GOOD EVENING BLOGOSPHERE!!!
I may be on break but boy do I have a special treat for you! Seriously. I’ve not just found my 100th WordPress follower, BUT she is also a tribe member AND a super funny and awesome person and I’m so thankful she found me. I got you guys the inside scoop on this badass chick! But if I fuck up and forget some important things about her, or just plain old suck at this, then PLEASE PLEASE call me out in the comments section. For real. Like. I don’t want to be a dick. This girl doesn’t deserve that!! Please save your direct comments to Charlotte for HER blog. Thank you.
Let me ask one simple question of everyone, what person do you know has Bipolar II rapid cycling/ADHD/OCD, a degree in chemical engineering, is currently working on their Master’s, and absolutely loves bunnies?!?!? AND THE COLOR GREEN?!!?!? Hmmm….I’m waiting…*Jeopardy song plays annoyingly in the background*…
…That’s correct!! NO ONE!! Your friends aren’t that cool.
For real though. This South African woman is amazing. I’ll let her tell the story but if you don’t find her to be inspiring and relentless than you suck. Like sweaty donkey balls.
Without further ado, Mrs. Charlotte Wessels:
J: Now Ms. Charlotte, tell us a little about yourself. Start from the beginning.
C: I was born in 1986 in a small town in South Africa (at the bottom of the map of Africa, hence the name), I was, apparently, a very cute baby who became a very witty little girl. I grew up in the church; my dad was the pastor of a small church in a little town called Tzaneen. At around the age of four, I remember looking around the playground and realizing I’m not like everyone else. This new discovery started to become obvious when I couldn’t keep friends because I talked about “weird things” and asked “grown-up questions.” So life was really unpleasant for me. At age 9, I completely rejected myself and swore I would change and become someone else.
J: That sounds like a lot for someone so young to have to go through, was this new discovery something that carried on into your teenage years?
C: After I started getting depressive spells in primary school, I started cutting myself in high school. I was sinking so deep into the abyss that I rejected God although I knew (due to the character of my parents) that he was real, loving, and good.
J: I know you felt so conflicted back then but you are a devout Christian now. What made you go back to God?
A few months before my 17th birthday, I went on a teen church camp. I remember it was a hot Saturday night. The youth pastor told me:
“You’re standing at the edge of a cliff. You’re gonna fall. God wants to catch you. Will you let him?”
After that, I gave my life to God that night and the depression left for 2 years.
J: Wow that’s fantastic! I bet you were glad for the break. What happened after high school?
C: After school I went to the university on a scholarship and got my degree in chemical engineering. It was in my first year that the depressive spells started again. But in my third year, I had my first hypomanic episode. It was the week before semester tests and I couldn’t sleep. I was so anxious I wanted to crawl out of my skin and just run around with my heart in my hand and my brains spread out on the lawn! I would pray for an hour or so and then I’d feel better for 15 minutes. This cycle continued till my GP prescribed sleeping tablets and antidepressants. I came right and passed the test week with a good average but the episode had unlocked Pandora’s box. I knew it wasn’t OK. I knew it would happen again…
J: I’m terribly sorry about that hypomanic episode. It sounds like even though you suffered through depressive and hypomanic episodes in university you were able to work through it and get good scores on your tests. You were able to get your degree correct?
C: I got my degree, an amazing boyfriend, AND a job at a petroleum giant where I helped with the day to day operations and small projects at the plastics plant! In fact I worked for four and a half years as a chemical engineer.
J: How did work end up going for you?
C: My first year on the job, I got severely depressed. I ended up being diagnosed with Bipolar II. However, my psychologist at the time felt it was an incorrect diagnosis and sent me for a second opinion. This new fellow told me I had Atypical Depression and took me off mood stabilizers. Around that time I got engaged and started working in the design department of the company.
J: Did anything happen when you went off the mood stabilizers?
C: Thinking back, those 9 months was my my second major hypomanic episode. The penny dropped after the big crash of 2010; the episode that landed me in the hospital for the first time.
I planned my wedding to the very finest detail as well as worked overtime. I was so happy because I loved my job and I was getting married. On 21 August 2010 (the same year we hosted the soccer World Cup) I got married.
The moment I left the church; I started feeling weird…stopped sleeping, racing thoughts, couldn’t sit still, irritated beyond reason, and, most of all, NEVER HUNGRY! 4 weeks later I had a complete collapse and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and given sleep therapy.
J: What happened during your stay at the hospital?
C: My psychiatrist saw his patients at 5AM but on the fourth day I decided to be funny and paint my face like a cat…you know…for laughs. My psychiatrist decided he should label me as Bipolar II. Since then I’ve been hospitalized at least once a year due to my rapid cycling. I also suffer from ADHD and OCD but the only thing that can keep my attention is Grey’s Anatomy :-D.
J: It’s not easy for some people to accept a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. How did you cope with it this time around?
C: I accepted the diagnosis and went on all the horrible meds, gained 40 kg (88 lbs), and fell into the deepest depression! So much so that my poor old husband had to bathe me and dress me. I’d just cry all the time and slept my days away at the plant. The company and I started getting irritated with each other and to put it simply, so when they offered me a separation package after two years of trying to make it work, I took it. That was May 2013. This had far-reaching repercussions. I lost my big salary and with it my house, sports-car, and two Great Danes. We moved into a small flat in Pretoria and in 2014 I used the money to pay to go back to university.
J: How far have you come in your studies?
C: In 2015 I decided to study further and enrolled for my Master’s degree. I’m continuing with my Master’s this year. When I reminisced over 2015, I got the distinct feeling that it had been the Year of Hope and that 2016 would be the Year of Love…
J: How does your relationship with God help you with bipolar now?
C: I have become very dependent on God. He is the Hero in my story. He is the author behind every good thing that has happened to me from the pastor who led me to Christ to providing me with amazing people to support me. But the most wonderful unbelievable unimaginable way He shapes me is through my relationship with Him.
That direct contact.
He comforts me. I am consumed with Him.
We have a pact that the day He can’t use me anymore He will take me Home. I can’t wait to be with Him, but like St. Paul, I stay on for His purposes. The other thing about walking this path of restoration with God is that I become more and more myself, as He designed me to be and I know that He made me a specific way so that I can accomplish in this life what he has ordained for me.
J: What are some of your other coping tools?
C: I also read a lot from blogs, academic articles, books and the Bible. I have a list of verses (stands at 44 at the moment) that I always carry with me and rehearse when I feel my emotions starting to fray. I also journal, writing is an amazing tool especially since I use it as a form of prayer, it forces me to slow down my thoughts. I am still seeing my mentor and psychologist, they have helped me deal with a lot of hurt from my past and change behavioral patterns.
I also have an amazing husband who thinks I’m just the best thing to ever happen to him. He is the voice of reason many times, and when I can’t pray, He steps in and prays for me. My parents are also pillars of strength in my life, when my dad prays, it feels like all of heaven subsides and listens, it is like sweet balm on my wounds. My mom is my biggest fan and you need fans in this world. She listens and gets sad with me, happy with me, but most of all she thinks I really will take over the world some day (maybe not literally but in some sort of way). Then there are also my 2 good friends who are always there for me, we listen to each other rant and usually commit to offing someone for each other. (I may have just incriminated myself)
Lastly exercise has made a big difference, to such an extent that if I don’t exercise, I don’t sleep very well, and sleep deprivation is my number one precursor and symptom of an episode.
J: Anything more we should know about you?
C: My first language is Afrikaans (sounds a lot like dutch) and I live in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. I love the colour green and rabbits. I have over 30 different bunny things in my house. From paintings to ornaments to stuffed toys (I live in a 2 bedroom flat so it averages at 6 items per room, bit much hey?) I have a charity where I help struggling new mommies with the basic things that you need. (Happymommy charity on Facebook and www.happymommysa.com) I adore science! Especially chemistry, although at the moment I’m working with bacteria and water treatment technology. I was a punk in school, had a Mohawk and all, which is very extreme in a small conservative farming community. I collect hoodies (I think you guys call them sweaters) from different universities and have started writing my first fiction which is based on the concept that, at the end of the day, penguins are ruling the world (secretly of course, but it should be obvious, I mean have you ever seen a penguin not born wearing a suit? I know it’s scary…)
If I could choose a penpal (dead or alive) I would choose CS Lewis and the superpower I would love to have is Sherlock Holmes’ amazing powers of deduction and reasoning. I swear more than I would like to and the ultimate torture for me is when someone is eating fries in front of me and I can’t have any. (I’m grumpy now from just imagining the scene).
For more information about Charlotte Wessels, make sure to check out her blog and especially her post The Blessing Of the Unanswered Prayer. She can also be found on her Facebook page Me, God and bipolar.