I doubt this writing will ever see the light of day.
The words will be too true, too vivid, too scary to reveal to anyone else. Even my closest friends, who I tell almost every secret in the world to, don’t hear about these specifics. I have one particularly close friend who is also bipolar who helped me to seek treatment, and even some of these things, I don’t share with her.
I am Bipolar I. This diagnosis comes with a bit of a question mark, as my doctor can’t give a definitive diagnosis in a short time span. My excessive spending, quick talking, bouts of insomnia and extremely fanciful ideas drew her to this diagnosis. It was something that I had known for awhile, but didn’t want to “self diagnose.”
Mania is terrifying. It sneaks into my life so quickly that I don’t notice at first. I’m a little less attentive at work and at home. I may stare obsessively at my phone more than often. Sometimes I’ll notice my irritability and think I’m just having a bad day. Before I quit drinking to numb these symptoms, I was never fully aware of what kind of a state I was in and therefore couldn’t prepare myself appropriately. While I was drinking, I would think that I was depressed one day and manic the next.
But the truth is, it had slowly been coming on for awhile and I had allowed the symptoms to be dulled, so I didn’t notice (or if I did, I just simply didn’t care).
Mania feels very isolating. I’m not quite in control of my emotions or my attitude. I can be very quiet and thoughtful one moment and loud and pissed off the next. I ponder sometimes if this is where people get the idea of “bipolar” mood swings, not realizing that mania doesn’t mean super happy all the time. It only means that people are in a more “aggressive” state of being, so everything experienced and felt is much more intense than normal. That seems to be the opposite of how the media portrays it.
People that are in a manic state are often the life of the party, excited to do new things, always happy and running from one thing to the next. The first time you try to explain that no, you really actually DO NOT remember something happening to a friend, they think that you are either 1. joking or 2. were black-out drunk. You lose friends quickly. People don’t like to hear that they are forgettable. People also don’t like to hear that they are an obsession. One of the many gems of mania.
My quick talking and racing thoughts become annoying—especially while I’m working. I work in a fast paced environment, that requires a lot of multi-tasking. When I’m baseline or even slightly elevated, I become a machine who is fantastic at her job. When I’m below baseline or manic, I am practically useless. Mania means that I move quickly from idea to idea, but cannot focus on any of them. I’m amazed that I can accomplish all that I am supposed to most days.
I can only speak to my experiences with the hypomania that I experience. Hypomania, for the most part, would be the type of mania I experience. First, sleep is useless (no really, I don’t really need sleep at this point). I usually survive on four hours or less a night when I’m manic. This, of course, makes me more irritable, even if I don’t feel tired. When I am in this state, I try to micromanage every single thing and rarely am able to focus on any of those things, therefore I fail at doing almost anything of worth. My head bounces and bobs, hoping to find something, anything to shake the crappy feelings of the day. Because when the mania sets in, crappy feelings are abundant.
Everything feels like a personal attack.
My mom thinks I’m a shitty daughter because of xyz. My kids hate me because they are normal kids and didn’t thank me for making dinner. My best friend is ignoring me because I’m too annoying to abide any more. My boyfriend is going to break up with me because I said or did the wrong thing. Or worse yet, he’s cheating on me because he doesn’t want to have sex every single time I even mention it in passing.
As I write this, I realize how ridiculous all of those examples seem. I recognize that they are not true and that my mind is exacerbating things, but in the moment, it feels very real. It has also helped me realize that, along with the hypomania, I sometimes experience brief bursts of paranoia.
I also have brief burst of fugue states—moments where I don’t remember something happening at all. I might remember again months down the line, much like if you get black-out drunk, but when completely sober and going about your day.
And let me tell you, missing some time during the day is a particular kind of hell.
When I was still drinking, I used to binge drink, binge shop and have binge sex while I was manic. I would try to shelter my “normal” brain by deleting texts and pictures and emails and throwing away bottles so I didn’t know exactly what I had done. I would wake up and people who I didn’t know would be mad at me for leaving them high and dry, people I did know would be upset something was wrong and I would have no clue what had happened at all. Once I had a serious live-in boyfriend, I realized just how bad the drinking was damaging my health and my life. I have since made a point to stop drinking alone and while I might have a drink while social, drinking is not something I turn to anymore.
I am still very defensive of my diagnosis and cling to it, while also treading a very careful line not to “blame” my particular troubles on it. Trying to get a doctor to both diagnose and prescribe and then refer has been difficult. In fact, I’m still waiting for my referral to come through. This makes it even more difficult to be taken seriously when speaking about mental health with any sort of credibility. This particular diagnosis is even more difficult to admit to anyone in your life. People think it makes you crazy or that you aren’t capable of having a “normal” life, that you are an unfit parent.
I write this post, not as a begging for pity, but as a cry for normalcy. I want people to understand that mental health is scary, but it is also normal.
I want people to understand that real people have real issues, but that doesn’t make them outcasts, it makes them unique in their approach to life. I want people to understand that using terms like “she’s so bipolar” to describe a woman who is experiencing emotions is not only sexist, but not an accurate portrayal of how bipolar disorder often manifests.
I want you to understand, person who is reading this because they want to find someone who feels like them, that you are not alone and that your feelings are real and valid. Mania is scary and there are ways to fight it.
Editor: Dana Gornall