The name says a lot.
To me it means being inherently abnormal – a constant work in progress where the potential for chaos is never far away. And I’m cool with that.
I see bipolar like an old war buddy. Every once in a while we get together, drink too much, reminisce about the old days and do something incredibly stupid.
Over the years, we’ve singed our hair on the stars, and scraped our faces along the pavement. But through it all, we’ve continued marching on.
There are two parts to my buddy – the ups and the downs. I struggle with both almost daily.
Depression is the easier of the two to deal with because it’s largely internal.
I sleep more. I eat more. I talk less.
I back out of commitments and lose interest in the people I love. However, the real trouble begins when that isolation becomes deprivation and the voices start.
“I hate my life.”
“I hate myself.”
It used to fully consume me. But I recognized a pattern – I realized that these negative outbursts in my head were literally just a tic. I could manage it, but I had to simplify it.
Because these bad thoughts arise only when I’m depressed, I boiled them down to a single, terrible word – hate.
When I hear that word in my head, I just say the word love. It’s a very Gollum vs Smeagol way of dealing with things, but it cancels the negativity because love conquers all.
It took a lot of reflection and determination to get to this point, but when I saw the patterns, depression became far less threatening and more of an inconvenience.
Mania is awesome, and way more dangerous.
When I’m up, I can do no wrong. I’m personable, productive, prolific, and prone to party.
When I’m manic, there is no cutoff switch – no circuit breaker. There is a very real risk of destroying myself or my relationships… again. I’ve had to rebuild a few times, and it’s never easy.
Mania also goes hand in hand with substance abuse, and chasing a completely uninhibited state of mind.
This is a terrible coping mechanism, but all those pent up bad thoughts and feelings, all that repressed kinetic energy – it builds up on the brain.
Mania whispers convincingly, “It’s cool. Let it all out.”
So, I acquiesce. I do stupid things. I say yes to everything. I take on too much at work. I spend money I don’t have. I buy two drinks for last call.
And then, when the mania subsides, I feel empty and horrid and stupid.
But, I see the patterns now. I’ve been through enough cycles to know when I’m slipping and reel myself back in… usually before I’m too far gone.
It all comes back to self-awareness.
TALKING ABOUT IT
It took me a long time to get to this point, because I’ve had some really bad experiences in the past.
I remember working at a call centre here in the early 2000s and approaching my supervisor about being severely depressed. His advice was to talk to somebody else about it – saying it wasn’t the time or place to have that discussion.
When I was rushed onto the psych ward at the Old Vic hospital a few months and a job change later, I was fired over the phone from a local life insurance company for missing work.
That was pretty common for the times, but made it really hard to open up for many years.
I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care who knows. It’s a great place to be.
Talking helped my family and friends understand what was going on inside me.
It helped me understand what was going on inside me.
Hopefully, it will help people like me know that they aren’t the only ones dealing with bad thoughts that are hard to control.
I won’t say it’s normal, because I have no idea what normal is.
LET’S TALK ABOUT MEDS
Life before meds was hedonistic bliss. I was living in a world that revolved only around me. I did what I wanted when I wanted and had no regard for collateral damage.
I know… classic mania, right?
However, in the cold light of day, when the ups subsided, I was left with only my thoughts to keep me company. I was utterly and completely alone, and the only remedy at the time was to party as much as I could to never have to deal with it.
A trip to the psychiatrist sorted me out. I was told point blank that if I continued that way of life, I would be dead – soon.
Sufficed to say, I actually listened. I can say my life is much more stable on medication than it was without.
One thing scares me about daily meds.
So far as I know, there is no exit plan.
The rest of my life – from my sleep schedule to my bathroom schedule – will be regulated by pills.
Meanwhile, I’m full of questions.
What the hell is this doing to my liver?
How has my brain been handling the absorption of my meds?
Considering I also drink and smoke (sorry, doc), how long can I keep up an unhealthy lifestyle until my kidneys fail?
My dad (rest in peace) had his kidneys fail in his forties. Years of detox drugs, anti-depressants and alcoholism took their toll, and ended in the most tragic way possible.
He killed himself at age 50. I was 14.
I only mention it because dad was manic depressive as well.
And so I ask myself regularly…
Is that going to happen to me?
Not if I have anything to say about it. I have seen the results of self-destruction and that alone provides me with the strength to fight.
I love my life, I love myself, and I love the people around me.
For anyone just diagnosed with or currently struggling with bipolar disorder – I’m not saying this to scare you.
Rather, I just want to get the point across that this is manageable and that your quality of life will not suffer because of BP. If anything, it makes life much more interesting.
So face it head on. Keep track of your cycles.
Pay attention to patterns.
Learn when you’re up and when you’re down.
And when that old war buddy comes knocking, don’t be afraid to answer the door and let him in.
Just lay out some ground rules, and be ready to shout LOVE when all he wants to do is hate.
If you need help and don’t know where to start looking, here are some great local resources and hotlines to call.
London Middlesex Suicide Prevention Council: 1-844-360-8055
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Canadian Mental Health Association Reach Out: 1-866-933-2023
Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600
If you are in a serious life-threatening crisis, call 911.
Feature photo by Gerard Creces