My fog crept in over years, receding for short bursts but settling in for good in 2007. I know the day it settled in. It was late November. It was a Friday, around dinner-time and everything just unravelled. I spun out. I lost control of my lungs. A friend too wrapped up in studying for university finals to realize that I wasn't just being a drama queen called the paramedics and sent them to my apartment because she was too busy. When they arrived half an hour later (my apartment was weirdly hard to find), I was still hyperventilating. I spent that night in the ER, and was sent home at dawn with nothing more than instructions to see my therapist more often (I couldn't; she was too busy to see clients more than once every two weeks).
The thing about fog is that it creeps in on you, gradually, until you can no longer get your bearings. You don't always notice it roll in. Sometimes it rolls in while you're sleeping on while you're consumed with a task that distracts you from the weather outside. I know now when the fog set in, but I didn't know it then. I *knew* but I didn't recognize it for what it was, or have the words to explain it. All I knew was that something in me didn't work the way everyone kept insisting it (I) ought to work. I was wrong.
I didn't know how wrong until October 17th, 2013. I hadn't slept in three days. At all. I couldn't. My chest was too tight to allow sleep. I couldn't take a deep breath. For days, I couldn't relax enough to do so. I didn't know yet to call it crippling anxiety. I did a few days later after I saw a doctor who prescribed the same anti-depressants I'd been on from mid-2006 through mid-2009. They didn't help this time, not like they had a few years earlier.
By this point, the fog was so thick I couldn't see my own feet.
I kept trying though. I kept trying to work, trying to write, trying to be a normal human. Deep down I knew why it never seemed to work for long: I was wrong. There *was* something wrong with me. I wasn't a normal human. I was not neurotypical.
When a lot of people are diagnosed with mental health disorders (especially psychiatric disorders), it's common for them to have a period of denial. The way those who lose loved ones or face their own mortality go through relatively predictable phases, the same is true for psychiatric diagnosis. Or so I am told. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was a child. She died a decade later, when I was days shy of my eighteenth birthday. I didn't experience denial when she died. I didn't because I'd worked through that years earlier; I'd come to accept her mortality before she died. I mourned her, but her death was simplified by a decade of preparation, or contending with the idea of her one day dying. In a similar way, I experience absolutely no feelings of denial the first time someone first seriously suggested that I might have bipolar disorder. (I say 'seriously' because I'd had people use the word before, derisively, like the insult they believed it to be, like it would somehow convince me to behave the way they wanted me to.) It was late November (again). It was 2015. I'd spent all of 2014 and 2015 in a pea soup fog and it was the first time in nearly two years that I felt like myself. Only... not. I felt wild. Energized. The way I had for half my twenties. I explained my feelings to a friend, told her how I felt like I was falling down the rabbit hole again and I knew it wouldn't last, that I'd crash and burn eventually and feel awful for weeks after.
She'd known me since 1997. Since ninth grade. Since I was a flawless little blonde bop of a girl who ran from class to class because she couldn't siphon off her energy fast enough. She was a doctor now, on maternity leave with her first child. And she diagnosed me while breastfeeding her baby in her living room.
There was no denial. There was research. There were tears. There was relief. I felt like everything finally made sense. Like I'd found the answer to a question no one had ever thought to ask and I had never known needed asking.
The fog didn't lift then. It was still there, but I could see it better now, and I knew it was a thing that wasn't necessary. I knew there was a way to live without it. Different medications cleared the fog a little, enough to show me a rough path, to keep me going until I was finally able to see a psychiatrist, be formally diagnosed, and properly medicated.
The fog cleared in late February of 2017. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it's only been 21 months. All but one of my romantic relationships have been shorter than that span of time. (The outlier is my current sweetie, who has been with me nearly five years and has seen me through the last stretch; he's a bit of a saint.) My meds are dead simple. I'm a textbook case. My psychiatrist is amazing. We geek out about pharmacology and he talks to me as an equal. The skies are mostly clear now. I have begun to use bullet journaling to keep track of symptoms and trends. On the rare occasions that the fog rolls back in, I have proof that it won't last, that it's not forever, that I just have to keep getting through the days, that there are ways to make the fog dissipate, ways to help it along into oblivion.
The hardest thing has been regaining my confidence. I was a naturally gifted and talented child. I found most things easy as a teenager (even if I feel in love with the one sport that challenged me beyond reason). In my twenties, I slept rarely and got more done in a week than I feel I get done now in a month. I got good grades, I had an easy way with people (most charitably called my obsessiveness "passion"), and I had an unnatural ability to make things the way I wanted them to be. Diagnosis would teach me that this overconfidence was a symptom of hypomania, that it wasn't healthy. It's taken me the better part of two years to figure out how much of those traits were inherently my personality (a lot, it turns out), and how much were truly hypomania (maybe the most extreme 20%?).
I began writing just after the fog rolled in for good in 2007. I'd always been creative. Drawing, sewing, acting, writing poems or plays. I wrote my first novel in 5 weeks. My therapist's eyes widened at that. She thought I had ADHD. (I honestly probably do; my dad was diagnosed in his 60s after I explained how his behaviour was classic ADHD.) I know now that it was the beginning of what would be a very long, very intense series of hypomanic episodes. I was rapid-cycling because of my anti-depressants. It's very common. I spent most of 2008 through to February 2010 cycling through moods before crashing into the longest depression I'd ever had. I was deeply depressed from February of 2010 through to the spring of 2011 when I began to level off. All the while, I was writing. Ideas swimming through my head, me just trying to keep up by getting them down on the page fast enough.
After my provisional diagnosis in late 2015, I thought it was enough to get me to a place where I could begin planning my future again. In the summer of 2016, I decided to self-publish a book, made myself a website, commissioned cover art, set up professional social media accounts and then... I chickened out. Or, more to the point, the fog rolled in again.
The fog isn't permanently gone now, but it hasn't rolled back in for longer than five or six days since my psychiatrist put me on proper medication and off the old stop-gap solutions I'd been taking. In 20 months of being properly medicated, I've only spent two weeks in mood episodes. It took some getting used to. It took me a year to trust that it wasn't a fluke, that I'd keep waking up feeling okay every morning. I spent most of 2017 rushing myself into feeling okay and trying to play catch up in my life. I've spent most of 2018 slowing down and settling into myself. (Okay, and buying a house.) I'm comfortable in my self. For the first time in my adult life, I trust my own mind, that it isn't messing with me, lying to me, playing some kind of game, lost in the fog and just trying to dance its way out.
Maybe normal people out there, neurotypical people who've never questioned their sanity (or had others repeatedly question it), are reading this wondering what the point of this is... My point is that getting here, finding my way out of the fog, to 'normal' took me 17 years. I can't take it for granted. I also won't pretend to take it for granted. Or pretend that the road to get here was easy. Or pretend that I'm anything other than I am. No one should ever have to pretend to be something they aren't.
I'm no longer lost in the fog, but I remember how it felt. One day, I'll write about it. In a way, I already have. In a way, I think it works its way into everything I write. After all, we're all lost at points in our lives, looking for the way out of the fog.
Me? I'm going to do what I've always done: I'm going to write my way out of the fog.