When I was diagnosed, I had no idea what Bipolar Disorder was. When I was able to know what was wrong and learn about it, my healing began. Becoming more aware saved my life. There’s so much that I wish I would have known at twelve years old, or at least my parents would have known when it comes to the world of Mental Health. I want to shed some insight on what I have learned, as well as what I have experienced living with Bipolar Type 1. Let’s start with the basics. There are three types:
- Bipolar Type 1
- Bipolar Type 2
- Cycothymic Disorder
I remember being terrified when I was told that I was Bipolar. I had stopped taking my depression medication and went off the rails. I turned into a person no one recognized. My Manic episodes started to happen more often as time went on. I went back to my self-destructive ways and ended up destroying my life for a little over a year. I apologize to my family for everything that happened back then. I was struggling with something I had no idea about. The long periods of being Manic and then switching to such an extreme low…it was such a shit show. For lack of better words.
Bipolar 1 is when someone experiences Manic Symptoms for a week or more. You get to be Manic, but you also get to be depressed. The depressive episodes typically last two weeks. Before medication, my low points were bad. It felt like they lasted for months. Before doing my research, I had no idea how to cope with my depression. Healthy coping mechanisms haven’t always been my strong suit. Then there are the times when you experience both Manic and depressive symptoms at the same time…how fun. There’s no handbook. It doesn’t just go away; you can’t be cured. This is a lifelong thing. Terrifying, right?
At first, I wasn’t a big fan of medication. Now that I’ve found the right help, I have learned just how much it helps me. For some people, it might not be the answer and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter how you go about it, it’s just important to get the help you need. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the answer to all my problems. Therapy and medication are stepping stools into your recovery. At least for me, they have helped me come to terms with my new normal. Keeping my demons at bay, ya know? It is nothing to be ashamed of. I have learned how to handle the nasty comments over the past few years. “Are you off your meds?”, is not something I haven’t heard before. You learn to accept that some people will just never understand…and that’s okay.
I like to think I am very high functioning. For instance, I have never been hospitalized. I also tend to do very well in a high-stress work environment; which I was told was “not a good idea”. Look at me, bartending and dealing with people all day. Hell yeah! Not without some kinks though. Lately, I have developed a problem with my car. The windows HAVE to be down or I feel claustrophobic. Social anxiety has also become a thing. My social life has drastically declined since I was diagnosed. This illness–for me, is all about going with the flow. Life is a rollercoaster anyway. At least now I know why mine is such a twisty one.
According to The World Health Organization, Bipolar Disorder affects about forty-five million people around the world. It is expected to shave NINE years off your life span. One in five commit suicide; most people end up having to go to the hospital or spend time in an institution. Oh, the fun things you learn while researching your disease. It was scary when I first started learning about it. I wasn’t sure how to handle it. How do I explain this to someone? If I didn’t have the support system I have now I don’t think I would get by.
When experiencing a Manic episode, one can feel very irritable. I always tend to feel super wired. Everything bugs me when I’m Manic (I can hear Tristan chewing sunflower seeds now). You tend to sleep less; lose your appetite and your mind won’t slow down. You can make poor decisions; which is my specialty. In my opinion, depressive episodes are much harder. These just get so low for me. You can feel hopeless, “slowed-down”, lose your memory. There are feelings of worthlessness…I struggle with this a lot when I am depressed. Then there are the episodes where it’s a little of both. Those suck. That’s when the “highs” and “lows” you hear about really come into play.
I spent a day once driving around Houston deciding on whether or not I was going to check myself into the hospital. My highs were so high, and my lows were so low that I was becoming scared. I honestly think my symptoms got worse when I got in my twenties. I didn’t know how to handle it. So there I sat. In some random parking garage downtown, sobbing and dodging my mom’s phone calls. I must have sat there for two hours. Ignoring calls left and right. Once the tears had gone and I could sit and think; I wiped my eyes and decided to go home. It was time to make a real change.
I went out and found a psychiatrist and started my new journey. I got on medication (seven at first), and I started doing my research. A diagnosis is a crucial part of leading a healthy life. You can’t do anything about something you know nothing about. My diagnosis saved my life. A lot of things come with this illness; for instance, I have extreme anxiety. People with Bipolar Disorder are more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol. They should try to work in low-stress environments. It starts to feel like you will be held back all your life, but that’s not true.
Sometimes it’s more than just a rough patch. Sometimes there’s something more going on. You find ways to deal with it. What’s that famous saying? Oh yeah, life’s a bitch. Then you die. Seems probable. But really, treatment and coping strategies are the way to go. I’ve gotten better at my coping strategies with age. When I was younger I didn’t know how to cope properly. I have always tended to cope through self-destruction. Becoming aware isn’t something only someone diagnosed should do though. Anyone who has a relationship with someone who has a mental illness should do their research.
When I asked Tristan just now, he said he can’t explain what it is like living with me. Honestly, it’s hard for me to explain and I’m the one going through it. It helped when I was diagnosed, at least we knew what was going on. When a manic episode happens and everything is thrown upside down, it can be scary. Never knowing what is gonna happen. Before I got on meds, my Manic episodes were killer. Then the craziness subsides and all is calm again, but everyone stays on guard…waiting for the next whirlwind. A whirlwind you know is going to come back again and again.
One of the best things my psychiatrist ever said to me was to let the people who care for you know that it is the illness they should be mad at. I’m sure the people who love me sometimes feel helpless, not in control. And the truth is, they aren’t in control. Neither am I. No one can control it. What you can do is support them. Keep them on the right track (without being overbearing). Do your research. LEARN ABOUT IT. It’s the best thing you can do. Learning how to handle the highs and lows is key.
It’s a process. It’s not impossible. Things get better with time. You learn how to handle the up and down. Your loved ones grow more of an understanding of what you are going through. Yes, life is rough but life is also beautiful. Everyone deserves to experience the beautiful part of life. Hardships are inevitable, but the good times…those are the times you truly come to appreciate. I am thankful for the life I am living now. Awareness brings growth. Growth is always good.