I’d like to start this post by saying I can only tell you what living with bipolar is like for me. I’m not a doctor – I can’t diagnose you or offer suggestions for treatment. I can only tell you what it’s like in my own head.
For me, living with bipolar is like living on the edge of a sword. I am caught in a perpetual balancing act – constantly trying not to lean too far into depression or step too far into mania.
There are things I can do to make the balancing act easier – things like medication, exercise, healthy sleep habits, and healthy eating. There are things I can do to unbalance myself – drinking lots of caffeine, staying up too late or getting up too early several days in a row, over-exercising, or not eating.
My balance is off today.
Not only have I gotten up early today and yesterday to come into the office, I’m also drinking nothing but caffeinated drinks. And I’m missing one of my medications today (an anti-anxiety med) because I forgot to refill it.
So what’s it like in my head right now?
Things are moving quickly. Thoughts spark and bloom like fireworks in the darkness of my mind. And my mind is dark. But explosive. So many thoughts, ideas, desires, and emotions! All at once! No wonder I can’t focus on anything long enough to get things done.
But my mind is dark. The depressive side is always there. Waiting to swallow me whole. There is a cavern on both edges of the blade. On one side depression, on the other side mania. Both sides can envelop me in insanity.
Quick now quick. Work and play. The holidays are coming. Plan the feast. Work some more. #projectpostcard and play on twitter. More caffeine. Be friendly with the new employees. Think about your body language. Suck in your stomach. Don’t forget your anxiety. Remember that thing you were supposed to do? Let’s think about the holidays again. Wait…
Darkness filled with fireworks. That’s what it’s like in my mind. The more manic I get, the more fireworks there are. It paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love fireworks?
I don’t. I don’t love or even like fireworks. They’re loud and smoky and they steal light from the stars. It’s hard to see straight when I have explosions going on behind my eyes. It’s hard to hear when my ears are filled with smoke.
When my mind is full of jumbled thoughts, it’s hard to actually think. Sure, you say, we all get stressed out sometimes and have trouble thinking straight. But being bipolar means that my mind is constantly jumbled. There is no straight line to find. The noise is so loud, it drowns out life.
I live in a world of extremes. I am either extremely high or extremely low. I very rarely inhabit that cool, peaceful equilibrium in the middle. Medication helps even me out, but I would not say it helps me feel “normal.”
I do not feel normal when I am balanced. When I am balanced, I must work very hard to
stay balanced. “Balanced” is just that – balanced. My normal is either depressed or manic.
Mania is not always obvious. Neither is depression. I’ve learned, through years of painful trial and error, to hide my symptoms. I hold myself in a sheath of propriety and decorum, armor so tight and fitted it is nearly impenetrable.
Today, for example, no one in the office would ever guess I’m bipolar. I know my perspective is biased and skewed (given that it’s my own perspective), but I’m being careful not to talk or laugh too loudly. I’m being friendly without being over the top. I’m spending most of my time at my desk, working, but I speak when I’m spoken to. I make good eye contact. I have a strong handshake. I’m not letting my emotions run riot, though they have fluctuated from elated to melancholic to anxious and distressed.
And when I go to dinner tonight with my coworkers, my friendly act will continue. My mania right now is mild. Manageable. And dangerous. Because I want more.
There are little things that someone who knew me really well might pick up on. Like all the cookies I’ve eaten…or the multiple diet cokes and coffees (I’m craving sugar and caffeine to feed the high). My driving will be more reckless tonight. I’ll have trouble falling asleep.
Now, were I to have a drink (or ten), all bets would be off. My mania would be full blown and out for all to see in all its sordid glory.
And I am craving that release. I’m craving the power I feel when I’m manic. But being bipolar, for me, means constantly striving for balance. It means a lifelong quest for a straight line.
The most important thing I can tell you about what it’s like to live with bipolar is that it is more than just periods of happiness and sadness. We all experience varied emotions. We all feel happy sometimes and sad other times. That’s normal and healthy.
Living with bipolar is feeling everything and nothing all at once. (This is called a mixed state.) For me, it is a head full of chaotic thoughts, notebooks full of To Do lists (with nothing checked off), and lots of grandiose ideas that I’ll never get around to accomplishing. It’s also weeks spent working in bed, lack of basic hygiene, loss of appetite, and suicidal ideation and self harm.
Living with bipolar is feeling even keeled one minute and then experiencing a sudden flood of rage and fear the next. Bipolar is never knowing what your brain is going to give you when you get up in the morning. Bipolar is living with caution, never trusting my emotions.
Being bipolar, for me, means having one, overarching goal in my life – staying composed and calm. Striving for a straight line.