“I would have never guessed.”
That’s the most common response I get when I tell someone I have bipolar disorder. I don’t really blame the person for it, nor am I offended in any way. The image most people have of bipolar disorder is someone who is extremely volatile and dangerous, someone who has to spend his or her entire life in a psychiatric ward because a normal life is out of the question. In short, bipolar disorder is synonymous to insanity. But I’ve never been a danger to anyone, except maybe myself but that’s a story for another day.
Bipolar disorder does affects a person’s moods, but it’s nothing like the mood swings that we all get once in a while. It’s not being hyperactive for a bit of time and then suddenly becoming sad; it’s not that simple. The moods cycle in episodes, lasting from days to weeks to months.
The longest episode of depression I ever had was roughly six months; for mania, it was about three. Both of these prolonged episodes happened before I turned twenty, though most of it is a blur to me.
I remember a few events vividly and the rest just barely, and not much in chronological order. I could go into grave detail about what I remember but honestly that’s a part of myself that I discuss only with the small handful of people I actually trust. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but I admit to still having some trust issues.
What I can say is that during my times of depression I felt disillusioned with the world and by the time I was nineteen, I had completely lost all hope in everything and everyone. I was at the lowest I had ever been and at some point I just felt nothing, not even the physical pain that I constantly inflicted on myself. I wanted more than anything to feel human again. After I found myself in the psychiatric ward for several days – maybe it was more like a week or two – they gave me some antidepressants to combat the depression. But that only pushed me towards a manic episode.
Going from an episode of depression to one of mania is nothing like a mood swing, though the mood change for me was usually swift. It’s more difficult for me to explain these types of episodes… Hypomania, the lesser form of mania and at times the early stages of it, involves hyperactivity, flights of ideas, and overenthusiasm for success. This may not sound too bad but coupled with restlessness, impulsivity, and agitation, it can get overwhelming.
Mania is similar… but about ten times worse. I’ve had exactly one manic episode in my life and that was in 2013, which is what many of my friends will hear me call the “(best) worst year of my life”. Like I said, I don’t remember too well what had happened but it did involve quite a lot rash decisions and self-destruction. My mind constantly raced, as if there were ten different people yelling at me all at once. There was no way I could turn it off and because of that I would go days without sleep.
At first it was great; I felt invincible. But it quickly became intolerable. I wanted nothing more than for everything to just stop. I wanted peace and quiet, and at that point it seemed impossible. The amount of antipsychotics they had given me after a previous hypomanic episode wasn’t helping… so I took more. And I guess you can predict where I ended up after that.
These days I can confidently say that I’m in a much better place. I still experience episodes, most commonly of depression, but less frequently and in shorter bouts. Medication helps, but it’s those close to me whom I should thank for my improvement… those who were patient, those who were understanding, and those who undoubtedly cared.
Most of all I thank those who never gave up on me like so many others had in the past. I know exactly how difficult it can get to deal with me so I understand why many have decided to walk away. Nonetheless, every now and again I still fear that those I truly care about will simply grow tired of me and decide I’m no longer worth all the effort.
It’s no one’s fault, really. This is just a part of who I am… a part I didn’t choose to have but am forced to live with. I don’t expect everyone to accept it. I mean it’s been two years since my diagnosis and I’m still in the process of doing so.
I guess I wrote all of this to shed a bit of light on what bipolar disorder actually is and that those who have it – or any other severe mental illness – don’t have to live a life in isolation. As the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving, as mental illness has many faces.
And despite never having enough courage to say it out loud, I happen to be one of them.