When the storm comes, it’s devastating. But storms don’t last forever – sometimes the sun shines so bright, it’s blinding. Whether rain or shine, reality ceases to exist.
So what is bipolar? It is defined as a psychiatric illness characterised by both manic and depressive episodes. Essentially, having two poles, or extremities. But in the real world, what does this actually mean? I will share my experiences of living with bipolar. I do not speak for everyone, this is one persons journey through what is a very complex illness.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with depression – wrongly so. After monitoring my behaviour, feelings, emotions and moods, it turns out I was just in a depressive episode and later that year I was told actually what I am dealing with is bipolar. My life suddenly made so much sense. The mood swings, the suicidal thoughts, the hallucinations… to have a label that explained all these strange things that had been happening inside my brain was an absolute relief. It solidified my hope that something could be done and I wouldn’t just feel out of control forever.
Its 2010 – my doctor says to me, “So, tell me how you feel.” I had one word to sum up my feelings – hopeless. There seemed to be no sentences I could form that would express the day to day agony inside my brain that I was experiencing. When faced with that question, in the moment and in hindsight of my feelings, it was hard to recall the darkness I felt. He’d been asking me for months, and I always replied with the same pathetic lie – “I’m fine.” But this time was different. “Hopeless” I said, and I handed over a journal I’d kept for three weeks. “You really need some help don’t you Rosie?” He said, and I burst into tears.
So what does a depressive episode feel like? Dark, lonely, cold. Sometimes you feel so sad you can’t bear it, but that’s better than the times when you feel nothing at all but a vast emptiness that eats down to your very core. The world is bleak. I was self pitying – “oh why does this always happen to me”, “the whole world is against me”, “this is just my luck”. I was ashamed of my emotions, I felt they weren’t valid because I’ve had a good life. I hated myself. I remember one day standing in front of the bathroom mirror, crying and just screaming hateful words at my reflection. When I was depressed, although I had a support network, I thought I didn’t. I thought no one cared, so I didn’t reach out. I kept it all inside and let it eat away at me until unspeakable thoughts entered by mind.
Then, at the flick of an internal switch, comes the mania. Example: It’s 2015. I’m sat in a doctors office and feeling absolutely insane. He leans back in his chair, sighs and says, “Rosie, do you ever feel like you have superpowers?” I scoffed. “Of course not” I said, “how ridiculous.” Then I thought about my manic episodes and how they make me feel – like my actions have no consequences. I sheepishly piped up. “Actually, sometimes I do. I feel indestructible.” I felt good. So good when you believe there are no consequences for your actions… I thought that nothing bad would ever happen to me. I became reckless. I did stupid things and made bad decisions. I damaged my life and hurt others because I was blinded by this surging invincibility.
So how do I function with bipolar? Firstly, I do have medication. I take sertraline – an antidepressant, aripiprazole – an antipsychotic and propranolol – a betablocker for anxiety. I cannot begin to describe the impact the right concoction of medication has had on my life. My emotions and moods are much more level, rather than huge peaks and troughs. Coupled with positive lifestyle changes – good diet, a little exercise and lots of sleep, this medication allows me to led a fairly normal life. I can hold down a job, I can enjoy hobbies again, I have functional relationships with family and friends.
Yes, I still have difficult times. No, I am not cured. I will live with this for the rest of my life but it’s under control. I am not just surviving anymore, I am flourishing.
A flower needs both sun and rain to grow, and I will bloom.