Mentally, I’ve written this a thousand times. Tonight is the first time I put “pen to paper” in hopes this helps someone, somewhere. As this post deals with things of a personal nature and how “I” live with them, please do not take the information in this article to be medically accurate, or a recommendation by me. Before doing anything in the course of your care and treatment, always consult with your psychiatrist and loved ones.
I’m almost 29 years old and living with bipolar disorder sucks. Anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves or isn’t taking their medication. But, you can learn to live with the disease and it will suck less. To understand why this is the case, let’s start by exploring what bipolar disorder is and is not.
Bipolar Disorder is:
- Medically classified as a mental disorder whereby the individual experiences periods of elevated mood and depression. “Highs and lows”. There is a lot in between the lines here, but people with bipolar disorder usually cycle in stages of mania, hypomania, and depression.
- (Believed to be) primarily controlled by genetics and environment.
- A condition that requires pharmaceuticals and therapy, stability in life, and a strong support system.
Bipolar Disorder is not:
- Curable – period, full stop, end of line. There is no “cure” for bipolar disorder. That doesn’t mean you can’t live a successful, happy, and full life.
- A condition effectively treated through the use of vitamins or “holistic supplements”, yoga, or meditation alone. People with bipolar disorder require medication to assist in the balancing of the chemicals in their brain. Yoga and meditation can be supplemental in one’s treatment, but not fully replace pharmaceuticals.
- Contagious – Yes, seriously. Someone once asked me this. I suppose if I were to have a child, there is a possibility they could carry the genes for bipolar disorder, if there is even a gene code for it. In the course of raising a child, being concerned about their potential for being bipolar isn’t high on the list of things to worry about as a parent, in my opinion.
- Terminal – you can’t “die” from bipolar disorder. Your actions under a depressed or hypomanic state, however, can affect your livelihood.
Before I go any further, I realize there are people in this world who unfortunately believe psychiatry is:
- Not required
- A scam or ploy to make money
If you’re one of those people, it’s likely you’ve had a negative experience with this field of medicine at some point in your life or have formulated your opinion on negative things you’ve heard from friends, “people you know”, or indie documentary films. Please understand this: bipolar disorder is a real disease that requires ongoing psychiatric (and sometimes psychologic) care for the duration of an individuals life, barring any future cure. I said it above, and I’ll say it again, treating this condition requires the use of medication that is prescribed by a licensed physician. Not “medication” (vitamins) you buy from Amazon or Whole Foods. Taking said medication is a continuous process. You can’t start a run of medication and stop when you feel better. You’ll feel like you did before when the medication wears off. You aren’t treating an infection or sickness in the traditional manner. This is a life long condition.
I was probably 13 or 14 when diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That date may be a little fuzzy because as a child, I was treated for ADHD. It wasn’t until puberty when the symptoms of bipolar became more prevalent and took over. This was a veritable disaster. Turns out treating someone who actually has bipolar disorder using medication targeted to treating ADHD will end up much like the Hindenburg did. Misdiagnosis in mental disorders is very common actually. As a young adult, the brain constantly changes and adapts to numerous situations. Common teenage angst may be nothing more than teenage angst, or it could be something more. Many disorders have fairly broad criteria that can point a doctor to bipolar disorder (or a litany of other disorders) however, it takes a trained psychiatrist – not general practitioner, pediatrician, etc – to make this determination. Of the many things I hope readers take away from this post is just that. Don’t let a “regular doctor” diagnose you. You wouldn’t let your eye doctor inform you of liver cancer would you?
So, what’s it like – day in, day out? Do the mood swings (if you can call them that) get easier to manage over time?
Yes, but it’s not a perfect system.
I said earlier that bipolar disorder sucks, and I’m sure many will disagree with my statement. To be fair, it’s not as bad a condition as others – but the key isn’t to focus on how bad it is. Doing so will only make it worse. Instead, focus on how it affects your life and work to change & adapt. Personally, this condition affects my life in numerous ways. Paired with my already eccentric personality and a mild OCD complex, the smallest thing can set me off, sometimes ruining my day and often that of everyone around me. It’s terribly inconvenient. Over time, I’ve learned to pull myself together and let it go, however it wasn’t always so easy. Living with me isn’t easy, to say the least. Especially in my younger years.
To this day I have difficulties with my sleep management and eating binges. The binges are mostly the fault of the medication, but sleep is perhaps tied with regular medication for most important in maintaining ones sanity, if you please. Without sleep, we can go manic, or worse – hypomanic. We’ll be up for days, eating minimal amounts of food, pushing our bodies to limits they aren’t meant to go. In these states, it’s difficult, if not, impossible to control what you do. Going to the supermarket for a few things becomes a 50 course meal in seconds. Looking for batteries on Amazon transforms into buying everything possible on your wishlists. The entire time, most people wouldn’t know you were like this. Unlike drugs, where you are visibly under the influence, hypomania doesn’t look that different from day to day life, to the untrained eye.
At my worst, I went off my meds for 3 years. Living on my own & working for a company who mentally drained me, day after day, I went off the edge. I lost about 100-125 pounds in <6 months, 5 or 6 waist sizes. My parents thought I was on drugs, for sure. The worst part? I have no recollection of nearly 3 years of my life. Only bits and pieces. Sometimes, things come back to me when an event in the “now” reminds me of something from my past. Oh yes, memory loss is greatly tied into bipolar disorder.
When we’re manic, we can lose semantic, sensory, procedural, working, and long term memory. It’s terrible. The effect are devastating. It’s like amnesia – except the memories don’t come back. You look back on your life and in your mind’s eye, it’s empty. Sounds terrifying, right? It’s not just the hypomania that contributes to this, it’s also a lack of sleep. Sometimes, I wouldn’t sleep for 3 or 4 days…. to me, it was nothing. I felt no different. Little did I know, to outsiders looking in, I was a train wreck.
On a daily basis, I suffer the extremes – happy and sad. Sometimes they are brief, flashes of moodiness. Sometimes they are extended. The smallest things can derail my entire day. It makes work quite difficult, actually. It’s one of the main reasons I work from home. Being around people in these scenarios gets you labeled “unstable” or “crazy” pretty quick.
Weekly, I find it difficult to sleep. I have to drug myself to maintain a constant circadian rhythm to stay mentally healthy. Ambien takes it’s toll on the body in the long term, as it also affects your memory. You do things under the influence of Ambien and don’t remember them. It’s quite interesting, actually; sometimes hilarious!
So what keeps you going? How do you manage it?
Honestly, it’s taken a lot of time to work out a personal routine for myself. And if there’s any advice I can offer anyone, it’ll be in the text below. Aside from the routine medication and a regular sleep schedule, I indulge in things that make me happy. It probably sounds funny but the truth of the matter is finding tasks or hobbies which when completed give an increased sense of satisfaction. I find particularly difficult tasks to be the most rewarding and as such have developed an unusual set of interests. The take away from this is – if you allow yourself to be unhappy and/or rely on others to make you happy, you will remain unhappy.
There are things in this world that will never live up to your expectations. They will never go the way you want them to. These are disappointments. But they can be easily overcome! Allowing something (regardless of it’s personal perceived size) to derail your entire day isn’t the way to live. Finding joy from the small bits that didn’t change, happiness from within – is the way to go. I am not religious, but I am spiritual, and find this inner light that lets me understand things when they don’t go my way. This lets me see the “other side”, where things did sort of go my way, and how I can learn from this situation.
I also have an excellent support system. My family and friends completely understand my condition and have adapted with me to make the best out of our situations. They know me well enough to know when I’m about to lose my cool, or what state I’m in – manic or depressive. Their education and training allows them to cope with the disorder more than they should have to, really. After all, they aren’t the ones afflicted.
In the end, however, it all falls back to you! You have to find things in life that interest you, make you happy, and rely on yourself to make those “dreams” or “wants” a reality. Having others do this for you won’t get you very far. The same can be said for emotional needs. If you feel you need someone to tell you that you’re worth something every day – find a family member to keep you in check. Don’t rel;y on lovers to do this. It won’t work. People come and people go.
We never fully understand the impact we have on the lives we touch and encounter, as brief as they may be, I guarantee you had an impact on someone in the least expected way. Take joy in this. It’s an excellent achievement!
Bipolar Disorder isn’t a crippling condition, but it for the first few years it will require babysitting from your Doctors, Therapists, and Family (if you have one). I suggest you find a stable social life as well. The medication may need to be changed out here and there to determine what works for you. Just remember – this is to help you. Give it a chance! Be patient!
If you’re interested in learning more about bipolar disorder, please check out the books below. I highly recommend them:
Break the Bipolar Cycle: A Day by Day Guide to Living with Bipolar Disorder
An Unquiet Mind
The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, Second Edition: What You and Your Family Need to Know
Bipolar Disorder for Dummies
For resources on bipolar disorder, please check out:
If you have any questions, please let me know!