Yesterday I wrote a post about how people in the mainstream can misunderstand what bipolar is. But what is bipolar?
The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) gives a nice clinical explanation here.
But, how does that explanation translate to what those of us who have bipolar feel on a daily basis? How does it explain our daily lives?
It’s clinical. And that’s ok. It should be clinical. But, it doesn’t describe the true challenges.
I’m medicated. Heavily in fact. And, yet, I still experience the symptoms of bipolar on a daily basis. Because I’m treatment resistant, sometimes called medication resistant. What that means is that my body will not process the necessary medications properly, and either the dosages or the medications themselves have to be changed frequently.
I don’t work. I can’t work. A therapist, psychiatrist, forensic psychologist, vocational expert and a judge have all deemed that work is impossible given my limitations. I am officially disabled according to the Federal Government. It took two and a half years, but I got there.
I don’t know what I’m going to be experiencing from one day to the next. I spend a lot of time isolating myself from others, either because I’m too depressed to handle interpersonal interactions, or because I’m incredibly aggravated from the symptoms of hypomania. Some days depression will keep me in bed all day, even though I’m on antidepressants. Some days hypomania will have me running around the house at a high rate of speed, partially accomplishing many tasks.
Some days I experience both, in a back and forth pattern. Some days I experience both at the same time. Both at the same time is the weirdest feeling in the world. Tons of energy, tons of irritation and an uncontrollable emptiness all at the same time.
I have experienced mania a few times. It’s hypomania on speed. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop moving and doing. I’m grateful that I didn’t experience the very harsh side effects of mania such as overspending and hypersexuality. But, I also had the outlet of a fast paced, time intensive job and a home that needed work. I hope to never experience mania again. I pray every day that my medications will at least keep me from that.
Imagine that you wake up. You have an incredible amount of energy and it feels so good. You start working on a project with your spouse that you both want to do and that will be so wonderful when it’s done. In my most recent case this was to get a flower bed planted. You take to this project with gusto. But you push yourself way beyond the boundaries of what you are really capable of. But, you don’t care. You keep going. You sweat, but don’t drink water. You dig, you plant flowers, you constantly move away to make sure that everything is just perfect. When everything is in, you don’t take the time to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. You start moving tools that you have no business lifting, because you still have so much energy. When everything is put away, you still can’t enjoy the fruits of your way overdone labor, because you must start doing something else right away. Too much energy in your body and it must be expended. But, at the same time you’re irritated. The conversation necessary to get this done grates on your nerves. Other people’s voices make you want to rip your ears off even though you love the people who are talking.
This is hypomania. Energized, but pissed.
Now imagine after all this is done you suddenly crash. You still don’t care about the fruits of your labor, because it means nothing to you anymore. The emptiness swallows you whole. You can’t talk. You can barely move, if you’re lucky. The pretty flowers and the work that it took to make it happen are things that you can’t bring yourself to care about. All you know now, is that no one cares that you helped. It doesn’t matter that it looks beautiful. It’s all going to die anyway. But, people still want to talk to you. Of course they do, they love you. But you can’t care. The voices still irritate you and as you sit there in a state of desperation and loneliness, and emptiness, you also start to get annoyed again. Why must they talk about the accomplishment? Who cares? You don’t. Why do they have to keep talking about how pretty it all is?
This is depression. Emptiness, loneliness and so many untrue thoughts that your brain pushes you into believing all with an absolute crushing lack of energy.
This scenario actually played out with me a couple of weeks ago. It’s called a mixed episode. Mine was also accompanied by a heavy load of anxiety. I don’t know why I was anxious. There was no reason to be anxious. There usually isn’t, but I experience it every single day, usually all day.
I’ve been hospitalized for my depression four times in the last six years. Depression will take you to places that you would never be able to think possible when you are feeling ok. Depression will make you believe that no one loves you, no one wants you around, you are a terrible burden on those people who are barely tolerating you as it is. The loneliness sinks in, the lack of energy becomes worse and worse, until you literally can’t get out of bed to do anything but go to the bathroom and even that takes everything you have. You start to realize that everyone that you love would be better off if you weren’t around. And you believe this intensely. And you start to plan. How best to kill yourself becomes the all consuming part of this severe part of depression. My plans usually revolve around talking all of my medication, but one time I planned to drive my car into a tree at a high rate of speed. All of the things that you are thinking, are of course false. And there is a thread in the middle of this chaos that tells you your brain is bullshitting you. So far, I have been very lucky to be able to grasp that thread and get help. Not everyone is so lucky.
This condition used to be referred to as a Nervous Breakdown. However, often is is now called a Major Depressive Episode. 41,000 people a year commit suicide. 90% of them suffer from mental illness.
As I end this post with the most depressing part, please let me implore you. If you are asked for help for suicidal thoughts…HELP. Sit with the person, understanding that you can’t talk their brain out of the false thoughts. Hold their hand, hug them, whatever they will allow. Take them to a crisis center or a mental health hospital and get them the help they need. You can’t fix it, but you can get them to people who can.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline (US) 800-273-TALK (8255)
Peace & Love to all of you