The Downs and Ups of Bipolar Disorder
A diagnosis is just a label, no different than the one on the back of your shirt. It doesn’t matter if it says Prada or Hanes; the labels you put on yourself do not make you who you are. So why should a label someone else puts on you be any different? If anything, it should be rejected with every ounce of strength you have. I’ve had it with the system, what do they know about me anyway?!
This was the mentality I had for several years about my own diagnosis. I woudn’t speak much on the topic, save for these 3 exceptions:
- In defense of my own sanity.
- In defense of the marginalization of people with mood disorders.
- In defense of being defensive about the first 2.
If you have a mood disorder, know someone with a mood disorder, and/or have opposable thumbs then you are a human being. Mental illness is more common than you think.
I wrote this article to provide first hand insight on bipolar disorder and how varied it may be for each person with the diagnosis at different times in their lives.
Here are a few experiences that have taught me that “life is managed,” not cured:
Depression is the world’s heaviest light switch.
2006 – Being 16 had never been more sour.
I was hospitalized after having an emotional breakdown in school. It was like a nightmare come to life. I was in and out of 2 different hospitals for 4 months. When I left the hospital my girlfriend had a new boyfriend. By the end of the year I had gained 50 pounds (yes, 50), a bit too much weight for a skinny football player to put on in 6 months. I didn’t want anyone to know where I had been, but rumors had been circulating about me ‘going crazy’ and being ‘in the hospital’ while I was away. My last 2 years of high school were not very fun. I kept to myself a lot more, rather than being the happy random and animated personality I once was.
Depression feels like wanting to watch TV during a blackout. No matter how much I would have liked to turn on that TV, I knew there was no point in trying because the blackout was going to last forever. The further I went down “What’s the Point? Road” the longer it took to find the point to my life. I wanted to be happy again. I got there eventually, but for a while it felt like happiness was impossible.
I’m so happy, ‘cause today I’ve found my friends. . .
May 2012 – I was writing a paper during finals week of my senior year in college. I got sidetracked a few too many times on Facebook and Tumblr. Things got a bit out of hand. With bipolar disorder, mania is not exactly an ‘anti-drug’.
I took an adderral that I got from a friend on campus.
“I feel better; more focused,” I thought to myself.
I started getting tired in the wee hours of the morning; I took a 5 Hour Energy.
“I feel better, more alert.”
I finish my paper.
“Wow! I feel amazing! Let me try another adderral. Time to celebrate!”
[45 minutes later . . .]
“HOLY SHIT THIS IS GREAT. Another 5 Hour Energy wouldn’t hurt, right?” I thought out loud.
[Now approaching 5:00am]
“YUPPPPPPPP. Man-I’m-bored-and-hyper-with-not-much-to-do-BRB let’s take a stroll around the neighborhood at dawn! One more addreall though!”
That day I was OD-ing on adderrall and 5 Hour Energy shots. I took a walk around Queens before the sun rose and saw a teenager getting beat up by two other young men. I started bolting toward my house to avoid getting hurt myself. Halfway there I changed directions so that I was still heading home, but could catch the two perpetrators fleeing the scene and beat them up myself if I saw them. I was feeling righteous; a feeling I tend to have when my mind and heart are trying to outrace each other.
Bottomline to this story: Use recreational drugs AT YOUR OWN RISK. Be careful, use discretion. You just might give yourself a large dose of mania.
Mania and depression are in the mind of the beholder.
January 2013 – I’m the lead singer of a rock band. The morning before the biggest show we would have to date, I was upset over a conflict at work. I quit my job over the phone in very badass and rude fashion.
For reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, I started feeling as if every minute was an hour long and my emotions started changing rapidly. I ended up crying in bed all day. I cancelled on my band, which confused and angered them, but also left them very concerned. They kept calling me back and I would not budge in my intent to sit out the show.
Eventually I snapped out of this emotional tailspin just enough to change my mind and meet up with the guys for the best show of my life. We totally rocked! It felt like there was magic in the air.
Just like the proverb about the two wolves within the mind, bipolar disorder is based on two extremes: elevated mood and low mood, happiness and sadness, mania and depression. This time was what is called a “mixed episode.”
Think of it like this: if emotions were music, a mixed episode would be like if a radio dial couldn’t stay in one place for more than a few minutes, going from classical music to heavy metal and everything else in between. Another way of understanding a mixed episode is to imagine being on a runaway rollercoaster; not very enjoyable, even if you’re a thrill seeker.
The stigma surrounding mental illness is toxic. For many people it is a taboo subject. This is why myself and countless others diagnosed with mental illness have been and will continue to be ashamed of their conditions. Simply speak about it positively and the stigma will be broken.
Life is a process. Having any kind of medical condition is no different. The same way I feel like that last sentence makes me sound like Dr. Oz, perspective is what can change anything for the better – or worse. Being diagnosed as bipolar doesn’t make you crazy, and taking medication doesn’t make you lame or boring. My perspective on my own diagnosis, mind, and life has changed over time for the better. Here’s to getting better everyday!