10 years old, I began cutting myself. I loved the feeling; it felt like pain leaving my body. I could never get rid of all the pain. I would cut and cut, but it would never get away. I finally left my dad's house when I was 17, thinking I would never be able to return to tell my dada I loved him again. The thought sent me into a violent and destructive mania. Death was so attractive to me, but I could never bring myself to commit the act. So I drank and did drugs. I did everything you can think of that's reckless. I didn't care if I died, or hurt some one doing it. I began cutting myself more and more.

The downward spiral continued until I met a friend named Bryan. He became someone who I could talk to about anything. He would listen, but never judge. It didn't matter what I told him, because I thought I would never see him again. He lived over 900 miles away from me. My mania only continued to get worse, until I tried to choke my mom do death, in a manic rage, and she called the police to come arrest me. They took me to jail overnight and then to the hospital. I started therapy shortly after. Refusing to accept the fact that I had bipolar, I dropped off my meds and out of therapy. I did learn, before I dropped out, what my triggers were. Slowly with the help of my friend, and a lot of journaling, I was able to bring my moods under some control.

Now I understand that I have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and that is my biggest trigger. I have to be very careful not to go beyond my stress limits. I still do on a rare occasion these days (only three times since 2002, rather than everyday and sometimes every hour). I can become so angry that I will not care what happens to myself or any one else. I also can get so depressed I will attempt suicide, or become catatonic, and shut my whole environment away. Sometimes, I just start running and don't stop. My friend Bryan is now my fiancée and closest friend. He has learned to recognize what the signs are when I'm becoming manic. He knows how to pull me back most times, but there is that rare occasion that I flip out and can't control myself. It really scares him a lot, and I now appreciate how hard it is for other people to understand how you can have absolutely no control over yourself, or over your emotions.

Today my life consists of constancy. Right now, I'm getting very depressed and life is difficult because my grandmother very recently passed away. I’ve had to take an extended leave from work, unable to control my emotions for the first time in several years. 

Looking back, what could have been done at the time to improve the situation? Treatment, medication, a different approach, or understanding from others around you?

Looking back there was probably not much that could have been done, especially when I was a young child. That was during the 80s and mental illness was something you just didn't talk about. It was shaming not only to the person, but to the family as well. What I needed was a stable home life and lots of understanding and to be put on regimen of medications.

I just want to say thank you for doing this documentary. When I heard it, I identified so strongly with those kids. I know that I had bipolar disorder, and had to accept it. I must learn to live with it, or it will control the rest of my life.

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