There is really no way to explain to a “normal” person what it’s like to have bipolar. I can describe it as it is for me, but it differs for everyone. Obviously it also differs just for myself as I vary between depressive, manic and neutral phases. As a part of my desire to reduce stigma and increase understanding, let me give you a colorful synopsis of my life with bipolar.
I am a rapid-cycling, highly functioning woman living with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis is still pretty new, but the symptoms are not. At age 19, I was diagnosed with clinical depression bordering on cyclothymia which is often a predecessor or offshoot of full blown bipolar disorder. I began taking antidepressants at that time and learning how to live my life a bit differently. Therapy and medications were the game plan after suffering for years. I’ve always been plagued with obsessive thoughts, low self esteem, sleep problems and negative self talk. For me, I know when depression is creeping up. I just want to sleep, I binge eat, I have random aches and pains. I lose interest in the things I normally love and crying is pretty much all I do some days. Isolation during depression is very normal for me as I berate myself with negative self talk, sometimes self abuse through hitting or cutting myself and lapse in my self care and hygiene. During the depressive phase, I pretty much have to force myself to do anything- go to work, take care of the house. I have several amazing friends (and my sister) whom I reach out to when times are at their darkest. I am happy to say that, while I was self medicating on an unhealthy level with alcohol during my 20’s, I have essentially stopped drinking alcohol, save a glass of wine on special occasions. Blogging or writing can be difficult at this time, though I will post during the dark times to sort of send an S.O.S. out to the world for a little help.
The opposite of my depression is the manic phase. This phase has two subcategories, if you will. There’s hypomania, when I’m starting to get manic and I am very very effective at just about anything. This is the “addictive” mania because you feel so creative and efficient and alive. I get a lot of crafts and DIY’s done during hypomania and it’s the reason my house gets clean quickly. Hypomania for me is marked by rapid speech, fast moving ideas, the urge to create and clean, diminished need for sleep, hypersexuality, financial irresponsibility and abundant confidence. During hypomania, I love just about everyone and everything and it’s all just so FABULOUS!!!
Then, the nasty part of the manic phase – full blown mania. Also known as I go from creative Christian crafting coffee drinker to sociopathic bitch. I usually don’t refer to it as manic, I call it Green Mamba Time after the beautiful and deadly snake. Manic (or G.M.T.) is when I tear people down, look for fights and nearly destroy friendships and relationships. I am frighteningly aggressive and have practically no regard for my own personal safety. Anything and everything can set me off during G.M.T. and I continue to pay the consequences for things I’ve done during this phase. I vividly recall destroying several large cardboard boxes during a manic-fueled rage resulting in a swollen hand for two days. This phase is the one I feel people most associate bipolar with, and quite wrongly. It’s merely a part of the disorder that can be effectively managed.
If you’re a girl, you might understand if I say having bipolar is like having PMS every single day. You can go from crying to happy and then numb in practically hours. Also I work in a highly female-dominated environment, and let’s face it, women do a great job of tearing each other down (and yes, I’m guilty of that as well). Some days it’s all I can do to get home and decompress. However, I have a lot of hope that I will be able to live a productive and positive life despite the disorder. My faith in God has gotten me through so much, including several near-suicidal nights.My psychiatrist actually listens to me and lets me have the drivers seat as far as my treatment is concerned. I have wonderful friends who have stood by me despite the constant changing tide of my moods. Blogging about my bipolar has helped me to discover I am not alone in this, and I hope I help other people suffering from their own demons feel a bit more accepted and understood.
If you would like to share your story of struggle/triumph/etc or tips on how to live with mental illness or loving someone suffering from a mental illness, feel free to share in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear your stories and share them if you’d like your story to be heard!