I am Bipolar.
By illness is unique to me, just like every other person who is afflicted with this disease. But there are features and characteristics that are shared that cross the uniqueness. That’s why there can be a DMS and clinically accepted diagnostic criteria. The way I experience living life being Bipolar is only understood by me, but in their own way others experience the same thing.
So what is that like?
Bipolar by definition means mood swings from one extreme to the other; behaviors that are polar opposites. It doesn’t mean that it’s a constant change one way to another though. In fact, most of the people I know spend much more time depressed than manic. The documentation also supports this as well. According to the DSM criteria you only have to have one identifiable manic episode to be diagnosed. So even being labeled as bipolar doesn’t mean there is this ongoing back and forth of moods. That’s not always the case, but it does seem to be the standard.
Ah, depression; what a wonderful place to be. If I had to choose one mood over another, you can bet it wouldn’t be depression. There are really no words that adequately describe the utter misery, loneliness and complete lack of hope. It’s beyond definition. Even after repetitive episodes where you know you can recover, in the midst of it all you just can’t believe that it will ever end. I am so lonely and isolated when I’m depressed, but at the same time I just want to be left alone. Friends, family, even professionals who are trying to help are shut out. At the worst of it, I become almost catatonic. There is no energy at all. It becomes impossible to get anything done, even to the extent of cleaning up after myself or even bathing. I sit in the dark, motionless, staring out into space. If I somehow make it to therapy, words are unheard. You will get better, blah, blah, blah. Even if hospitalized, you are there alone. The thing about my depressions though is that I am aware that I’m going through an episode. I know I’m depressed, I just feel like this time, it’s not going to change. My world has shrunk into a very small, dark place where there is no escape. It’s just horribly, hopelessly miserable.
Mania however is completely different. I usually have no idea that my behavior is out of the ordinary. I just feel good. I have tremendous energy, bursting with ideas, wonderful creativity and unbounded optimism. I sometimes have the unbridled anger to the point of rage. Emotional outbursts occur for no reason. My actions become very aggressive and even dangerous. There is no sense of consequence either. Whether ecstatic or angry there is no thought of what could happen, or what will be needed to recover from the excess. Then one day you crash and there are thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to be paid back. You can find yourself in jail, or at least faced with some legal problem to be dealt with. It may be just a part of the illness, but I think that part of the reason depression so often follows a manic episode is realizing the cost of what has been done.
I can tell you what being bipolar isn’t too. We are not some crazy, wild eyed ‘maniacs’ who are screaming one minute, and crying hysterically the next. We are not manic all the time always acting crazy and outrageous. Frankly, it’s impossible for the body to function at such a high level indefinitely. It would be like driving a car at 150 miles an hour non-stop; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Parts will wear out, things will break. I had an episode a few years ago that I was hospitalized for a completely physical, life threatening condition. My heart rate was below 30 beats per minute; respirations were at 10 breaths a minute; kidney’s has completely shut down. The doctors were baffled. I had been in an environment conducive to heat stroke, so they put it down to that, even though the normal indicators such as low potassium levels weren’t present. It wasn’t until much later that the doctors figured out that I was reacting to an adrenaline overdose. I had been at a frantic manic pace for a long time, and was producing excessive amounts of it to enable my body to keep up. But the body is smart, and will adjust to keep from causing long term damage to itself. The adrenaline production stops, and the body shuts itself down to force it to rest. So to think that being bipolar means acting crazy all the time is just not true. Even if there are moments of that excited ‘craziness’, it’s offset by the down mood, and even long periods of no effect at all. The general categorization of bipolar is very disturbing to me. So often when there is a violent tragedy such as attacks on coworkers or homicidal rages, the media immediately labels the responsible person as bipolar. Being bipolar isn’t being homicidal. A person who is bipolar may commit these kinds of acts, but I believe there are other factors that are really the root cause. This kind of stereotyping though gives the general impression that bipolar people are insane and should be feared.
Well, we aren’t.
The people I know who have this illness are generally intelligent, sensitive and very thoughtful people when not having an acute attack. It’s well documented that the average IQ of one who is bipolar is above average. Look at how many celebrities are suffering from the disease. There’s strong evidence that many of the world’s leaders in politics, business, medicine, etc. are in fact bipolar. Some of the most celebrated artists who have contributed some of the greatest creative items have been diagnosed with it. Not all of course, not even close to a majority. But enough to show that just because you’re bipolar doesn’t mean that you are a crazy threat to society.
Our behaviors can be horrible sometimes. The rejection given to people who are only trying to help can be painful and frustrating to them. Financial and legal consequences can and often do fall on loved ones and partners. Often, abusive and angry attacks are made on the ones who are the closest. I know you can’t generalize too much, but as that happens it’s really not the person who is causing such catastrophe and pain; it’s the illness. Other disorders and conditions that can be a part of the overall problem of course, and can cause intentional and deliberate and highly personal attacks. But just being bipolar? With only a few exceptions I believe that the havoc we wreak really isn’t what we want to do. It happens when we lose control. That does not change the responsibility, the consequences, or the damage caused. That is just as real whether it’s done on purpose or not. And I’m not making excuses. Regardless of the root cause, the effects are the same. But I know that once I realize what I’ve done I’m appalled at my behavior.
I really didn’t mean it. And I’m sorry.
I don’t expect anyone who isn’t bipolar to understand. About the most I hope for is acceptance and tolerance. Even if life becomes too unbearable having someone (me) in their lives I can at least try to understand. What I want though is not to be labeled as insane. I don’t want to be thought of as vindictive or cruel.
Just like everyone else, I just want to live a happy, productive life. .I have made a lot of progress achieving this with hard work and dedication, but I can’t undo what has been done. I certainly don’t want to lose control of my illness; it’s horrible at either extreme. And I really don’t want to cause any more pain or troubles. There’s always the risk, maybe even the probability that I will, in spite of my best intentions.
I am bipolar.