Living with bipolar disorder is more than mood swings

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Once diagnosed, the coping methods – whether they worked or not –

helped  me to understand myself and work my way towards a better life

FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE, I have been concerned with my mental health. Unfortunately, with very few resources as a child, I resorted to Google searches alone.

First, I thought I was schizophrenic. Then I thought I had dissociative identity disorder, and then I thought I had several personality disorders. Therapy was hard for me, as any therapist I saw would refuse to diagnose me further than depression and anxiety. I was scared, scattered and clinging onto any label that I could.

After long discussions with my mom, more refined research, a lot of thought and consideration and psychiatrist sessions, things clicked. I, as well as my psychiatrist at the time, came to the conclusion that, much like my mother, I had bipolar disorder. I was prescribed a common bipolar “cocktail” of medications and things turned around. I had been searching for so long for the answer and to finally receive one was like a weight off my shoulders.

Since coming to terms with type II bipolar disorder, I have noticed other people misrepresenting the mental illness. Think about it: how many times have you heard someone call themselves or someone else “bipolar” in jest? Often, that joke refers to rapid mood swings, from “hot” to “cold.” Because of this, many people seem to think that having bipolar is simply a change in mood.

Nick Nelson/Staff Illustration

There are also people who are unaware that there are different types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder involves depressive episodes and manic episodes, which often last for days, week  or months. Type I bipolar disorder has more severe mania compared to type II. Both types share similarities in depressive episodes.

One thing is clear for anyone who has bipolar disorder: bipolar, no matter the type, is definitely not a simple shift in emotions. Bipolar disorder is much deeper than some people think. The reason I thought I was schizophrenic in the beginning was because of the psychosis I experienced when I was young. I saw some scary things, such as blood on my hands, tall figures outside of my house, figures dancing in the dark of my room. I felt bugs crawling on my arms – inside my arms – and I heard so many voices and sounds that weren’t really there. In addition to hallucinations, I also experience irritability, disorganized thoughts, lack of concentration, paranoia and much more. Finding out that bipolar causes psychosis made things a little clearer.

There is truth in the mood swings stereotype; only, they’re much more severe than going from bummed out to feeling fine in a short time. When I am in a depressive episode, I lose interest in things I love. I don’t talk as much, I get reclusive, I feel guilty for living, and I feel disconnected from most people and things. I have a hard time waking up and getting out of bed.

When I am manic, I’m giddy. I want to spend a lot of money, stay in a hotel somewhere or leave the state. I seem happier than ever and I feel powerful. For me, manic episodes are just as dangerous as depressive episodes. I am still irritable and my mood turns sour quickly, even if the issue is miniscule.

Having bipolar disorder scares me. I am not sure if I will lose friends,  acquaintances, connections or opportunities due to an episode. I’m not sure if I will stay safe or financially well during an episode.

However, I am at a point in my life where I can confidently say that I am stable – or at least more stable than I was in the beginning. This is due to long talks with multiple therapists, many cycles of medication, and above all else, the will to improve. Without pushing myself to achieve mental stability, I could have been in a lot of trouble by now.

In an effort to control my mental wellbeing, I have tested out many coping methods – holding ice, snapping rubber bands, drawing or writing out my feelings, talking with friends, meditation. All of these methods, whether they worked or not, helped me to understand myself and work my way towards a better life.

More than anything, I want anyone suffering from mental illness to know that things can get better. Nothing is 100 percent but hard work goes into managing symptoms. Seeing a psychologist is very important. While no one knows you better than yourself, professionals can help you overcome hardships. It may take a while for a solution to come your way, but the best thing you can do is to keep working hard.