I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 in the early spring of this year. Although I had heard of Bipolar, I had no idea the symptoms, the details and struggles that go into this particular Mental Illness for those that had been battling it every day.
It wasn’t for a few months that I even wrapped my head around this new concept and accepted I had been diagnosed with Bipolar. I took the medications like prescribed (of course, complaining about them the entire time), but most of the time I isolated myself so I could research, and research (and research) all the articles, data, and stories that I could find online to help me prove that this diagnosis was wrong…. but to no avail. As I read story after story and dived deep into understanding the explanation of this illness on Mental Health and Medical sites, I could easily say “me too!” to all the struggles and symptoms that consistently described how I was feeling, but I couldn’t articulate into words myself.
See, often people with Bipolar or any mood altering illness won’t explain to you the symptoms they experience in detail; partly because they don’t want to scare you and partly because they don’t fully understand them all themselves. It’s hard to understand a diagnosis so complex and then be able to articulate that into words. It’s hard for many reasons, but one being because some people don’t believe Mental Illness is real. It’s easy if you break your foot, go to the doctor, followed by an x-ray and then you get your diagnosis. When you are mentally ill, your ability to articulate how you are feeling, usually to a complete stranger, is how we’re diagnosed which is why so many people are unproperly diagnosed for years before Bipolar and other Mental Health Disorders reveal their true characteristics which will finally lead to proper treatment. Treatment helps, I’m grateful for it because it makes it more manageable, but treatment doesn’t cure Mental Illness.
I still have to put in work every day to make the most out of the rapid cycling mood changes that drastically change as quick and easy as walking into a dark room and simply turning on the light switch to see; that darkness becomes light and vice-versa in less than seconds. Living with Bipolar, as simply put as I can explain it, is similar to that. Your mood will change in a matter of seconds for no reason at all and usually, it’s out of your control.
The illness has a variety of symptoms which makes it even more difficult for people to get properly diagnosed. For example, I consider myself a very grounded person. I know who I am, my values and core beliefs. I know my boundaries and likes and dislikes. But, I don’t feel like I live in a ‘middle ground‘ mentally. I am either living in a state of mind called “Hypomania” or “Bipolar Depression”. Hypomania is constantly high-paced behavior and energy, accompanied by impulsive thinking where your ideas and thoughts race 100mph, you’re judgment becomes clouded and you can’t concentrate on the task at hand to save your life. It’s also coupled with heightened anxiety and can’t forget about that good old friend, insomnia, which regardless of how much sleep you get, your energy level will stay up and so these symptoms linger for 24 hours a day, weeks at a time. Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Actually, it’s exhausting. Exhausting both mentally and physically.
The other half of a Bipolar mindset is dark and isolating. During a depressive episode, it begins to feel normal to fantasize about suicide which is why people with Bipolar are 3x more likely to commit suicide. These thoughts that become horrifyingly casual are called “suicidal ideation”. It’s common that people with Bipolar are unable to explain the symptoms of these episodes. Personally, I don’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone, do anything, go anywhere, try anything, eat anything; I’m simply, extremely unmotivated. I’m sad for no reason and struggling to fight the dark thoughts that present themselves consistently, although they’re 100% uninvited. I’m irritable, anxious, fatigued and feel completely empty. If I could draw or illustrate a visual picture for you during one of these episodes to capture how it feels, it’d simply be the darkest rain cloud I’ve ever seen suddenly blocking out any and all sunlight from every area of your life. That raincloud can’t be moved, it will simply stay for as long as it intends too and in reference to Bipolar, this is the battle that most would say is the hardest about Bipolar 2.
Understanding Mental Health is important because it’ll help you understand people more. Perhaps you’ll feel more compassion next time your friend bails last minute because they’re suddenly depressed or maybe you’ll reach out more to be that friend who can pull someone out of that isolation when they desperately need someone.
Bipolar is hard, but it’s manageable. It’s a part of me, but not my entire story. Yes, I still have to find a balance in life with this new diagnosis, I don’t know all my triggers yet and I only have a handful of tools that I have developed to make it through these depressive episodes. But, in time I know that I will become better and stronger at caring and battling for my Bipolar 2 Diagnosis. I only know that because of the incredible people who boldly shared their raw stories with Mental Illness and shed light into a time in my life when I was feeling incredibly alone.
My PSA for you is after knowing that 1 in 5 people suffer from a Mental Illness, chances are you know a lot more people who struggle with similar feelings to what I’ve described. I hope you know that you can be their beacon of hope and bring light even in the darkest of times by simply listening and reminding them they are not alone. For those of you that can relate to this illness, remember that an illness like this doesn’t make you broken. It makes you strong and brave for battling your own mind every day. You have one little sparkle of madness, you must never lose it!
Wishing you all the best,