The first thing they tell you after you’re diagnosed is to do as much research on BP is you possibly can. This is wise advice, but harder than it sounds.
When excitedly making a list of things that I would like to write about, this topic completely slipped my mind. The reason being that there are SO many souces out there giving definitions and criteria about the symptoms of BP. And many sufferers like myself don’t find it helpful at all. All the sources give you the same list of DMS criteria that in theory makes perfect sense, but practically mean nothing. I remember going through that list and feeling so confused, because I wasn’t sure if I had delusions of grandeur. I am a pretty awesome person after all, how am I suppose to know whether or not I think I’m TOO awesome? And I don’t know if my sex drive is abnormally high. I mean, what is the ‘norm’ for this anyway?
It was all very confusing and I just kept thinking, yes, I have Bipolar Disorder, but I’m not really as Bipolar as other people. Only after coming out of various hypomanic, depressive and mixed states could I look back and recognise my distorted thoughts, ungrounded emotional reactions and actual abnormal physical sensations caused by a malfunction in my brain. But right when you’re diagnosed, you cannot look back with 20/20 hindsight and wisdom, which is what I hope I can provide here.
I do not want to use this post to give the definition of Bipolar Disorder. As I said there are many sites out there that do that, and you can find a very thorough one here. What I do want to do is explain the illness to you from an experiential point of view. It’s not an easy thing to do in a few sentences, so I will break it up, starting with depression.
I had my first bouts of depression when I was about 15 (although looking back I’m convinced it started during early childhood already). I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I knew that something was very wrong with me. It was only in my early 20s that I figured out what it was. I would cry myself to sleep pretty much every night, if I could sleep at all. I’d think that I had reasons for being sad, when really I didn’t. What I realised was that the emotion was first, followed by the experience. It’s simple logic. I am sad, therefore I must have experienced something that made me sad. But sadness doesn’t come anyway near to defining depression. It’s a constant heavy feeling, like everything is too exhausting and just too much. You’re always tired. You feel like you’re wading through mud while carrying around a ton of bricks. I felt like I had a cloud in my head. Like I was somehow disconnected from the world and my mind (a friend of mine recently called it the bell jar effect, which I like). My brain would slow down to a near halt and it would take me twice as long as usual to take anything in. You move through your days while the only thing that gets you mildy excited is counting the hours until you can go to bed. I would go out with friends, and on a conscious level know that I was having a good time, while looking at my watch wishing I could go home. Or just not go out.
While living by myself, my depressed weekends looked like this: I easily went almost three days without uttering a single word. And then I only left the house and spoke when I ran out of cigarettes. When I didn’t have food in my house, I just didn’t eat. I wouldn’t shower or get out of my pajamas. I’d drink whatever booze I had but not care when I ran out. If I wasn’t sleeping I was watching series, so I didn’t have to think. Other activities included contemplating suicide and listening, listening to depressing music and sometimes crying my eyes out. Come Monday I would somehow force myself to leave the house and go to work, putting on my happy face and crying in the toilets at least twice a day. At some point you don’t live anymore, you just function. Survive. The world looks strangely drained of colour. Even though you can see the colour with your eyes, it gets translated to grey in your head. Everything is numb except for the excruciating pain you feel on the inside. Obviously not a physical pain, but somehow you can physically feel it. The worse part is feeling like that feeling will never go away, like that is what the rest of your life will be like. Like there is no joy in the world and there never will be again. You forget what it ever felt like to be happy. I felt worthless and like a waste of space. I lost all my confidence and was anxious about everything, all the time.
Very few people know exactly what I went through when I was depressed, because I would completely isolate myself, or pretend that I was fine. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my negativity and sob stories. I felt completely and utterly lonely. Even when I would talk to people, it felt like I was irritating them or that they just didn’t understand. Me and my boring ‘sadness’.
Being chronically depressed is absolutely terrifying, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I wake up every morning thankful that I don’t spend every day wishing I was dead. Contrary to popular belief, depression is not something you can snap out of. It is a life threatening illness and takes years to recover from.
The great (said sarcastically) thing about Bipolar Disorder is that this is only the one side of the coin. More on mania and hypomania in the next post.
Can you relate to any of these symptoms of depression? If you have more to add, please do so. Somewhere someone will have an ‘oh wow, I though I was the only crazy person who felt like that’ moment.