Everyone knows about the mood swings that are characteristic of bipolar disorder, but few are aware of the many other symptoms that can come with it. With bipolar disorder type 1 (type 2 is a bit less severe), there come psychotic features: hallucinations, delusions, dissociation, etc. Here are seven features of bipolar disorder I deal with that you may not know about:
1. I never know what I can do in a day.
So I have trouble making plans. Most days are fairly calm for me, and I can act like any normal person; but days which see a manic or depressive episode are very unpredictable. Mania can cause me to be so excitable and euphoric that I become too busy to want to do anything truly productive. When I was still in school, these days would see homework go undone, chores remain incomplete; I was too active with other “more important” things like rearranging the furniture or starting new sewing projects—which are yet to be finished. Days of depression held almost no activity other than a shower and periodic uses of the toilet. I wouldn’t even eat. All of these very spontaneous episodes, along with my symptoms of PTSD and chronic pain, ultimately ended my education altogether. Luckily, most of my days now are relatively normal, and I can make some short-term plans sometimes.
2. Few people actually care.
I don’t think they dismiss me simply because of an inherent callousness; it’s more of a misunderstanding, or complete lack of understanding. People so carelessly use the term “bipolar” in everyday language as a joke. My then boyfriend was once asked right in front of me if I had been “bipolar” with him yet as a gauge for the seriousness of our relationship. Little did she know, I was being truly bipolar with her in that very moment—I was amid a depression at that point, only made worse by that comment. Bipolar disorder doesn’t just come and go with one’s feelings and desires for the moment or even the whole day. But misunderstanding the sometimes very severe disorder leads people to dismiss it as nothing but the joke it is so commonly stated as. In my experience, only people who know someone with the disorder or who have it themselves actually understand how real it is when people say they struggle with it. Luckily, I am that person some people know with the disorder, and they are understanding enough to love me anyway.
3. Sometimes I hear things that are not real.
I frequently ask my husband if he hears “those whispers” or “that baby” crying in another room. He never does, of course. They do exist, though—only to me. I once locked myself in the bathroom and called my husband to come home from work because I was certain that people broke into our apartment and were rattling the bathroom door trying to get inside to get me. It may seem absurd to others who don’t experience anything like this, but to me, it is truly frightening. After the incident, I know that the voices would not be able to hurt me in any way, but in the midst of it, I’m not so sure I believe it. Luckily, the hallucinations don’t always last very long, and I stay safe.
4. I can’t go out in public without my husband.
This doesn’t mean I just can’t go out alone. I have to be with my husband in particular. He’s the only one who knows how to deal with me when I dissociate and completely forget who I am and start to act like a four-year-old. I don’t remember these periods, and I don’t even know I’ve had one until he asks me if I know my name yet and quizzes me on random facts: his name and who he is, my brother’s name, “who is this a picture of?” etc. Luckily, he has figured out a way to handle me in those moments and loves me when I “come back.”
5. I am a burden to those around me.
This is not just something depression tells me like it does many people. This is a fact. As I mentioned, I can’t go anywhere without my husband nearby. If I want to go to the fabric store, he has to come with me, so I try not to take too long because I know he doesn’t like to be there. If I need new jeans—as I recently did after I had a baby—he has to take me to get them, and I get ill-fitting ones because I don’t want to take up too much of his time. Also, because of my illnesses, I can’t have a normal job, so I rely completely on my husband’s income for anything I need or want. Luckily, he’s a nice guy and will take care of me in any way I need.
6. I have to wear a medical ID bracelet.
Like one with “diabetes” or “epilepsy” engraved on it, I wear a bracelet to let paramedics know of the disorders I have and a note to see my phone where more information can fit. The bracelet is jingly and ugly, but I can’t go anywhere without it. I can’t use a cute wallpaper of my baby because my lock screen consists of emergency information like which medications I take. If I’m ever in an emergency situation, first responders will need to know which I take so they don’t give me something that could react badly with what is already in my system. I didn’t have it in the multiple occasions I actually did meet the paramedics. Luckily, I have one now and a phone whose screen is big enough for all the information it needs to tell someone in an emergency.
7. I’m all alone.
I’ve heard many times that “you’re not alone” because 5.7 million other people also have this illness, but the truth is I have met not a single one of them. I do have wonderful people in my life who love and support me, but they don’t truly know everything that I deal with. I am alone. This post will hopefully help others get a small idea of what bipolar disorder is like, and maybe people with the illness will feel a little less alone.