As much as I despise quoting Kanye right now, he summed up what it is like to live with bipolar disorder in six words: “I hate being bipolar - it’s awesome.”
Moods swing. That’s life. But it becomes a struggle when your mood swings are evidently way more extreme than those of most. That’s what I learnt about myself after being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II.
Since I was hospitalised with a psychotic episode a few months ago, I have been on the right medication, which is a low dose of both antipsychotics and antidepressants. There are side effects - I am exhausted and pretty numb most of the time. But my mood is stable. And for now, that’s the most important thing.
Bipolar Disorder II, also known as manic depression, is a psychiatric condition that causes unusual mood shifts and changes in energy and activity levels. It means my moods cycle between deep depression and high mania.
Depression is a dark disorder known to most. It leaves you with an empty feeling, longing for anything but life. Reality seems black and everything feels hopeless. Things you used to enjoy no longer make you sparkle, people you used to love being around no longer make you laugh. I personally get extremely tired on both a mental and physical level, and every step seems too much. Things like showering become a huge challenge. And when you lose all joy in life, you begin to wonder what the point is. As bipolar psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison wrote in An Unquiet Mind:
“If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living?”
Mania is the opposite. It turns you into a superhuman. Everything has meaning. Your energy level rises and your mood is extremely heightened. You are euphoric for weeks or even months on end, as if you are on drugs 24/7. Hypomania is a lighter form of mania, which can come with irritability, but mainly means being in a high mood for an extended period of time. In both hypomania and mania I felt no need to sleep or eat, I was extremely outgoing, would do everything at once, and have a greater understanding of everything than usual.
It also makes you reckless. These are the periods I will spend my money on stuff I don’t need, I’ll be hypersexual, have loads of friends that don’t actually know me, and accidentally fuck up relationships with people that genuinely care about me. It feels like being on top of the world. Like nothing can ever stop you. It doesn't matter what people tell you - their input doesn't enter your brain. You are confident, usually over-confident, and feel great about everything.
In my worst mania, people around me would tell me to slow down. The only response I could think of was: why don't you speed up?
I effortlessly started playing Mozart on the piano and reading Einstein’s papers without a single problem. I would write my best university essays in less than an hour and understand things even quicker than usual. I was out five nights a week and always surrounded myself with people. I started reading loads of books without finishing them, spending money without thinking, and doing a lot of drugs. I became friends with strangers, travelled recklessly, and lived my actual best life.
I sure as hell prefer mania over depression. But it should not be romanticised. Mania makes you cross your limits. It makes you do so much that you forget most of it, leaving black holes in your memory. You make decisions that you will regret later on. And your mind starts rushing. Your thoughts are flying through your head and you have no clue how to keep up with them. You can’t speak or write fast enough to keep up with all the ideas and thoughts you have.
At a certain point I started seeing meaning everywhere. Signs and patterns were all around me, everything seemed to be connected. I felt like I was totally in sync with the universe. And then I turned paranoid. I hadn’t slept in a month and my mind was driving me crazy. I felt like everyone was looking and talking about me whenever I went. When I read the news, I thought everything was about me. When I watched disasters on television, I thought I had caused all of them.
I felt like I had done something terrible, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had done something horribly wrong, and everyone knew about it but me. I started creating doom scenarios in my mind with myself as the main character.
Mania never comes without a crash. It will always send you into depression, or worse, psychosis. The weeks I spent in a psychotic state of mind have been the scariest of my life, and I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy.
Now that I am numb and tired I long for a hypomanic state of mind. I want to feel alive, wild, young and reckless. I want to experience everything this life has to offer and feel genuinely happy. But my psychiatrist knows it’s safer to keep me on a low level. My medication numbs me out, and that is better than mania or deep depression.
I’m not doing bad - I’m actually getting through life pretty okay. But living is hard, and it takes more effort than it should. I don’t feel passionate about things like I used to, I don’t care about things I used to care about.
Living with bipolar is about finding balance. More than anyone else, we need to find the liveable middle ground. It’s a matter of life and death, and it will be a battle for life. There is no magic pill, and though my medication helps me a great deal in staying alive, this is something I will have to learn to deal with by myself.
It is exhausting to live with and it’s annoying to be dependent on moods. It is almost like you are divided into two different people, and they make appearances whenever they want. It’s up to me to handle that as well as I can.
Living with bipolar (or any other mental illness) makes you a survivor. It turns you into a warrior. It is a battle that makes you stronger as a person. I truly appreciate the expansiveness of the human mind and I realise the way your own mind can play tricks on you. It provides me with an understanding of the extremes of life and the range of emotions that humans can go through. And no matter how dark things get, somewhere deep down I know better times are just around the corner.