Bipolar disorder 101 (from someone with experience)

First things first: bipolar disorder doesn’t make me “crazy.” It doesn’t inherently make me a danger to humanity. I can be normal. It does take some work, but I can be normal; with medications, if I didn’t tell you I was mentally ill, you would have no idea. But here’s some information to help you understand more about bipolar disorder. It consists of depression, hypomania, and mania.

Depression, of course, is feeling extreme sadness for a prolonged period of time, along with other symptoms. It is like much more than simple sadness, however—it feels like implosion of self. Depression once made me a regular user of the crisis text line and gave me a week-long experience in the psych ward.

Depression feels like I’m stuck at the very inside of a tunnel that’s been blocked off from traffic. I can see all the cars going around me like nobody cares to fix the issue, but I’m still stuck inside the tunnel. On the other end I can’t see anything but rain. Everyone has taken the detour at the front and has thought nothing of the tunnel since making that turn. And I’m stuck inside, all alone, with no knowledge of how to fix the problem or what the problem even is.

Depression is like nothing you could imagine until you’re there. There are small, invisible demons following me around trying to convince me I’m not worthy of any happiness. I’m unworthy to have friends, so I quit texting anyone. I’m unworthy of feeling good, so I don’t waste the water of a shower. I’m unworthy to go out and have fun, so I don’t even leave my bed. I’m unworthy to be happy in any manner at all, so all I do is cry.

Hypomania and mania are the exact opposite of depression and are very similar in symptoms but differ in severity. Bipolar disorder type 2 only ever goes as far as hypomania, but type 1 experiences full-on mania and may or may not also experience hallucinations and delusions. Hypomania consists of great excitement and euphoria, but it doesn’t typically last as long as mania and doesn’t really impair your ability to function like mania does.

When I am hypomanic, my mind fights with itself. It knows it needs to slow down and focus, except it can’t help but run wild. It tries to have all the ideas at one time or the same idea over and over and over and over and over. I have to constantly move: I’ll wiggle my feet or rock back and forth or bounce my knees. And the way I have to move is just too fast—like a four-year-old up way too late. I usually type really fast, but when I’m hypomanic I type REALLY fast and have to backspace a lot. I’m told to repeat myself multiple times by all the people because I just speed through the words. Hypomania makes a mess. But, of course, all the motivation makes it easy to clean it all up once the project is complete.asdf

I have to be doing something aaaalll the time. It’s okay when I have the fabric and the patterns to occupy myself. Sometimes I go back to the piano I never touch and memorize a whole new song. Even though I’m easily distracted, I can do everything because I’m a genius! I also can’t sleep, but that’s okay because I don’t need any sleep. I can run on nothing for three days, and you wouldn’t even realize I’m supposed to be tired. We suspect I’m hypomanic right now, in fact.

Mania is soo much worse. Mania is annoying. Most annoying to experience are the dangerous behaviors that may occur: risky sex, spending sprees, reckless driving, etc.  Mania is another thing that can send you to the psych ward if it gets too out-of-hand.

Mania and hypomania, of course, have a lot more symptoms than those I’ve described in this post. But I haven’t described those other ones because I don’t have experience with those ones.

But even if you read all those symptoms, you won’t be able to know any person with bipolar disorder unless you get to know them. People with mental illness are so much more than their symptoms. They are human beings just like any mentally healthy individual. So you can read about those disorders to better understand their illnesses, but you have to get to know them specifically if you want to understand them as people.