To all our friends who experience a bipolar disorder – Happy World Bipolar Day!!!
And anyone who experiences the challenges associated with bipolar disorder, deserves a special day of acknowledgment (at the very least!). I’ve found it difficult to be able to fully comprehend what it might be like to manage the complexities of this illness. People who experience this disorder can face so many different challenges – from the illness’s fluctuating feeling to the destructive effects on relationships.
So, rather than me just bang on about what this disorder might be like, I asked one of my most wonderful friends who has lived with a bipolar diagnosis for the past eight years, for her thoughts on the experience.
Firstly, her top four challenges:
1. “It’s uncontrollable, or at least it feels like it is”.
Many people report that bipolar disorder can feel uncontrollable. My friend reported that symptoms, such as mood changes, can seem to appear suddenly and without provocation. And they can diminish daily functioning and ruin relationships. With experience and monitoring though, there are sometimes patterns you can watch out for. “And even if you can’t prevent symptoms, you can minimize and manage them.”
Sleep deprivation can trigger mania, and “it makes you more susceptible to being controlled by your emotions, such as irritability,” my friend noted. On the other hand, sleeping too much can cause lethargy and also reduce your ability to manage emotions, she said.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ medication that seems to help everyone with bipolar disorder,” my friend reported. And she’s right. Finding the right medication (or combination of medications) can feel like a lengthy game of trial and error with some especially nasty side effects thrown in.
Bipolar disorder can be hard on relationships. The very symptoms – swinging moods, impulsive behaviours – often leave loved ones feeling confused, exhausted and like they’re walking on eggshells.
My lovely friend also noted that she has experienced some of her loved ones having difficulty distinguishing between her as a person and her illness. They might invalidate her feelings and either blame everything on the illness or believe that she has made conscious choices when it is the illness.
4. “Planning ahead”.
I’m going to let my pal explain this in her own words. Because they’re brilliant words:
“Try and imagine mood as a spectrum from -3 (not feeling good) to +3 (feeling great) with 0 being something close to average. Most people float around a -2 to +2 most of the time, occasionally dipping down or floating up. This makes these people fairly reliable. This means that even if these people aren’t feeling their best, they’re still feeling okay enough to get their day done. It means that if you have lunch planned with them on Tuesday, they will not likely be stopped from showing up by their mood.
Bipolar, on the other hand, is very different. At times I live in more of a -10 to +10 kind of a world and it’s a little more extreme. For me, it’s probably a -4 on a decent day. So on my decent days, I still feel worse than the average person does on their very bad days. That’s the joy of bipolar.
But there’s more to it than that because at any given time I can fluctuate. Your average person does fluctuate, of course, but they don’t fluctuate drastically. They don’t flop from feeling really great to being suicidal when they flip a light switch. They don’t jump from feeling good to feeling like a genius deity because they blinked. They just don’t do that.
And some people with bipolar don’t do this either but, then, some of us do. And even if our moods stay reasonably level, our ability to deal with those moods may not. Our functionality with bipolar may be more or less impaired on any given day just because it’s any given day. Some days I truly cannot get out of bed. It just happens.
So, understanding that my mood may augment or deteriorate at any given time and given that my functionality may be, well, functional, or not at any given time, it is very difficult for me to look into the future with any certainty. I look out into the future and see a lot of confusion. When I am unwell, I really don’t know if I will be able to lunch on Tuesday.”
Before we finished our special bipolar conversation, my friend was keen to point out some of the things that she didn’t mind about this diagnosis:
Often tied in with bravado and grandiosity, when people are in a manic episode behaviours can become dangerous and risky. However, as my friend notes sometimes reflecting back on what she was able to achieve during her manic periods is able to boost her esteem when it is lacking and instil her with the courage she needs to get stuff done.
2. “Perspective on emotions”.
What goes up, must come down, and back up again. After a number of years in therapy and an excellent ability to be self-reflective and insightful, my friend noted that when you have the ability to view life and issues from both ends it can make you more philosophical about the meaning of things. And I’d have to agree with her. She is one of the wisest people I know. These days she often asks herself the following questions - Would this matter when not depressed? Would that seem a good idea when stable? – and keeps in mind that emotions are quite illusory flavourings.
3. “There are heaps of famous bipolar people”.
According to my friend, she’s not too fussed on sharing her diagnosis with people and she often compares herself to a celebrity. “Did you know Marilyn Monroe/Beethoven/Van Gogh had bipolar disorder?” Kudos.
4. Depth of experience.
My friend didn’t bring this up. I did. I don’t reckon you will meet more experienced, well-travelled, multi-dimensional people than those who have experienced this disorder. People with exceptional and often unusual stories to share. It might be because people who experience bipolar disorders, are often adventurous, creative, tend to be high-achievers and are often leaders with above average intelligence.
Whatever it is, my friend at age 30 years, is one of the most awesome, open, non-judgmental and worldly people I know and love. I know that as a result of her mental illness, she has experienced the most incredible of highs and the most sorrowful of lows. The whole gamut of human experience and she now has a profound understanding of humanness that includes both the light and the dark.
Happy World Bipolar day.
Also we made a new bipolar card to celebrate this day. You can find it right here.