When people ask me what having Bipolar Disorder feels like, I don’t quite know how to respond. I can rattle off a list of my symptoms and divide them into mania and depression. I can talk about the feelings of self-hatred, the crying spells, the exhaustion, and the insecurities that accompany depression and the fast talking, racing thoughts, and anger that mania brings. Doing this is easy it, after all, they can find any of this information out by performing a simple google search.
Or I could try to be honest. Living with Bipolar Disorder is more complex than just living with a list of symptoms. It isn’t like having a cold, where the symptoms all exist, but they exist in their own respective spaces. With Bipolar Disorder, one symptom impacts another. They cascade and make the lows even lower. Having Bipolar Disorder, whether medicated or not, is a living in a series of cycles; each symptom compounding the other.
For me, mania and depression don’t exist in separate spheres. They overlap and create mixed states. Hours or days where the sadness penetrates so deeply that I find myself having anxiety about how sad I am. Thoughts rush through my head too quickly for me to get them down on paper or express to those around me how I feel. Crying spells collide with the urge to pace across my room. I walk back and forth with intent and purpose. I’m so angry that my face reddens and my hands shake. Angry at the world; angry that I am feeling so much so deeply. Eventually, I collapse to my knees as tears of frustration stream down my face as I am too overwhelmed to even recognize which emotion takes precedent. I come crashing down, a wave of exhaustion hits me. Things start to feel fuzzy as I try to make sense of it all.
Sometimes, if it is a good, I just fall asleep right then and there. But most of the time I melt into a hallowing depression triggered by the realization that I had just wasted so much time having an episode. I find myself frustrated that I had spent so much time crying, pacing; being unproductive. I think of everything I could have accomplished in that time, and become frustrated that I cannot hold myself to the standards that I want to.
Even when I’m not in a mixed state, the mood cycles were still crippling. Some days I was too exhausted and depressed to get out of bed. I would’t make it to class or work. I cancelled plans with friends because everything was foggy and the only clear thing I could picture were depressed thoughts. Thoughts telling me that because I was in bed for the day, I didn’t deserve friends, love, or success.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were days when mania would empower me. I wrote a significant number of my college papers in a single night. When truly manic, I had no self-doubt. I was driven, determined. I perceived the words “impossible” or “no” as mere challenges to my abilities. Too often, I was able to succeed. Of course, what goes up must come down. I would crash. Instability would shatter the walls that my mania had built up. The natural need for sleep would return, but it would come over me in a wave of exhaustion. This would often trigger a mixed state or a depression; I rarely went back to neutral.
In fact, it wasn’t until I got medicated that I really understood what a neutral mood felt like. I didn’t truly understand happiness as a state of being. I knew joy- I had lived a privileged life (and continue to do so) before medication and had experienced so many things. But it seems as though it was always accompanied with mania. Disappointment quickly opened the gates to depression.
Being medicated does not mean that my cycles are fully broken. I still experience moodiness that is more extreme than what is considered typical. On a regular basis I have slight bursts of mania or depression. Every once in awhile, I will be in a slight mixed state. I still have bad days that cause me to rely on those who love and care for me. Having Bipolar Disorder still sucks even when medicated, and it is something that I will always have to deal with. But being medicated allows me to deal with it by making it something that doesn’t dictate my life.