Mental Health, Personal Notes

Mental Health #1: What Bipolar Feels Like To Me

This is the first in a series of posts that I plan to write on the topic of mental health. Please feel free to leave comments, or contact me privately via my contact form, if you want to discuss this issue further.

I was first diagnosed with bipolar type two disorder in late 2016. Until that time, I knew there was something going on with my brain that was making it difficult for me to function, but I didn’t know what it was.

When I first got the diagnosis, I wasn’t quite sure it fit. If you know me in person, a term like hypomania doesn’t accurately describe my personality (at least according to those around me that I’ve spoken to). My memory hasn’t been at its best, but in the recent past I just couldn’t make the symptoms of bipolar fit.

Then I rewound to my teen years and the symptoms started making more sense.

Throughout most of my teen years, I struggled with depression and some form of PTSD. I had never been allowed or able to properly grieve for my mother, who had died when I was eleven. I don’t recall any specifics of hypomanic behavior or suicidal thoughts, though I was irritable (but who wouldn’t be, being a teenager and an older brother?).

At seventeen, I was forcibly sent to boarding school. It was here, at the boarding school, that I can clearly remember several cases of hypomania.

One particular case occurred when I said something to a friend, who interpreted it as a suicidal ideation, or potentially more. I ended up talking with the residential director of the boarding school (and her significant other) for several hours.

My description of what was going on?

My mind was going too fast. I was constantly thinking on several different tracks. I felt out-of-step with the world. I had been sick, and there was too much work to catch up on. I’d never get caught up and I wouldn’t graduate. I wasn’t sleeping well.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is likely one of the first hypomanic episodes I had (or at least, the first I can remember clearly).

And that is what bipolar is like for me. There’s too much input. I have this certain uncontainable, undirected energy, the need to do something, but I don’t know what. People move too slowly, talk too slowly. Everything, literally every single thing that happens, gets under my skin for no good reason.

I’ve also dealt, and continue to deal, with full blown mania episodes. I regularly have trouble with wanting to go on spending sprees to use up that undefinable energy. This has been worse in the past, but has been better now that I keep a budget and a close eye on my family’s bank accounts. (Yes, being in charge of these things helps me control these episodes. Though it can cause irritability and depression, so it’s a trade-off.)

I’m also aware of having other episodes of mania, though these were a decade and a half ago.

In any case, it took me a long time to seek out the help I needed to start managing my mental health. In fact, it wasn’t until my eldest daughter was born in 2008 that I realized I needed to do something. I’ve been in talk therapy since 2008, and have been seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner to manage my medications for a few months (I used to see a different provider, but scheduling and travel to them didn’t work out).

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, please seek out help (here’s a starting point). Despite the stigma our society places on it, seeking help for mental health is not a bad thing. It is as important as seeking help for a broken bone or an infection.