This will be probably the bravest thing I will have ever publicly shared. Maybe. It’s at least among the top few.
I am bipolar. Or rather, I have bipolar disorder. I got my diagnosis in November, 2016. There is actually a spectrum of bipolar disorders. Bipolar I is typically what people think of when they hear someone talk about bipolar disorder. I have bipolar II type. This means that I experience hypomania rather than full blown mania. I don’t think I have super powers. I don’t participate in reckless and dangerous behaviors. I don’t lose awareness. Some say hypomania is less severe.
This is false.
It’s very different, but not necessarily less severe. Another difference between I and II is that I doesn’t necessarily involve depression. It can, but it doesn’t always. For II, though, crippling depression is the predominant factor. Statistically, a bipolar II can spend as much as 40:1 time in depression vs. hypomania. That’s a staggering and sobering number if you let it sink in.
I can attest that the depression in II is much more prevalent than mania. And until recently, I always thought it was worse. I thought mania was a relief. But now, I know better.
You see, there are so many ways that mania can manifest itself in this disorder. It isn’t always the abounding energy, hyper-creativity, and euphoria that you may automatically think of. It isn’t necessarily typical manic behavior. For me, and from what I’m learning from my fellow bipolars, for many of us, mania is anything but euphoric. Frankly, it’s hell. It leaves us wishing for the depression to come back. And for me, more often than not, when mania sets in, I experience mixed episodes, which means I have mania and depression at the same time. I can usually feel it coming on for several days before it is full blown, but I can never know how long it will last. Sometimes a week. Sometimes a month.
Here’s a snapshot of what I experience during a mixed mania episode:
Extreme agitation. Extreme irritability. Restlessness. Anger. Sadness. Excitement. Hyper focus. Cognitive dysfunction. Heightened senses. Skin irritation. Insomnia. Heart palpitations and racing pulse. Shakiness. Migraines. Frequent mood shifting, to name just a few things.
I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to deal with anything. I can’t handle any stress. I can hear everything, smell everything. Food tastes weird. It’s sour or tangy. It’s too salty or spicy. Lights are too bright. Please don’t touch me because I will break out in hives. My skin itches all the time. I can feel the hair growing out of my scalp. My head hurts all the time. My resting heart rate tops 100 bpm, and my insides shake, along with my hands. I have difficulty sleeping more than just a few hours each night. After a couple of days, I am exhausted, but still cannot sleep. I have trouble accomplishing even the smallest tasks. Just a few days ago, I wandered around my kitchen for a while before finally realizing that I had no idea how to make tea. I experience those kinds of cognitive deficits far too often. There are days when I enjoy a few hours, or maybe just a few minutes of happiness and extra energy, but as quickly as it comes on, it fades away. What I’m left with is exhausted, tear-filled depression.
Sounds fun, right? You’re probably having trouble believing I go through this because you’ve never seen me in this state before. That’s because I’ve not let you see it. I’m a pro at hiding it. Life doesn’t stop just because I wake up manic. I still have to carry on as if all is well. And so I do.
But not everything is the same. Life has changed drastically for me. I keep a much slower pace these days. If you see that I’m silent on FB for a while, something is probably off. If I normally keep in touch with you, but you haven’t heard from me in a while, something is probably off. If you invite me to something and I tell you I can’t go, it’s probably because I had to say no in order to take care of myself. If you see me at a social gathering and I have my head buried in my phone, something is probably off. If you see me excuse myself from a social gathering, something is really off. If you really pay attention, you will see it.
I could go on for quite a while longer, but I won’t. I just felt like maybe someone might want to know what this is like for me, and for many others. Bipolar Disorder is a beast, make no mistake. If you know anyone who lives with it, go out of your way to love them. They need it.