Editor’s Note: For many of us, turning 40 is an opportunity to redefine ourselves. We begin to focus more intently on the life we want, the life we were meant to live. For me it’s rediscovering the joy of writing and creating art. But for this WAF reader (who wants to remain anonymous), mental illness, misdiagnosis, and treatment that comes at a price, redefining herself takes on a whole new meaning...
It’s a quiet thing. It doesn’t burst in and announce itself, no. It steals into the rooms of my mind and takes over my heart, occupies my soul. I don’t know that it’s come until it’s too late, and I am powerless to push it out.
I was fifteen the first time it happened, and it took away a year of my life. No one knew what it was; no one could help me. A doctor told my mother then that it was “the ultimate in growing pains.” Ten years later, it was back, and I was lost, bereft. This time, the doctors gave it a name and gave me a solution. It was depression, and I needed Prozac. That was the beginning of a whole other thing.
This thing was louder. It was bold, and it made me into someone else. I was driven, sleepless, creative, and immensely productive. I accomplished more in the next ten years than I could have imagined or hoped for. But there was a price. I was reckless, unwieldy in my emotions, dangerous in my thinking and behavior. I was having hypomanic episodes, I was bipolar. But hypomania was my normal, so the doctors didn’t see it. They only saw the depression, and kept giving me antidepressants, which made the hypomania worse.
I would spend the better part of my adulthood struggling to be okay. The misdiagnosis cost me my sanity. And after three hospitalizations, I was lost as to how to manage my life. I was dying–slowly, painfully, dying.
I was forty years old when my therapist figured it out and sent me to yet another doctor, who also figured it out. And now, at forty-two, I am what’s been termed stable, well, okay…But again, there’s been a price to pay.
I’ve lost some very strong parts of myself—my passion, my creativity—parts I’d like to have back. I have to find a whole new way to be myself, to access my own soul. This is the price I’ve paid to be sane. This is a new pain.
My dreams are smaller now, my life less bright, like a light on a dimmer switch. I’m not sure who I am, or what I am still capable of doing. But my dreams have survived. And so I’m taking this small action—writing this—to say to myself: dream on. Dream past the pain and the self-doubt. There is still a you to discover, a wholeness to encounter. A way to live and be that makes sense.
Starting over as a whole new person at this age is a tricky thing. But it’s all I can do. To breathe, and just begin again. Who knows where I’ll end up? Maybe on the shore of some distant self. Maybe in a place I can call home.
We’d love to hear your stories about life, love and reality in your 40s. If you’d like to share your story with the WAF community (anonymously or otherwise), please email us at contribute(@)womenatforty(dot)com. And don’t forget to join the conversation on Facebook and on Twitter.