February 12, 2013 by neverknowinglyserious
So this is something I wasn’t sure whether or not talk about on here, but it’s an anonymous blog anyway so who cares?
Around a year ago now, I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. It also used to be called manic depression. Same thing different name. Wanna know how, why and when? Well you already know when, I just said, but want to know the other two? Then read on, brave warrior.
This time last year I was in a relationship with a beautiful girl, I was doing fairly well in college, expecting to get the results I needed for uni, and I had just got a new phone (important detail, that). So you’d think that I’d be very happy. And I was for a bit. But in the months following, I slowly began to develop signs of depression.
Let’s back up a bit at this point. Years before this, I had experienced similar feelings numerous times. I had never tracked my mood and tried to fix it because I accepted it as normal. I would often spend hours thinking about suicide and spend weeks lacking energy and motivation. You know how in Harry Potter, the Dementors suck all the happiness out of people? It’s like that. In fact, J.K. Rowling wrote the Dementors as a metaphor for depression, fun fact for you there. Depression is not simply feeling upset, but a total feeling of helplessness, worthlessness, and a sense that you simply can’t keep going. You forget all the happiness in your life and all the negative stuff rushes into your mind, one bad thing after the other. Put simply and frankly, it’s your brain trying to kill you.
But despite feeling like this so much, I didn’t do anything about it because I thought it wasn’t bad enough to count as depression. I guess there was this massive stigma around that term and I didn’t want it to apply to me. So for years I just put up with it and didn’t do anything to try and help it at all.
What distinguishes bipolar from regular depression, though, is the fact that there are two extremes in mood. The opposite to depression, in medical terms, is mania or hypomania. These are two different things, but I will only be talking about my own experiences with hypomania. Hypomania is simply a less extreme version of mania. I have not experienced full mania so I can’t give a proper first person account of it.
If you met me a few years ago during what I’m now certain was a hypomanic phase, you would never guess I could ever be depressed. No, I was the most optimistic person in the world! I was absolutely convinced I was going to be rich. Literally, in my mind, there was not a single doubt it would happen. I was going to be a successful entrepreneur and make £100 million. None of this is exaggeration, in fact if anything I’m understating it. I would have a new idea every day, I read up on all sorts of books, and I was convinced I saw the world in a special way which gave me almost superpowers. I literally thought I was special, destined for this fate. I was so happy all the time and in my mind I was already there, I had already done all this. It’s such a hard thing to really explain because it’s not easy to help anyone who’s not experienced it understand it. But you know those people who think they’re god? It was a lot like that basically. I had unlimited energy, unlimited motivation, unlimited creativity, and I felt like I had unlimited potential. I woke up every morning feeling like I was the best thing to ever happen in the world.
Now in this particular instance that episode faded away slowly, leaving me feeling worse and worse as the whole mindset, the certainty, and this dream that had gripped me for so long just slipped out of my hands. I tried to hold onto it for a good few months after that but it never worked, the motivation was gone. I doubted all of it for the first time and when I came back down to Earth I realised how utterly stupid I’d been. I was slightly down after that but nothing major happened luckily – it’s common to fall back into depression from such episodes.
During these two extreme phases I’m two completely different people, and part of the reason I was so slow to seek help for this is because once the depression is over, and especially once I become hypomanic, I convince myself it will never happen again and I guess I trick myself into forgetting the emotions I felt. And that’s if I even bother thinking about it, because it’s more likely I’ll be too caught up in how I’m the best person in the world or something.
Now back to last year. This is when things got really bad. I’m not going to go into detail about it all because quite frankly I don’t want to. But essentially, this part of my life involved me becoming very depressed, hurting myself, convincing myself that everyone was conspiring to hurt me (including my own family), ruining that relationship I mentioned before, and just generally fucking up anything I could. Now I’ve always been a paranoid person but usually that comes down to making sure the door’s actually locked more than once before walking away from it and checking my computer for viruses often. In this state, though, I got very worried and fixated over tiny insignificant things that happened years prior, I thought the internet was out to get me, I thought my parents were out to get me, I thought so many ridiculous absurd things.
This is called paranoid delusions, and it’s not the first time I had them either. In another rather hypomanic part of my life a few years prior, I went absolutely mental (quite literally as it turns out) if I didn’t get replies to e-mails within five minutes. If it took longer than that I thought the person on the other side hated me. And I know everyone has silly little thoughts like that, but this overtook me completely. My whole mood dropped in an instant if I felt that’s what was happening. I fixated on it constantly until I got a reply. Thoughts like this completely controlled me. I distinctly remember a whole month where whenever I had a shower or a bath (times when I like to spend time alone with my thoughts) all I could think of was how everyone I knew actually hated me and was plotting behind my back and secretly doing things to hurt me. The more I thought these things the more I convinced myself they were true.
Sit back and think about that for a minute. You know when you hear some gossip that someone said something about you? Well imagine if your own mind made up a million different things like that and poured them into your thoughts every single day for a month about everyone you know and everything you do, constantly, and made those your most prominent thoughts and convinced you they were all true. And if you did get confirmation it was false, something new would come up and it’d happen all over again.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this can destroy personal relationships very effectively indeed. And this can happen during depression or (hypo)mania, so it could very well be the case that you have to deal with that on top of all the shit you get from depression too, like I did when I was diagnosed.
So all this got to me last year. I was 17 at the time so I was almost an adult but I was still living with my parents. I finally went and told my mum my concerns, saw my GP, saw a psychologist, then a psychiatrist, then got a piece of paper saying “you are officially fucking mental” (i.e. a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder).
Of course once I started feeling better again the NHS decided they didn’t need me clogging up their mental health services anymore and told me to fuck off. Well, more specifically, once I turned 18 (and by that time I was stable again) I couldn’t stay in the child services I had originally been omitted to and the adult services said I couldn’t be let in unless I was in crisis. So as of now I have no professional support.
I was of course offered medication, as is usually the case with these things, but I turned it down. Why? A few reasons. One, I don’t want to spend my life dependant on pills to control my moods. Two, call me crazy but I like my hypomania. It’s where my creativity comes from, and I’m a very creative person, and of course I like a feeling of euphoria, especially since I also feel so down at other times. Isn’t that why people do drugs? Euphoria? Well I get that shit for free! And you know when you want to do something but can’t find the motivation? When you’re hypomanic you always have motivation for all the amazing thoughts that race into your mind all day. It’s wonderful while it lasts. Thirdly, every one of these meds has side effects which can sometimes be fairly significant. Whether or not that risk is worth it has to be balanced out. And finally, if I take those things, I worry I won’t be me, but a zombie with very little emotion held down by lithium or something.
I will admit that during the episode that led to my diagnosis, I did want medication. I don’t feel bad about that and I don’t blame myself for it either. I was very depressed. Depression is horrible. Taking meds to fix it is better than committing suicide. My mum hated the whole idea but then she seems to think you can completely get rid of mental disorders with willpower so, as much as I love my mum, I don’t take her advice on how to treat bipolar. In all honesty, if I get that bad again I see myself getting a prescription anyway. I’ll thank myself for it later when I’m still alive. Make no mistake about how serious that statement is – half of people diagnosed with this condition attempt suicide. I’ve been very close to doing that too many times for comfort and if I can avoid it by necking a pill every morning I will.
When I got this diagnosis I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Why? Because I’d already suffered through all these symptoms for years, it’s not like I was told I had any new problems I was previously unaware of. It’s just that I had come to terms with them and was working to fixing them. Being diagnosed means you know there is support for your condition. I know it sounds weird but even just knowing there’s a name for how you feel makes it a lot easier to deal with. You know it’s not just you suffering with this and you know there’s help out there.
So how am I right now, as I’m typing this post? The answer is relatively stable. Not fully, but relatively. Compared to the horribly low depths of depression I felt before I’m perfect. But recently I wake up in the morning about to cry hoping I’ll be dead by the time the day’s over and I end each day either the same or, perhaps, if I’m lucky, extremely full of energy. This is rapid cycling. Since the episodes aren’t severe this isn’t something I mind too much. In fact it’s pretty much normal for me. I just hope it doesn’t lead to more severe mood swings. But if anyone asks how I am, I’d tell them I’m fine right now.
For the past few weeks before that, though, I had been more consistently down, and I’d not been socialising much. A friend who I’d known ever since I started uni asked me how I was since we’d not seen each other for those weeks and I told her I’d been down recently. She asked why and I told her. I let my close friends know the truth, because really I didn’t see the point in hiding it and lying to them. Later that day I went out and had a very good time with them, just hanging out and chatting then watching a film. I didn’t have any alcohol, though, since alcohol is a depressant. That’s another thing – I don’t drink anymore. But anyway, after that I felt so happy. And perhaps I rapid cycled into a bit of hypomania considering I had so much energy that after I went home I stayed up until 7am. But whatever, it lifted my mood right up, and how it’s been since then is better than what it was like before. I wanted to mention this because I appreciate it so much. Anyone who makes me happy when I feel down is someone I will like a lot.
I am now tracking my moods on an iPhone app called Optimism which also syncs everything to their site and generates mood graphs. I did this last year too. By being aware of my moods and monitoring them and recording the data I can work out what triggers episodes and whether or not I’m heading for another one. If the guys who make the app are reading this, please do an Android version, I’d be very grateful and I’m sure many others would too!
The only issue with tracking your own moods is that you have to work out what’s extraordinary and what’s just ordinary. Like if I feel a bit sad, I won’t necessarily put that down to bipolar, but where do I draw the like for that? It’s tricky. And my idea of a normal mood is probably vastly different from other peoples’ too. In fact it’s still the case that I remain uncertain as to whether or not my moods were abnormal until months after the fact, especially if hypomania is concerned. The app helps but I need to train myself to be better at this if I’m to avoid another major incident.
I think I’ve covered as much as I need to here. Why did I write all that? I don’t know really. I just find it cathartic. I like writing. And seeing all this written down in front of me helps me come to terms with it. And I hope I do a bit of good. Maybe someone reading this will know someone with bipolar and will come away from it with a better understanding. Maybe someone who is struggling with similar issues will see this and realise it applies to them (and if that’s the case, see your GP ASAP). Or maybe you’re just a normal person who now has a better understanding of mental health than most people these days do. Either way, I hope you got something out of it.