Bipolar Disorder, sometimes called Manic-Depressive Illness, is a brain disorder characterized by extreme shifts in emotional mood and energy. (Read more about Bipolar Disorder and the four basic types of Bipolar here.)
I live with Bipolar I. It’s not romantic or fun. When I was drinking, my emotional outbursts were truly insane. My poor husband dealt with the bulk of my abusive behavior. Now that I’m sober and my medication is working properly, I still struggle to contain my anger and other strong emotions.
The emotional mood swings are not like surfing. They’re not like anything peaceful. They’re like getting cold-cocked by a 350-lb linebacker. They’re like a strong laxative that hits at the exact wrong moment or like tripping off a treadmill at 7 mph.
And that’s not even the fun part of Bipolar I.
The manic episodes are different from the mood swings. Manic episodes are periods of very high energy. These are the times when I take on the world. If I sleep at all, I sleep very little. I talk faster and laugh louder. Everything speeds up. Things get done. Everything is happy. And then.
The long night of depression sinks into my brain. This is my usual state of being. The depressive cycles of Bipolar I can last for months or even years. It’s a dangerous place to be. The thoughts are dark, often suicidal. My urge to self harm rises, and it’s difficult to concentrate on work and other day-to-day tasks.
This is where I am right now. The crash is happening almost in slow motion this time — the darkness edging in unhurriedly, which somehow makes it worse. Like a slow, miserable dying of the light, my energy is fading, my emotions are becoming dull, and my desire to do things I enjoy is succumbing to an overwhelming boredom with everything. Soon I will be numb, moving through life without pleasure or pain, stuck in a gray state I like to call the Void.
Dramatic, isn’t it? I get that way.
There are things I can do to lighten the grayness. It’s not easy to do them when I get this way because the last thing I want to do is get out of bed, but if I do them I tend to feel a little bit better about myself and life in general.
- Get a shower
It seems like such a simple thing. I bet you do it every day. Well, sometimes the last thing I want to do is take all my clothes off and get wet. For some reason, it is the most onerous of self care chores.
But I do it…sometimes…and I do feel better afterwards.
You know those endorphins they talk about that are released after exercise? Yeah, those are real. The more I exercise, the more exercise I want. Even if all I can manage is a short walk, it still counts.
I restrict myself when I’m in a depressive state. Hunger is a physical sensation that I can feel when I’m numb to everything else. So staying on a good diet is important. Healthy fats are key, and I’ll up my dark chocolate allowance to increase my serotonin levels.
My need for sleep increases when I’m depressed. Being depressed is physically exhausting. Everything takes more effort. Getting up in the morning, working, going to the grocery store, getting the mail…all the little things that get done during the day add up to complete exhaustion.
The fact that I was awake and breathing today means that I need an extra hour of sleep tonight.
Therapy for me serves as a litmus test for my perception of the world. When I’m depressed, I view everything in a very negative light. I need someone to remind me that I’m looking at the world through the lens of depression. My perspective is skewed, so I let other people see for me.
- AA/NA Meetings
It would be so easy for me to pick up a drink or a drug when I’m depressed. The desire to feel something (anything) different is so strong, almost nothing can conquer it.
That’s why I go to an AA or NA meeting every day. My sobriety is the most important thing in my life. I must put my recovery first or I will lose everything.
Right now, I’m okay. I’m still functioning. I’m struggling to concentrate (it took me two days to write this post), and my desire to do things I used to enjoy has diminished. But I know what’s going on. I know that I’m crashing.
And I’m braced for the crash.