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Today I am enduring a heavy portion of bipolar depression.  A very heavy portion.  And I have tried in the past to explain how this feels to the people in my life.  And I have heard so many people’s stories about how they have tried to explain it to their loved ones.  And it never really quite works.  Because those three little words that we hate so much…”suck. it. up.”  come by much too frequently.

So, I’ve come up with an explanation that may help.  And by all means, let me know what you think!

First, you must stay up for 48 hours straight.  Go ahead and drink coffee, that’s not a problem.  This is just to get you ready.

The struggle begins on hour 49.

Are you exhausted? Cranky? Angry? Short-tempered?  Perfect.  You’re ready to start your day.

I know you want to go to sleep, but you can’t.  If you have kids, you’ll have to be getting them up, ready for school (whatever that means in your house) and then off to school.  If you cook a hot breakfast…you need to do that today.  And now you need to go to work.  Be nice to those customers/clients/co-workers.  They don’t care that you are running an experiment to get an idea what bipolar depression feels like.  They need things and you need to provide them.  Nicely.

Still exhausted, cranky, angry and short-tempered?  Perfect.  By now you should be feeling pretty achey as well.  Sore back, feet, hands, arms, legs, neck?  You’re doing well.

Work done for the day?  Time to get home and make dinner for the kids if you have them.

Now, often those of us with bipolar depression will be told that if we just exercise and eat right, we’ll be fine.  So make sure that dinner is very healthy and when you’re done go for a walk around the neighborhood.  Got an exercise machine at your house?  You can use that for 1/2 hour if you would rather.  If you choose to go outside, make sure you’re pleasant to the neighbors.  I know you don’t feel like it, but you can do it!  Let me just give you a positive affirmation on which you can concentrate.  That should get you through your walk.

You did well.  You may now sleep.

But, you should know that I have been sleeping, and this is how I feel.  I had to take you to dangerous levels on sleep-deprivation to make you see just a little bit of how my bipolar depression makes me feel.

This morning I had therapy.  I went, because I knew in my mind, somewhere, that it was necessary.  I pulled into the parking lot and just sat in the car.  Because the exhaustion had overwhelmed me and I needed to try to convince myself to get out of the car and walk to the office.  When I came out of therapy there was a UPS truck parked behind my car.  I wanted to cry.  But, I didn’t because I’m pretending happiness.  Even though every part of me is in pain.  Even though I feel like I haven’t slept in days.  Even though my memory is shot from the medication I take.  If you can picture being awake for more than 48 hours and still pretending you are happy, than you might get an idea of what I’m talking about.

This little experiment doesn’t even take into account the shame and the stigma involved with having a mental illness.  I can’t work, because I can’t string together enough good (or even good-ish) days to handle work.  Plus all my doctors are practically screaming No Don’t do it!  It’s been a little over two years waiting for disability to be approved.  In case you were wondering, this is normal.

There are a string of well meaning people who have no idea what is really going on, waiting to give us their 2¢ worth of advice.  From the well-meaners who can help some people; eat better, exercise, meditate, have mantras, think positive, take meds.  To the dangerous – who hasn’t been told to stop all meds immediately?  To everything in between.  I have become angry with advice because often the people giving it aren’t listening to what I’m saying.

Read a bunch of blogs written by people with bipolar and you will quickly hear one universal problem.  Just because we have a mental illness does not mean that we never have legitimate concerns and thoughts.  Which is why I’ve tried to describe what it’s like.

I hope I have given at least one person something to consider.

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