Despair- it is one of the most powerful words I can think of when it comes to describing the major depression associated with bipolar disorder. Some days you can’t find a reason to even get out of bed. When I am depressed, I reject all human contact. Sometimes something like a hug, something meant to soothe and comfort, can feel icy and meaningless when I am depressed. I find it difficult to even speak to other people. Eye contact is absolutely excruciating. I fake it, though. I fake being “okay” because the most dreaded question I am asked is “Are you alright?”.
As a teenager, I was misdiagnosed as having major depressive disorder(MDD) and ADHD. Only when I sought relief as an adult was I diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II. Both type I and type II experience crippling depression, however type I experiences periods of mania while type II experiences hypomania, a less severe form. I’m sure you could find plenty of objective articles about the disorder. I have done my research as well. I am disappointed to find none of these articles can make a reader understand how it feels. This is my goal for this article.
Monday morning, I feel exhausted, even after a full 8 hours of sleep. I think about what needs to be done for the day, and I feel an overwhelming sense of dread. I roll over and sleep for another 6 hours. Now that I have slept away most of the day, I feel guilty. Out of nowhere, I become angry. Something as simple as an open cabinet sends me into an irrational rage. While it is a nonviolent rage, I can feel my blood boil. My boyfriend puts his arm around me, and I snap at him for touching me. It’s as if my skin has become hypersensitive, and the lightest touch is highly irritating. After doing several household chores to try and burn off the angry energy, I become sad. Very sad. I hold back tears until I am finally alone, and I sob until my privacy ends. Crying in front of others is not an option for me.
This goes on every day for about 2 weeks. I am very unproductive, I eat too much, and I sleep way too much. Then, hypomania sets in. I am what is called a “rapid cycler”, meaning I alternate between depression and hypomania every few weeks rather than months or even years.
Sunday afternoon, I am finally fed up with feeling the way I do, and decide that I will finally make an appointment with a psychiatrist the next day. Then, Monday morning arrives once again. I awake elated, for no particular reason. Even though I wallowed in sadness not 12 hours ago, I feel like I am on top of the world, like I could run a marathon. I gleefully greet my boyfriend, talking a mile a minute, laughing at everything that is and isn’t funny. I get a lot done, like the grocery shopping, homework, and household cleaning. I am so worked up that I don’t feel hunger and have no desire to stop moving and eat. When I finally crash at night, I can sleep for a maximum of 4 hours before I am awake and bouncing off the walls again. That note that I left myself Sunday afternoon to call a psychiatrist is literally thrown in the trash. I don’t need treatment, I feel great! In fact, I never want this to end! The downside to mania and hypomania is the impulsive decisions, like the one to discard the idea of getting treatment. Those with an additional anxiety disorder, like myself, can get so worked up during mania under high stress that they can get panic attacks or engage in self-destructive activities.
When I cycle back to my depressive state, the first couple of days are arguably the worst. In my past, this is when I have used drugs, alcohol, or even contemplated suicide. It is a critical period for me. However, no two individuals experience the same pattern, and this is what makes it very hard to diagnose and even more difficult to treat.
At no point in this article or in my everyday life have I claimed that I “suffer” from bipolar disorder. I live with it, and so far I am doing well. I have a strong network of loving friends and family that understand what I am going through and do not criticize me for it. I am a full time mom and college student. I think that simply acknowledging that I have the disorder has helped me immensely, and I am getting better at recognizing when I am going through a mood swing. I think of it as though there is nothing wrong with me- there is just a chemical imbalance in my brain, and I am not alone.