What it’s REALLY like to be bipolar

I love this picture because, a) it’s hilarious, and b) there’s so much truth to it.  As its name suggests, bipolar is an illness of extremes.

Thanks to an accurate diagnosis, medication, therapy and lifestyle choices, I don’t experience as many of the typical highs and lows as I used to.  However, I still get a little manic (literally!) about things sometimes.  I often have to tell myself to slow down when I start getting super into organizing the closets or some other activity.  Sometimes it will dawn on me after I’ve done 17 tasks that perhaps it’s time to stop and rest.

Because of the “bi” in “bipolar”, depression is also very much a part of living with bipolar disorder.  Bipolar Disorder Type 2 people never get fully manic (thankfully), but we do tend to spend more time on the depressive end of the spectrum.  I’ve learned that all I can really do during these episodes is to keep chugging along and avoid self sabotage.  Thankfully, it always passes.

Bipolar disorder is so much more complicated than the two extremes, though.  For me, having bipolar disorder means that I get easily overwhelmed.  The bipolar brain is a more sensitive brain and actually looks different on brain scans than normal brains.  (Footnote 1.)  Bipolar brains “light up” in ways that normal brains do not.

A bipolar brain also feels things very intensely.  When my daughter yells from the bathroom, “My pee is lellow!”, my whole body smiles.  When I snuggle my puppy, I am immersed in her soft fur and her sweet puppyness.  When I hug my husband, I smell his skin and fully feel his presence as my companion and best friend.  When my son feels full of despair after getting in trouble, I also experience his despair.  When I step outside after the rain, I inhale the fresh air and marvel at the unbearable beauty of God’s creation.  When the kids are fighting and screaming, my whole body is filed with anxiety.  Medication helps “turn down the volume”, so to speak, but it isn’t a cure. Being bipolar can be many things, and it is often overwhelming.  I take a lot of naps.

When I keep my life manageable and take care of myself, though, my moods remain fairly stable and I feel pretty good.  The minute I overschedule myself, though, it’s like somebody starts turning up the volume in my brain.  Sounds are louder, smells are stronger, and colors get brighter.   I feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop and want to cover my ears shouting, “SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!”  My mind hops on the hamster wheel of useless thoughts and it becomes harder to let things go.  I became more reactionary and less patient with everyone.  I lose perspective and feel anxious about everything.  In essence, I start to feel a little crazy.

There is a definite bright side to learning to live with this disorder, though.  I am very clear about my priorities.  My health always comes first (or at least it should), because without my health, I’m useless.  After that, I make time for my husband, my children, a few VERY good friends, a couple things that bring me joy (like my puppy, this blog, church, nature, etc.), all the necessary tasks of daily life, and that’s about it.  I say no and sometimes people are disappointed, but I can’t afford for the wheels to come off my mental bus.  Having bipolar disorder forces me to make intentional choices about how to spend my time and energy.

Learning to embrace my disorder, further, has been a very empowering experience.  Once I started attending a mental health support group and met other people like me, I started to realize that it’s okay to be me.  Being okay with what I am helps me be okay with what I’m not.  After all, I believe that God made me, and God doesn’t make mistakes.


Footnote 1:  http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/news/20041130/new-brain-scan-may-diagnose-bipolar-disorder#1

5 thoughts on “What it’s REALLY like to be bipolar

  1. Love how well you write, especially in describing living with bipolar and backing your descriptions up with science.

    BTW, I have a BA in Legal Studies from UC Berkeley. Since you’re a Stanford grad and an attorney, guess that makes us rivals (in only the best collegiate tradition).


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