Being Bipolar

 Most people who know me know that I suffer from bipolar disorder. Since it’s a difficult thing to accurately diagnose, it’s not clear if I’m cyclothymic (a mild form of bipolar) or rapid cycling bipolar II. Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter because the same medications treat them all and the dosage depends on each body. Additionally, I have a pretty good grasp on my symptoms and that’s what really matters. Labels aren’t helpful if you don’t know their definitions. And if you know the definitions, the label is really only useful for condensing all those definitions into one word for the purpose of communicating them to others. ;)

As you are about to see, the condensing doesn’t do me any favors because I lay out the definitions in their entirety anyway. :P

For me, hypomanic (aka “happy”) episodes last around 4 days and sometimes less. Rarely do they last longer. There can be a very brief respite of “normal mood” before I start cycling into a depressive (aka “low”) episode. Unfortunately, those usually last 4 days or *more*. So my “bipolar self” is primarily depressed.

When I’m on medication, I experience “normal” or “even” the majority of the time and it’s lovely. I engage with my kids, I keep my house clean, I play and create occasionally, and I smile and laugh A LOT. Recently, I started experiencing “bleed through” while on medication. This is when symptoms start to overwhelm the medication. This phenomenon varies in degree for each individual. Thankfully, for me, it’s not a high degree. I would call it “moderate and uncomfortable.” **

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a pretty dark place. When I’m in those places for long enough, I start to question almost everything I believe in, and especially God. I read my Bible and I’m convinced that anything good I think I see in there is just me making things up. It’s like, somehow my brain just can’t accept any kind of happy reality as actually true.

Now I’m coming out of four days of a happy time. Sad things happened during that happy time so I wasn’t actually *happy* the entire time, but I was still clear-minded and able to focus. I was also able to think in a healthy manner and express myself rationally. There is no way to explain well how refreshing it is to be in that kind of place, after a long depressive episode. It’s like being terribly hot and grungy and dirty and bathing yourself in a clean, cool waterfall surrounded by chirping birds, lush vegetation, and sunshine.

Today, I am beginning a descent into another low episode. Contrary to the opinions of people who don’t suffer from this disorder, you can’t “snap out of it”. You can’t make yourself feel happier. Even when I control my thoughts (and that goes a very long way toward staying healthy; it is definitely worth doing for as long as your energy holds out), my body feels very low overall. Just…heavy and tired and…like Eeyore. ;)

What I’m taking with me into this descent is the following:
1. The depressive episodes END. They do not go on forever.
2. I regain my hold on reality during happy episodes and I am able to see clearly, once again, how God shows up in my life. This means that even when I am depressed, everything about Him is still true. It is so very difficult to hold onto this truth as a depressive episode drags on, but if I hold onto it as long as I can, I do believe I will be able to hold onto it a little longer into each depressive episode.

Being bipolar is a constant drain on energy resources. When I’m hypomanic, I have to guard against poor judgement, impulsive decisions, and superstitious-type thinking. When I’m depressed, I have to work hard to do simple things like changing out of my pajamas, cleaning house, honoring obligations to other people, and controlling my thoughts. The only time my mental energy gets a break is when I’m in between episodes, which rarely lasts more than a day.

This is my introductory post to bipolar. I would like to write more about it, to help people who suffer from the illness and to help people who DON’T suffer from it understand those who do.

The hardest part about being bipolar is when people don’t believe you’re experiencing what you say you’re experiencing. Healthy people take it for granted how easy it is for them to stay rational, with a clear grip on reality. My favorite analogy about bipolar is one I just heard in the last two weeks. When you can’t see clearly, you put on glasses. Bipolar is “not seeing clearly” and even though people around me are seeing clearly, it doesn’t help ME to see clearly. Medication is equivalent to glasses that help clear up poor vision. And this leads me to another important part of being bipolar: I MUST surround myself with people I TRUST who also see clearly. This way, when my vision suddenly gets warped, if I don’t catch it myself, I can trust the people who love me when they say, “Hey Fæ…you’re a little off…”

I will be writing future posts about how you can help someone who’s bipolar as well as tips for people who suffer from bipolar themselves. If you are bipolar or have experience with it and you would be interested in writing a guest post for my blog, please contact me.

I will leave my readers with this: PLEASE believe someone when they tell you how they are feeling and what they are thinking. It is not enough to simply say, “Well that’s not true so stop doing/feeling/thinking XYZ.” A more helpful response is, “I believe you, that you are doing/feeling/thinking this way.” And then proceed to figure out what is the best way to help them. Some people just need to be validated and that is enough to move on. (I am often one of those people who simply needs to hear, “That is a very scary feeling and I’m so sorry you feel that way. Please trust me when I tell you that it’s not reflecting reality.”) Some people need consistent therapy to change negative pathways in the brain. Some people need medication. And some people (MOST people) need some combination of those things.

Feel free to comment with your own experiences or with suggestions for things you’d like to see in future posts about bipolar. I would also be happy to answer questions in the comment section. :)

To be continued…

** For those of you who may be concerned about the bleed-through of symptoms that I mentioned, I am in the care of a doctor who is going to help remedy this issue for me soon. :)