Have you ever felt as if everything in your life was going so perfectly that there was not the slightest chance of a single mishap coming your way? A time when looked your best, felt your best, spoke your best, and not a single person could compare to the rare, beloved gem that was you? Imagine that feeling and hold onto it with all your might.
Next, imagine a time when you felt your absolute worst. A time when you were so upset, without a single soul to comfort you, and you felt as if the only option with which you were left was to accept defeat, especially since you cried so much your eyes probably weren’t capable of shedding anymore tears. Remember that incredible, on-top-of-the-world feeling you just experienced a minute ago? Well, erase it from your mind entirely. It’s gone, and you’ll never have it again. Desperation is all you know now, and it’s all you’ll ever know for the rest of your days.
This destructive, life-shattering chain of events is what many people suffering from Bipolar Disorder have experienced and will continue to experience throughout their lives. At one period of time, you may feel invincible, moving and speaking at a pace with which you yourself can barely keep up and believe with your whole heart that you’re the most ingenious human being on the entire planet… then boom. As if you smacked directly into a brick wall, the next thing you know, those wonderful feelings — the highest of highs that even non-addicts would kill to chase — are replaced instantly with hatred for yourself, your life and everything in it — the lowest of lows.
“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.” — Carrie Fisher
About 5.6 million American adults, or 2.6% of the total U.S. population, have Bipolar Disorder, and while most people are familiar with the term, very few actually know what Bipolar Disorder entails. A common misconception is that a person diagnosed with Bipolar is “crazy” and changes his or her mind often, lashing out one minute and pleasantly smiling the very next as if nothing unexpected had ever occurred. Sometimes, the term is even loosely used as an insult in petty arguments as one person might accuse another of “being so bipolar right now.”
We’re here to set the record straight. Here’s what this mental illness actually is:
Bipolar Disorder, also referred to as manic depression, is a chronic condition causing unusual and sometimes severe shifts in mood, often fluctuating between euphoria and depressive states called mood episodes. These unique episodes are identified as manic, hypomanic and major depressive, and all may inhibit a person’s ability to function normally, hold a steady job and maintain relationships.
Here’s a breakdown of the three characterizations:
- Manic Episode – Life-debilitating, often causing the most noticeable states by friends and family, symptoms of a manic episode include elevated energy levels, grandiose ideologies about oneself and one’s capabilities, a need for very little sleep if any at all, rapid and exaggerated speech, distractedness, increase in goal-directed activity prompting one to participate in several unrealistic pursuits at once, and engaging in risky behavior, such as overspending and promiscuity. While ongoing treatment is required for all episodes, maintenance is especially crucial for manic episodes as more than 90 percent of people who experience one manic episode are likely to have another in their lifetime.
- Hypomanic Episode – Hypomanic Episodes involve some of the same symptoms as Manic Episodes, only they are less severe, lasting only four days versus one week or more, and they typically do not impair everyday functioning.
- Major Depressive Episode – Major Depressive Episodes are often marked by feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair. A person experiencing major depression often feels agitated, experiences changes in appetite and a loss of energy, and has relentless thoughts of death or suicide. In fact, individuals with bipolar disorder are 15 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population with as many as one in every five patients completing their attempts.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, we’re about to throw a wrench in the mix.
What most people don’t know is that there are three forms of Bipolar Disorder — Bipolar I, Bipolar II and Cyclothymic Disorder, with the most common of these being Bipolar I and Bipolar II.
- Bipolar I – A Bipolar I diagnosis requires at least one manic episode lasting for more than a week.
- Bipolar II – A Bipolar II diagnosis requires at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode.
Misdiagnosis is incredibly common because there are so many different forms of this disorder and amount of factors that go into diagnosis. Often, people have other coexisting mental issues, such as borderline personality disorder, ADHD or some form of addiction – so the lines become blurred and it can be difficult to differentiate. I know, because it took me three and a half years of confusion, the wrong medications, and misinformation from doctors until I finally found out that I had bipolar disorder. I know I’m not the only one who has experienced the long road that it took to get an answer that explained my symptoms. I also know there are others out there who are still on that road. It’s for this reason that I’m sharing my personal journey in hopes to raise awareness and let those people know they’re not alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
My personal journey to a Bipolar I diagnosis was not short nor was it easy. It was incredibly painful, confusing and self-diminishing. However, the day I learned that my feelings and actions were justified and that the root cause to the trail of madness I had created for myself was out of my control was the best day of my entire life.
I had been committed to the hospital psych ward after having a manic episode, followed by both a major depressive episode and psychosis. At this point, I couldn’t function normally, was terrified of myself and was so confused about why I was the way I was, along with who I was as a person. I had been hearing unimaginable voices in my head and was even contemplating killing myself.
Finally, I knew I needed help, and surprisingly, being committed for two and a half weeks was one of the worst and best experiences I have ever had. While initially, I felt as if I were imprisoned and surrounded by “crazy” people, I ended up meeting some of the best individuals with whom I have ever crossed paths. After hearing their personal stories and struggles, I was enlightened. I realized that we truly are not all that different — we are all humans trying to navigate through this chaos we call life. I became true friends with detoxing heroin addicts, people who had attempted suicide and people diagnosed with severe schizophrenia who were having psychotic episodes.
Although most people would have been shocked by the stories I heard, shaking their heads at these people, I felt comforted and supported by them, and I will never forget a single one of them. During a time when I felt as if I were all alone and no one cared about me, I actually began to feel loved. I stopped denying my present struggles, acknowledged my past deterrents for what they were, and began to realize that I am not simply “crazy” or a “freak,” but that I am a normal person who just happens to be facing a challenge — one that I became determined to overcome. As every other individual in this world encounters his or her own roadblocks, my mental illness happens to be mine.
I still have a long way to go on my journey to embracing all the cards that I’ve been dealt, and I believe that in order for me to reach a state of true acceptance, I must continue to support others who are suffering just as those patients in the hospital supported me. I never want anyone to feel defeated enough to waive their fight. I believe that we are all in this life together, and I would never want anyone else out there suffering to feel as crazy, lost and alone as I did. But in order for me to fully accept my disorder and recognize it as simply a part of me — rather than what makes me, me — I too must reaffirm to myself again and again that I will never be alone.
My actual diagnosis and the confusion leading up to it is only one piece of the puzzle. Now that I know I have bipolar disorder, it seems as though who I was before is from a different lifetime. I’ll confess, I even find myself missing those high highs at times. There is a whole other side to my story, and to me — the confident, sexy, heartbreaker version of myself that I was at the pinnacle of my manic phase. Although I wouldn’t trade the peace of mind and stability I’ve found through my diagnosis, sometimes I think… I’d kill to feel that feeling just one more time. But we’ll save that story and my dating escapades in the city that never sleeps for another day.
Help is Out There
Feeling lost, experiencing symptoms, seeking answers, or just want to have your say? If life ever becomes too difficult to handle, we’re here for you, no matter what. At PsychNnSex, we’re committed to providing an unbreakable community of unconditional support. Let us share our love for you — join our private Facebook Group or submit your questions to our “Ask Us Anything” page. And always remember, you’re not alone.