Living with bipolar disorder is the equivalent of being on a never-ending rollercoaster ride. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by extreme ups and downs or highs and lows. The highs are known as mania and the lows are known as depression. Various emotions make up the mood swings. These mood swings are also known as episodes.
Every time I try to explain to someone what it’s like to live with this disorder, I feel myself getting choked up. How do I explain the extreme mood swings or the numerous suicide attempts? How do I talk about my failed relationships and my constant job changes due to having bipolar disorder? How do I tell them about the depression so severe that there are times I can’t even get out of bed? This disorder is highly complex and while there is a vast amount of things I want others to know about it, these are the ones that mean the most:
- It’s more than your everyday ups and downs. While everyone experiences ups and downs, what individuals with bipolar disorder experience are more severe than everyday highs and lows.
- There is no cure for bipolar disorder but there is treatment. Effective treatment for me consists of medication and therapy. The medications I take are not “happy pills”. For my meds to work properly I have to take them every day. The medication works by changing the chemicals in my brain and stabilizing my moods. This allows me to function and do everyday things like working.
- Just because I have a relapse does not mean I’ve stopped taking my medicine. Nothing annoys me more than being asked if I’ve been taking my medication. Also, I’m allowed to have a bad day without it being caused by an episode. I can have an “off” day just like anyone else. A bad day does not mean I’m experiencing an episode.
- When I’m experiencing a manic episode, I tend to push others away. I feel as though I don’t need anyone. My confidence increases and I have high levels of energy. During mania, I speak rapidly and have been known to switch from topic to topic. Most times, my thoughts are moving so fast that I can’t keep up. I’m extremely irritable and get frustrated easily. In the past, I’ve engaged in risky sex because mania can cause hypersexuality. I make impulsive decisions and end up regretting them once the mania passes. I generally am more creative when manic and find myself biting off more than I can chew.
- Sometimes I hallucinate. There are times during very severe episodes that I’ll hallucinate. I may have auditory or visual hallucinations. I also have delusions and will believe things are happening that aren’t true. For example, once during a manic episode, I believed I was pregnant and tried to cut the baby out of my stomach.
- Depressive episodes are severe. Most times I have trouble doing basic things such as taking a shower and brushing my teeth. I feel the need to isolate myself, again, pushing others away. When the depression sucks me in, I feel stuck. Most times when I have a depressive episode, I experience suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm. During depression, I also get excruciating headaches.
- It’s not an excuse but it is an explanation. While having bipolar disorder is not an excuse it is an explanation. My illness isn’t an excuse but it explains my reckless behavior.
- I can’t and will never be able to just snap out of an episode. When I’m experiencing an episode it’s not easy to “think positive thoughts” or to snap out of it. This disorder takes a toll on every aspect of my life. When I’m in the middle of an episode, I can’t just turn it off.
- This illness is a part of me but not all of me. It does not define me. I am not bipolar, I have bipolar. It’s a major part of my life but it isn’t all there is to me.
- I’m not crazy. There’s a stigma associated with severe mental disorders such as bipolar disorder. Those of us living with the illness are often portrayed as crazy. This is hurtful and further adds to the negativity we already feel and receive.
- Symptoms vary. Every person who has bipolar disorder doesn’t act or experience the same thing. My episodes can look different from someone else’s that you know.
- Support. One of the best ways to support me is by listening and being compassionate. If you don’t live with this disorder you’ll never truly understand but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn the ins and outs of bipolar disorder and how to help.
Living with bipolar disorder has been a struggle. While the rollercoaster ride does slow down and even stop at times, I still have to take care so that I do not expose myself to potential triggers. Aside from this, one other thing that’s helped me manage is keeping track of my moods and daily habits. I used to think that every time I’d hear a doctor or anyone say that it’s possible to live with this disorder, that they were feeding me lies. I have my setbacks, but I’ve realized they were right. It takes time to find what works for you because bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions impact everyone differently. There is help and it may not get easier, but I’ve witnessed it getting better.