The Ups & Downs of Bipolar I Disorder

It’s hard being a goal-oriented person and living with a mood disorder! Depression can show up at any time and disrupt all of my well-laid plans. Mania can send me into an upward spiral that feels good at first, but can quickly get out of control. Sometimes I feel like I’m riding a roller-coaster… while trying to slowly sip hot tea and write out my autobiography by hand. Yeah, good luck!

I was first diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder three years ago, after giving birth to my third baby. It was the first time in my life that I had ever experienced what is called a “manic episode”. (That’s just a medical term for an extremely “up” or elevated mood–think the opposite of depression.) People with bipolar 1 disorder (yes, there is more than one type!) experience both extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). During a manic episode, my mind feels sped up. I feel super energetic, I have a mind full of creative ideas, I talk faster, I can’t sit still, I can’t sleep, I feel ecstatically happy, and I feel like I am invincible. Sounds nice, right? I’ll admit, I love the part of mania that makes me feel excited, energetic, and happy! It’s fun for a day or two, but getting no sleep days on end can turn things scary fast. My over-active mind made me constantly distracted, on-edge, and obsessive. It soon turned from extreme happiness to extreme anxiety, fear, and paranoia. I even started experiencing delusions, which are strongly held irrational beliefs. I lived for 3 or 4 months in escalating mania (not knowing what it was), and let me tell you, it was no picnic! I ended up in the hospital where I finally got much-needed medical help and an official diagnosis.

For me, receiving a diagnosis was a relief (I finally knew what was wrong!), but it also came with feelings of shame, stigma, isolation, and fear of what others might think. No one wants to be labeled with a mental illness. Why it is viewed so differently than other physical illnesses, I simply don’t understand. Last I checked, the brain is part of the physical body too! When the brain (your command center) isn’t functioning correctly, it affects every part of you–your thinking and ability to reason, your moods and emotions, your energy levels, your appetite, your ability to sleep, etc!

With time, I am learning to accept my diagnosis. I feel a strong desire and need to talk about it and share my story, but it’s still hard, especially when I don’t know what people’s reactions will be. Initially I felt pretty vulnerable and it was hard to share, but I have reached a point now where I just don’t care about what others think. (At least not enough to stop me from writing and sharing and speaking out!). I care more about the people who are struggling and who feel alone and misunderstood.

I have found many things that help me manage my mood. I’m not either “depressed” or “manic” all of the time–most of the time I am just in-between. But things can always change, and most of the time those changes are unpredictable. I don’t need “fixing” and I don’t need constant help, I just need love and support. Those are the best two things you can offer to someone who deals with mental illness!

One of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital three years ago was to start researching and learning all I could about bipolar 1 disorder. I learned a lot and it helped me to feel better, especially reading the experiences of others. Bipolar disorder may be a life-long diagnosis, but personally I don’t think of myself as “bipolar”. It is not “who I am” and it is not how I would choose to introduce myself. It is not an adjective to describe me or a core part of my personality. It is simply a mental and physical condition–something that often gets in the way of me feeling and acting like myself!

Let’s stop adding to the stigma! Please don’t use the term “bipolar” to describe someone who is acting “moody”! The best way to help a friend or family member with bipolar disorder (or with any mental illness) is to take the time to listen, to ask questions, to withhold judgment and preconceived ideas, and to take the time to learn about their disorder. You may just learn something new!


3 thoughts on “The Ups & Downs of Bipolar I Disorder

  1. What a wonderful post, Becky! You’re a clear, passionate, and talented writer.

    Once in a great while, if I read a newspaper article where the journalist uses “bipolar” in an insensitive way, I’ll reach out via email or Twitter and I’ll respectfully suggest an alternative. (I explain that I have bipolar, etc.) So far most of these professionals have been incredibly gracious and have written back to say they’ll change how they word it. Sometimes I’m ignored, but it’s worth the risk, right? :))))


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