Being bipolar means I am a mixture of several different things at once. But doesn’t being a person without a mental illness mean the same thing? Where do we begin to know which aspects of ourselves are who we are or what aspects are the mental illness taking over? Where do I end and my bipolar disorder begin? Or my other diagnoses begin? Maybe there is a fine line between them.
Some things are obvious. I know anxiety is a part of my mental illness. I understand that once I feel the familiar squeeze of my heart, the butterflies fluttering, all trying to escape the cocoon at the same time, while my heart is skipping a beat and a weight is squarely on my chest. Even though in the moment I feel so bad, I know this is part of my mental illness and I know it will pass. Even if in the moment I feel so terrible.
I understand that when I go days and weeks with only sleeping 1-3 hours each night, that this is also a part of my mental illness. I also know that this lack of sleep will cause more problems for me and will change me for a while, but eventually with the help of prescribed medications I will get some sleep, maybe not what someone would call normal. But normal for me, for my circumstances. It always comes full circle with my illness, from no sleep, to normal sleep (normal for me) to sleeping too much and back around to no sleep, or very little sleep (maybe not in that order).
When the mania hits, it is surprisingly not always obvious in the beginning. Because I feel so good that I finally think I am doing wonderful. The cloud is finally lifted and I am no longer in that deep dark pit, struggling to breathe. Sometimes the mania comes after a nice long bout of stable balanced mood. I still do not realize I am beginning a manic episode right away. Usually, it will depend on the spiral up. How fast it is, how hard or bad it is. Or if either of my friends or family actually tell me that I am becoming manic or “getting sick/not well”.
The beginning of mania/hypomania feels good. Maybe some of you are shaking your heads ‘no’. But for me, yes. I love the beginning of mania. I am much more active, I have projects that I am researching or completing, I am writing more and more. I am cleaning and cannot sit still. And I am losing weight. I feel so great.
But that soon spirals out of control. Talking so much and so fast that people are asking me to repeat myself because they no longer understand what I am saying. Jumping from topic to topic, such randomness in my speech. Not able to sit still at all, even when lying in bed I am shaking my leg or tossing and turning, which frustrates my husband.
Paranoia over things that are just ridiculous when I am stable. Shakiness. Sleeping less and less until I am sleeping an hour or less a night, but I do not feel tired, and I feel like I do not need to sleep. After all if I am sleeping, I cannot write, or clean, or do things. Not to mention that my body feels like it actually does not need the sleep, I am not tired, I am actually wired.
But the control that I think I am exercising is not me controlling the mania, but instead the mania controlling me. I do what it tells me to do. I know this now, as I sit here writing. But in the beginning I feel in control. I feel like I am controlling the mania, that I am doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. I feel like I am in such a fantastic place when the mania begins. I feel like my heart, soul, mind are beginning to spread wings and fly.
But then, the mania controls me. It begins to dictate what I do, when I do it. It makes sleeping near impossible. It makes my speech hard to understand, it makes my mind jump all over the place. It dictates everything that I do. It pushes me further and further to the edge, further and further from the balance line that I once walked. And I can almost hear the mania laughing at me, watching me spiral more and more out of control, becoming dangerously close to being hospitalized again.
The depression, for me, is the absolute worst. I hate how I feel. I literally feel like I am drowning and all I want to do is crawl under some rock and not have to do or deal with anything. I feel tired, I feel heavy and I hate myself. I begin having thoughts of self injury, and I mentally degrade myself. I find it hard to get out of my own way to do anything. It begins getting worst and worst. With the depression, after 3-4 days I know its depression for sure, it is much more obvious to me than the mania is in the beginning.
I know this is because the depression makes me feel so bad and because the mania feels so good in the beginning days, even weeks.
But I am not sure I even answered my own question, “Where do I end and my bipolar disorder begin?”. Because you know what, it honestly does not matter to me.
It is all a part of who I am, a giant part. And that is okay.
Not all bad days are depression. Not all fantastic days are mania. Sometimes it’s just a bad day, and the next day will be fine. Sometimes a fantastic day, is just that…..fantastic.