I want people to understand that being diagnosed with bipolar and experiencing mania does not necessarily mean you will go out and spend all your money, go on a drug and alcohol binge, become completely irresponsible and run around hurting all of those around you. The diagnosis is complicated and when the term ‘bipolar’ is used I want people to understand it can mean many different things. Regardless of how symptoms may manifest, when someone is suffering from this illness what they need most is help and support, not judgement. I’m a true believer that if we took the time to try to understand what others are going through and used that knowledge to become more empathetic, it would make a world of difference. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always want to do this. Often I’d rather turn my head or plead ignorance in order to avoid making sacrifices because I don’t have the time or energy to be empathetic. But I’m putting this out there in the hopes that if someone with this diagnosis reads it, they will see that someone else gets it and they are not alone. If you know someone with this diagnosis maybe this will help explain where their behavior is coming from. I’ve reread old journals and below is a description of what it has felt like for me to be manic in the past. I never experienced full blown mania, but rather a hypomania as well as a tormenting mix of depression/mania occurring at the same time. Try to imagine feeling this way as you juggle symptoms, a full time job and raising a family. Hopefully it will shed more light onto this complicated disease.
My eyes feel as though they are smiling and my focus is intense. My mind is crystal clear especially when compared to the darkness of depression; but it’s too clear, too sharp, too aware. My awareness seems to float just above my body and soon I witness myself starting to accelerate. Attempts to keep up with my thoughts are fruitless because I’m always just a millisecond behind. When I speak the words flow effortlessly with energy and enthusiasm. I’m not fully attached to my thoughts or words that keep coming out of my mouth and often become jumbled. I try deep breaths to calm the runaway train my mind has become, but only my body is able to relax and even that is fleeting.
My heart swells with gratitude and joy while my body threatens to overflow with excitement. At first it feels really good and that’s ok. But as it progresses into unbalance a hint of panic threatens to creep up. I’m able to keep it at bay at first but the way it lurks is unsettling. I keep going — really going — but it’s difficult to concentrate. I have acquired the ability to get a million things done, but much of it is careless. I really don’t mind because I figure what’s the worst that could happen? I make lists of all the wonderful ideas I have. They all seem amazing so I can’t wait to get started. But I’m so indecisive. There’s not enough time to get everything done and I am unable to think through any of the ideas.
This can last for a day or perhaps a few weeks, especially when I’m lacking sleep, until finally I feel myself slowing down ever so slightly. I desperately try to hold on to all of that energy even though intellectually I know it’s not a good thing. But what’s beautiful about it is I don’t really care. As my brain starts to slow, the anxiety has more room to grow. In the dark corners of my brain I realize the direction I’m headed. Fear starts to sneak in. Will I settle into balance or sink into darkness? And here I become trapped in between. The two states mix, initiating a tug of war within my mind. I have to pace and keep moving since sitting strengthens the agitation coursing through my body as it pulls in opposite directions which causes my entire being to become infected. I want to crawl into bed and hide but that thought is maddening. I can’t imagine having to lay still and suffer alone in my head with my thoughts. I notice my fists are clenched and my fingers ache from squeezing so tightly, but I don’t let up; it gives me something else to focus on. My mind is racing. My thoughts are ruminating but my body slows way down because it can no longer keep up. I know running might help the irritation that’s taking over my body, but the thought of actually doing it makes me cringe. Something is urging me to pray and take my own advice but I can’t focus and the bottom line is I don’t want to. The idea of praying seems downright ludicrous. In fact, the idea of doing anything seems ludicrous.
I’m trapped in between with no way out. Now I’m scared because I feel impulsive. I’m unable to think anything through since nothing makes sense and I can’t fathom these feelings ever going away. I’m convinced I will be stuck here forever. My brain cannot comprehend it ever being different and it wants everything to stop. This state cannot be tolerated for very long. My skin feels like it is crawling and there is a constant buzzing in my brain. Tears come but not from sadness. They’re of desperation. They stop as suddenly as they began. Numbness settles in and now the thought of sleep is the only thing that appeals to me but I’m unable. I have to watch what I say because my brain is tired and I know if I try to have a conversation I won’t succeed. Occasionally I stutter or lose my train of thought so it’s wise to just keep my mouth shut.
I dwell on which state I’ll encounter next. It’s all I can think about. I plead with the air to keep me out of the darkness, although at least there I’ll be mostly numb and I will no longer care. I long to be balanced and content. I suddenly realize it may not be too absurd to pray so I ask God to just please let me rest. The tug of war is the most painful. I always lose. Letting go of the rope in surrender is what appeals to me most. I have no way of knowing how long the battle will last. What I do know is I won’t be able to sleep so I toss and turn for the night. When it’s time to get out of bed I’ll do so unwillingly and prepare myself for the worst. I’ll shower and brush my teeth trembling from exhaustion hoping somebody decided to pray for me. I’ll reread my lists and cringe at some of the crazy ideas I was convinced were so wonderful.Whereas the night before that list thrilled me, now it mocks me knowing, especially now, I’ll never get any of it done. It’s hopeless. I feel painfully stupid and overwhelmed by the desire to punch the wall, pull my hair out and scream at the top of my lungs; but none of that is possible because now I am finally paralyzed. It is time once again to isolate to spare those around me from this vicious cycle that may continuously return or maybe finally kill me. There’s no way to know so I close my eyes and pray for God to save me. An hour, day or maybe even a week later it will all seem like a bad dream. It stops as suddenly as it began. My mind will once again be in balance for a period of time when I can think clearly and concentrate to speak and to pray. All I can do is ask God to be with me as I take a step out into the light once again and hope I will finally remain there.
I have felt this way all in the span of a day or stretched out over a period of weeks. Today, I can hardly comprehend feeling that way. It seems like a nightmare that other people have experienced, not me. But rereading my thoughts from those episodes has given me tremendous insight into my actions and I am able to feel compassion and forgiveness toward myself and others. I hope I can be a more compassionate person who seeks to understand those around me instead of being quick to judge. I think this can be applied to all struggles. When we offer support, commit to listening without judging, and make a whole hearted attempt to consider what another person might be dealing with, we will undoubtedly make a difference and deep down isn’t that what we all want?