The past couple years have been quite the rollercoaster. While some people can say that about the natural ebbs and flows of life, my rollercoaster has been the ups and downs of manic depression. This journey started two years ago when heavy suicidal thoughts brought me to the psychiatric hospital, back when i was diagnosed with general depression and anxiety. I was put through routine therapy sessions and given a low dose of Zoloft. I didn't just feel better; I felt the best I ever had and thought all my problems were solved. But that wasn't the case. Zoloft is an antidepressant that cures depression, but amplifies manic symptoms associated with manic depression. Through this chain of events of overspending, going days without sleep and acting impulsively, I learned that I have bipolar disorder.

I celebrate that I'm still alive. I'm grateful that I have the support system that I do. A lot of my friends know about my struggles because I'm pretty open about everything. One of my former roommates saw me spiral down with the added stress of being a student-athlete. After a traumatic event during a morning practice, I started to get panic attacks during workouts that spearheaded down to a low, low depression. I didn't realize the family I had in my teammates as they were all checking in. I pushed them away a little bit, which definitely led to suicidal tendencies and suicidal thoughts that landed me in the hospital one night.

That night is an entire blur to me. One moment I was on the phone with my brother and the next moment, the public safety officers from the school are wheeling me to the psych hospital. The doctor at that hospital was the one who thought it was just general depression and anxiety. That was the breaking point of needing to get help or I was really not going to be okay. Those suicidal thoughts would have turned into concrete plans if I hadn't reached that point and gotten the help I needed, even though I didn't think I needed help. That's something that is important for people to realize, when they do need help and where go get it. You need to know what the sadness is to understand what the happy is. Now, with Bipolar Disorder I recognize them both.

When I was in the hospital that night, I was so scared for my life, which is so ironic as I was there for having suicidal thoughts. It turns out the hospital they brought me to was the worst one in New York. It was funny to think I was there compared to other people. There was one woman who peed on the floor. There was another speaking and talking to herself the entire night. It was a wake up call that I'm just as crazy as they are. Not crazy - I need help in the same way they do. Mental health isn't as visible as having a broken leg, even diabetes. It was acknowledging that mental health was just important for me as the physical because I saw my physical health decline from it. I learned a lot of things that night. It's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to get help. It's okay to be sad. Had I not gone through that, I still would have thought it was general depression and not recognized it as bipolar disorder. Looking back, I realized I had more support than I actually did.

My journey these past two years has been navigating how the manic and depressive symptoms keep me from being the person I am meant to be, but also appreciating how they make me, me. Bipolar disorder has become my best friend and my worst enemy. I can see the world in both black and white, and in color. While the black and white of the illness can be scary, it has shown me the multiple ways that I can be two things at once. I am passionate about sports, but I have an affinity for ballet and the arts. I love being in the mood to write, but I enjoy reading the words that others share with the world from their heart. I love music and the black and white keys on a piano that come to color when I gently press on them. I am the bitterness of my coffee and the sweetness of the sugar at the bottom of my sixth cup of the day. I am learning to accept that I am perfectly imperfect, and that too can be said about bipolar disorder.

Notice how I said, “I have bipolar,” rather than “I am bipolar.” That’s because bipolar isn’t something that a person or object can be, like the weather or your significant other, but it rather is an illness and a disability. Think about how many times you’ve said that the weather is bipolar. It’s been hard to get help and admit my struggles with mental illness because of the misconceptions surrounding bipolar disorder, but I’ve been more open lately. This April, I relapsed and ended up in the psychiatric hospital once again. While it felt like I had failed after months of progress and over nine different dosages of medications (and counting), I realized that my mental health journey is still continuing. I celebrate that my mental healing, like bipolar disorder, is not a linear process, but one that will come with highs and lows. I celebrate that duality because my emotions remind me that despite my occasional suicidal thoughts, I am still alive; that life is worth living.

This is a part of me. It’s something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. It's been two years since that first hospital visit. I've been doing okay and ended up in the hospital last month, but it's that progress that I've made that I’m proud of. I'm still looking for a medication that works, but I know that it's something I can manage and will have to for the rest of my life. A fun fact about Bipolar Disorder is that it sometimes makes people more creative. It definitely makes me more intune with my emotions; I journal every morning before I go to work. It's made me live life a little slower instead of trying to trailblaze through every single day. It's made me more attune with myself - to recognize when I'm having a good or bad day. Tracking that up or down that i'll probably go through once or twice a month. I can see how it follows me - in the work day, with school, family, keep up with personal life. It's also important to create space for some me time.

I celebrate: my life and the lows + highs within it.

Andrea is a freelance photographer, videographer and writer.

Follow her journey here.