Over the last six and a half years, I've found that my life has been catapulted into the deepest, darkest depths of despair, only to find myself emerging more resilient, hopeful, and grounded than ever before. In 2011, I had just turned 30, and my life was starting to look like I had always imagined it would as a little girl growing up in Connecticut.
Born into an upper-class family in Darien, it seemed like I had it all. My father was an investment banker, and my mother was an accomplished homemaker and philanthropist. I grew up privileged. I excelled in sports and school and went on to become an investment banker myself. I pursued an MBA from New York University in 2010 and worked in institutional sales at BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world. I lived with my boyfriend in his apartment on Gramercy Park South. We were your stereotypical WASP couple, planning our engagement, one step away from moving into a Tudor house in Westchester County with our Weimaraner, Luke.
Like most couples in Manhattan, we had a few issues that I was desperately trying to sweep under the rug. I had a problem with alcohol and prescription pills, and my anger was out of control. I could be the sweetest girl in the entire world one minute but violent and belligerent—especially when drinking—the next. One day in April of 2011, I woke up. I decided that I had had enough of drinking. I was so tired of being sick and tired that I was going to get sober for good...not for anyone else...but for myself.
So there I was, working my way up the ranks at one of the top institutions on Wall Street, ducking in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and getting on and off the reformer, preparing for a hiking trip to Machu Picchu. Then, just as easily as our family had been accepted into Aspetuck Country Club, I snapped. I went to bed an accomplished financial professional, and I woke up on a mission from God to save the world. High amounts of stress is a common trigger for mania, more commonly referred to as a "nervous breakdown," and I had certainly had enough. I was having a manic episode and needed to be hospitalized immediately.
I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder 1, and I was left in the psych ward feeling alone, disillusioned, and devastated. Luckily, I was headed out on a two-week vacation to Peru the day before I cracked, so it wasn't too hard for me to cover up my hospitalization from work. However, my personal world started to crumble right before my eyes. My boyfriend broke up with me in the psych ward, and I was asked to move out. From that point on, I saw that I had two options, and falling apart wasn't going to be one of them. I set out to stay sober and to take care of myself as well as possible in order to reduce the stress that had caused my breakdown.
I was weary of my bipolar diagnosis, as were my doctors, but I decided to take the medication as prescribed, no matter how much I hated the way it made me feel. Over the course of the next four years, I went through the 12 steps of AA, made amends for my behavior, sponsored other women, and worked on changing my attitude. I developed a spiritual relationship with a higher power, and I experienced a psychic change, as described by the book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I moved out to Santa Monica to lessen my stress load, and I manifested my new reality: a bleached blonde, social media-obsessed, Jeep Wrangler-driving Cali girl. I did CrossFit four times a week, I hiked the beautiful Santa Monica mountains on the weekends, I practiced Transcendental Meditation, took advantage of the latest health food crazes in LA, and bathed in self-care. I seemed to have successfully conquered bipolar disorder.
Then, my worst nightmare came true. It happened again. I went from working as a vice president in venture capital banking, living on the beach with four years of sobriety, compliant with my medication, physically in the best shape of my life, and a whole host of friends, to being alone in my bedroom at my parents’ house in South Carolina with absolutely nothing to show for myself, except for a German shorthaired pointer that "I had to have" during my latest manic episode.
I was hospitalized. I was held in restraints. I went to an inpatient treatment center in Malibu and to an outpatient treatment center in Beverly Hills. I struggled to find the right medications, and I couldn't seem to shake the psychosis. This time, recovery was much harder. I had gotten fired from my job; I married a seemingly homeless, meth addict with schizoaffective disorder that I'd met in treatment; I gave away at least $30,000 worth of my belongings. I eventually relapsed; I sold my car, maxed out all my credit cards, lost my apartment; and I even ended up throwing my passport into the Pacific. Life could not have been worse.
One of the hardest battles I had to fight in order to recover was to accept that I was, in fact, sick. I had to concede to my innermost self that I had bipolar disorder and that I was not a reincarnated mermaid princess. My doctor told me that while your mind goes up in flames during mania, it slowly melts and thaws out in depression. I wondered whether I was ever going to feel like myself again. I was determined to beat bipolar disorder, but my delusions, depression, and anxiety seemed to have it out for me.
It took time. I slowly managed to crawl out of bed, to fight the exhaustion, and to kick my anxiety right in the gut. I started slowly, by making coffee dates with childhood friends. I kept the conversation on them, and I was on the verge of tears when I returned home. But I forced myself to do it again and again, week after week, until life started to become more manageable.
Bankrupt, financially and emotionally devastated, and divorced, I put the pieces back together day by day until one day I was back—a much more humble, wiser, and more mature version of myself.
By working with a team of doctors who helped me to adjust my medication accordingly, going to spiritual therapy sessions, working out in CrossFit, eating healthy, getting sober again, practicing loving kindness with myself, and most importantly, by being open-minded, willing, and honest with myself and with my doctors, I was able to overcome the greatest tragedy of my life and to turn it into my greatest accomplishment.
I have never been a quitter or a loser, and my disability wasn’t going to keep me down. I decided to leave the finance industry, and I enrolled in graduate school at the University of Southern California to get my master's in social work. I am intent on changing the way that the mental health treatment industry works and plan to use my clinical experience and financial acumen to develop programs to help others recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, just as I did—but faster. I know it will be an uphill battle, and I may not be the first one to arrive, but I insist on finishing the race. I will make a difference. It is now my mantra, not my dream.
About The Author:
Brooke Hilton is currently a 2018 Master of Social Work candidate at The University of Southern California. She currently interns as a counselor and case manager at Charlotte-Mecklenburg County’s Community Support Services, Shelter Plus Care Program, focusing on the dually diagnosed homeless population. Previously, she worked in the finance industry for twelve years and pursued an MBA from New York University in 2010 and a BA from the University of North Carolina - Asheville in 2003. She has suffered from Bipolar Disorder 1 and Substance Use Disorder for 15+ years. She is sober and takes medication daily to manage her illness. She is an aspiring LCSW and plans to combine her education with her financial acumen to take the dual diagnosis treatment industry by storm. She just began her blogging journey, but has been an avid writer for decades, finding it the best way to cope with mental illness. She wants to share her story to help raise awareness and to help those suffering in silence find hope in her recovery.