As my blog states, I am bipolar. I’ve never really talked about it though, and I think it’s time.
Since my early teen years, I suffered random bouts of depression. I also had periods of what I later learned to be mania, but I didn’t identify it as such. I thought it was just being normal. Feeling full of energy and happiness was how normal people feel, right?
My depression was the hardest part, and it still is. In fact, it’s why I haven’t written in a while. It takes a lot of energy for me to put any of this into words, but I feel it’s necessary. I don’t usually tell people when I get to my low points. It doesn’t solve anything. It just makes me look weak. I get told “Just focus on good things and you’ll feel better” or “You’re over-reacting, your life isn’t even all that bad.”
Let me just say that these statements are counterproductive, demeaning, and only feed the feelings of inadequacy one feels when depressed. I’m broken, and I’m wrong for it. It’s out of my control, but I’m still wrong. I need to stop being pathetic and take control. After all, that’s what grown-ups do.
Bipolar is overwhelming, and it’s different for everyone. First, I would like to address the common misunderstanding that bipolar is a “flip of the switch” disease. I do not randomly get set off by little things at any given point. I do not have “triggers”, though it’s my understanding that there are people who do, specifically those who have very intense bipolar. Mine is more mild to moderate, and it is cyclical.
I’m “normal” about 90% of the time. Most people have no idea that I have bipolar at all, which actually makes it harder when I have manic or depressive episodes. What happens for me, personally, is that for about 3-4 months I will be completely fine. My emotional responses to things would be considered average and healthy. But then comes the month where everything goes all wonky. First, I begin to slip into depression. It starts off very mild, just a little apathetic, maybe a little “moody”. Seemingly normal, still. “She’s just feeling a bit off today, maybe we should try to cheer her up.”
But it doesn’t work. I can’t be “cheered up” because there’s nothing wrong, per say. Then my slow decline turns south and becomes a rampaging plummet into a bottomless pit of despair. For about 3-5 days (I’ve had much longer episodes, but those are usually when my life is already overly stressful and “depressing” so it feeds the disease) I just hate everything, for no reason. Nothing is happy. Nothing is right. I CAN’T feel better. I have to just ride it out. I am (and feel) completely helpless. I feel hopeless, out of control, like nothing will ever matter again, even though logically I know that in a few days I will be fine again. These days are the longest days of my cycle. These are the days that I’m just coming out of today.
Gradually, I manage to climb back out of the pit, except it’s not a pit anymore. It’s a mountain. A huge, towering Everest of insanity and pseudo-happiness. I can’t stop halfway. Once I get out of the trenches, I have to keep going, all the way to the top. This is where things start to get kind of interesting.
I become very hyper and excitable. I have insane amounts of energy that make it hard for me to sleep. I start to feel invincible. I’m in control of EVERYTHING and nothing can stop me. This can lead to some poor decision making, especially if I’m around the wrong people during this period. I’m easily influenced, and while it sounds like an excuse, it’s kind of not my fault. I will do things that make no sense, and if asked about them later, I will not be able to tell you why I did them, or what was going through my head at the time. I won’t remember my decision making process, because there really isn’t one. The only thing I’ll be able to say to you is, quite honestly, “It seemed like a really good idea at the time.” This doesn’t make it ok, by any means, but it’s the only explanation I can ever offer, besides just saying “I’m bipolar and this is what happens sometimes.”
This, too will go on for close to a week. Then I start to come down a little bit. I level off at somewhere around normal. I’ll be absolutely fine for several months, and then it starts again. I can’t control it. I can’t stop it. It’s just the way I am.
I’ve had many people ask me why I don’t just take medication to “be normal”. I have many reasons why I don’t take medication for my bipolar.
1) I’ve tried several. The side effects I experience are always far worse than the disease itself. The last one I was on kept me from ever sleeping. I would become so anxious and paranoid, that if I closed my eyes, I truly, honestly believe that someone was standing over me with a knife prepared to stab me to death. Needless to say, this was not fun. I was now sick every single day instead of just a few weeks here and there (technically, I’m always sick, but it doesn’t affect me the majority of the time).
2) I’m not sick or different most of the time. I go 3, 4, sometimes even 6 months without an episode. For mental illness medications to work properly, I need to take them every single day, all the time, so that they’re in my system when these spells hit. This means putting chemicals into my body for the rest of my life, even when they aren’t necessary for me to function normally. I can’t do that to myself. Maybe if they made something I only had to take on my manic and depressive bouts, I would medicate. But I’m not going to “fix” my brain when it’s not broken.
3) I am lucky, in the world of bipolar. My disease does not keep me from being able to function in society. Even at my worst, it is hard to keep going, but not impossible. Since I can feel it coming about a week before it gets bad, I can usually start to prepare myself and take care of things that might be unnecessarily stressful the next week. I’ve learned to cope with my disease, which is something very few with bipolar can accomplish because they have it so severe. Many of them never experience any “normal” without medication, they just cycle back and forth. Some can cycle back and forth in a matter of days, which I believe is where the “flip of a switch” mindset of bipolar came from. It sometimes manifests in such a way that you can’t describe it in any other way.
4) I believe God made me this way for a reason. I believe He would want me to seek help if it gets to the point that I cannot control it. There have been times where I have sought help, in the form of therapists, friends, and on a few occasions, medication. I also believe that He has blessed me with the ability to maintain myself, that I can educate others about my disease as I’m experiencing it. He’s also blessed me to be able to relate to those who suffer not only from bipolar, but also depression. I know those feelings. I’ve experienced them so many times over the last 10 or so years that they’re like relatives you don’t particularly care for, but are forced to share your life with.
5) I’m not afraid of medication becoming necessary. I’m fully aware that my disease may progress. It may become far more severe than it currently is, and if that is the case, medication will become a part of my daily life. If that happens, I will not be ashamed. There is nothing to feel shame about.
6) I’ve discovered that eating healthy and regular exercise while in my “normal” phases lessens the severity of both the mania and the depression, and if I’ve kept them established while “normal” it becomes easier to maintain them during my spells, which gives me something to distract myself. By having ANY specific goals that I’ve been working on, I have something to focus on. Something to help keep my mind a little less cluttered and help me push through til I level off again
Bipolar is my diabetes. My high blood pressure. My auto-immune disorder. It is a disease I am forced to life with, probably for the rest of my life. It is something that I need to think about regularly. Something I have to plan my life around at times. Something I can moderate, to an extent, but that also requires medical help when I fail.
Bipolar is serious. It’s not something to be taken lightly or joked about (well you’re being bipolar today). I also don’t want anyone to think I’m saying people who suffer from bipolar or other mental illness should stop taking medication, or try to self medicate. It’s not something a lot of people can do, and it should never be done without a doctor’s supervision.