Bipolar Disorder — What It’s Like

When I’m having an episode, I suffer from intense lows and highs.  I was going to write “devastating lows”, but then I realized that the highs are just as devastating, in a different way. Mania is wonderful, until it’s not.  You feel like a million bucks, like every idea that you have is a good one, and like nothing can touch you.
Spending thousands of dollars you don’t have seems like a fantastic idea, and nothing can stop you.  You talk a mile a minute, and the ideas come even faster.  It feels like a jar full of fireflies all going off in your head at once.  Bright, sparkly, and full of life.  While it’s going on, you have almost no sense of anything bad happening, and you never want it to end.
Inevitably, it does.  In my case, it tends to deteriorate into a mixed state, which is a dangerous combination of depression and dysphoric mania.  As opposed to euphoric mania, dysphoric mania is the bad mania.  In a mixed state, everything is negative.
The thoughts come just as hard and fast, but now they’re extremely negative.  I relive all the mistakes I’ve made, over and over.  I continually think about what a horrible person I am, and emotionally beat myself up over and over.  I’m ugly, I’m stupid, I’m fat, I’m crazy.  I get overwhelmed almost immediately, and it snowballs from there.  I don’t want to go to work, I’m overwhelmed by the thought of work, of dealing with people, of leaving the house.

When I lay my head down at night and close my eyes, I see nothing but one negative image after another.  I have no idea how to get out of my predicament and start to panic.  Death starts seeming like an option.  I think obsessively about my meds, and what would happen if I took all of them.  I wonder if I’m brave enough to do it, or desperate enough yet.  Ultimately, I check myself into the hospital, because I’m scared I’m going to actually attempt suicide, and I can’t deal with the constant thoughts of killing myself.
Sometimes, I’m just depressed.  For no reason, it smacks me upside my head.  I always go immediately to the negative self-talk.  The things I’ve done, the mistakes I’ve made, money problems, my weight.  Things that are totally manageable normally become insurmountable when I’m depressed.  I can’t think.  I try to self-soothe, but nothing that I normally do works. The old movies, the old books, nothing.  Everything seems hopeless, and devoid of color.  I’ll be this way for an hour, an afternoon, a day, a week.  I see no way out.
Being stable is the elusive goal I chase after every minute of every day.  When I’m stable, happiness is an emotion I actually experience.  I smile, and laugh, and am in a good mood.  I don’t isolate, d easily connect with my husband and people at work.  I want to talk to patients. I call my parents more often.  I like going to work.  I find solutions to day to day problems.  I feel “normal.”
Handfuls of medication are a daily part of having bipolar disorder if you want to maintain some kind of stability in your life.  I look at it as being the only way I can safely stay alive.  I take an atypical anti-psychotic, an anti-convulsant, an anti-depressant, and an anti-anxiety medication. As a side effect of one of my medications, I have begun to lactate, and haven’t had a period in 4 months.  I now take a medication to correct the hormone level that caused all that, and the lactation has thankfully stopped.
I still haven’t had a period.  My memory isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t multi-task as well as I did before the last episode.  I don’t feel like me most of the time–I feel like on some basic level all these medications have changed my personality.  Not for the worse, or better, but changed.  Even with all that, I’m terrified to miss my medication, and have special pill boxes that keep me on the straight and narrow with my doses so I don’t miss anything.  I get nervous around that time of the month when I get my new prescriptions, for no reason, since the pharmacy fills them promptly.  Until they are home, in my basket, I’m not comfortable.
I have a lot of fears.  How much they affectt me depends on my mood.  When I’m stable, I mainly have a sort of nebulous fear of becoming unstable again.  I definitely fear my next episode.  Each one seems to take a chunk of me away, and that scares me.  When I’m in a mixed or depressed state, fears are huge.  They are tigers in my brain.  Big, hissing, angry elephants with giant teeth and claws out to get me.
Over the years, bipolar disorder has had a major effect on my work.  I’ve never been fired from a job because of it, thank God, but I have left a few jobs because I was unable to work for an extended period of time while I recovered from an episode.  My last couple of jobs were so stressful that they triggered episodes, and I landed in the hospital.  Both of these major episodes took me 6 months to recover from.
I loved my last job, and was making great money. Unfortunately, the stress of being the Director of Nursing got to me, and I had an episode.  Now I work in a job as a Nursing Supervisor.  I make $20,000 a year less.  I lost my house.  I had to file for bankruptcy.  On the up side, the new job is virtually stress free.  I don’t have to take call. When I’m home, I’m home.  It’s a relief.
The Future
The hardest part about the future is the uncertainty.  I could go all negative really easily, but I won’t.  I just want to get through life as stable as possible, pay my bills, get hubby through school.  I dream of the day he gets his first job as a Computer Engineer.  All this hardship will be worth it, I know in my heart.  Meanwhile, I try to live day to day, and look for the good in my life.  I try not to focus on the negative, which I tend to do.  I look for solutions to our problems, instead of shuffling them under the rug.  I try not to spend too much time thinking about the future.