When Dysphoric Mania Tears Apart the Fabric of My Mind

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I am bipolar, and my condition is the one where I have short and sharp cycles. In the clinical terminology it is called “dysphoric mania.”

Recently I took back a leather jacket to Nordstrom because a tear developed by the pocket. In this case the problem was fixed, and I got a new jacket.

So what happens when the fabric I call my mind starts to tear? What happens when I am in the shackles of hypomania and my mind is in chaos? In this state I detest fast music and bright lights. My mind can process everything at breakneck speeds yet focus on nothing. My psychiatrist asked me, when I am in the realm of hypomania, do I get dark thoughts — aka, do I have suicidal thoughts. I responded that if I do, they are quickly replaced with another thought.

For people who can never understand this torment, I ask if they’ve ever had a coffee high that makes them jittery. I tell them to multiply that by 100 and add chaos in their thoughts. One of my symptoms is that I want to isolate and be away from people. Their every word or movement is like an attack on my mind.

When the hypomania subsides, I crash into depression, and my life goes from high speed to that of walking through sand. There is no happiness, and dark thoughts of suicide enter my thinking.

Life becomes sheer hell when depression weaves itself into the chaos. I feel like the fabric of my whole being is being torn apart. Thoughts of suicide occupy my mind, and if I am lucky I will send out a text to a close knit group of friends. This is my cry for help. The last episode resulted in my going to the hospital.

My cycles last no more than 24 hours, and then life returns to kind of normal. The result of this is I feel exhausted, as if I had the most rigorous workout. My life is like the ripples on the water after a stone is thrown into it. There are fleeting moments of happiness; however, depression is the main feeling. Over time the depression fades like the ripples, and I wonder when the next cycle will descend on me.

I know I can’t take back this brain and get a new one like I did with my leather coat. So how do I piece the ripped up fabric of myself back together? Will the torn fabric be noticeable, and will it make me less of a person?

Friends tell me I am a very tough chick because I have survived lots of shit and show a confident woman. What I don’t show is the damaged fabric of me. I am so used to putting on the look good presentation, and I know if I show the real me, the walls of stigma will be everywhere. Society doesn’t like to see a woman who is being torn apart within. The choice to show or not show the turmoil can almost be as bad as having the turmoil. You want to reach out for help, yet to do so will alienate people.

But I have to believe that if today I survive the roller coaster ride, I may enjoy tomorrow.

Follow this journey on Kristimac2015’s blog.

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Remembering Those Who Are Not in Mental Illness Recovery

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As I sat in the waiting room of my doctor’s office tonight, the first hand of the clock indicating the commencement of my third hour spent waiting my turn on the sofa, the door to the back swung open, and I overheard, without much effort really, an anxiety-ridden mother speak intensely about her teenage son who has bipolar disorder (who only moments earlier had dashed for the exit the first chance handed to him).

And I realized something: I was one of the lucky ones. I forget, from time to time, the illness that creeps in the back of my mind, awaiting any chance to break free and wreak havoc across my life. It listens to no one. Respects nothing, not even itself. And when it wants to trespass, it will. When it wants to cut the line, it will. It has no intent, no conscience, no means and really nothing to hold it back – that is, except for me. But I haven’t been all there. In the past, that is.

It’s extremely hard to fight something you didn’t realize existed in you. To not have a diagnosis. To not realize you needed a diagnosis because you don’t even see there’s something ailing you. God, life was pretty tortuous back then. I can’t even put it into words… really. I mean, I could try, but what word in the human language ever truly encompassed an emotion, a feeling?

If you could imagine… waking up in the morning, truly disgusted with who you are, demoting yourself to a “what you are,” then stepping outside, only to be greeted by people who are seemingly just as disgusted by you, repulsed even. And they look at you. They stare and they whisper. They laugh and they deride you. They tear your soul apart with their jagged, piercing eyes.

Hallucinations. A symptom of manic depression not all sufferers of the illness experience. Unfortunately, I have. Hallucinations don’t always come in the form of a ghostly figure standing in your doorway. They can come in taunts, in ceaseless whispers, in loud chatter rupturing the night. They will call you names, dig down deep into the greatest fears of your mind, and bring them out for all to see. Or at least, your mind has made you believe they’re there for all to see.

Bipolar disorder can destroy its host. It feasts off their fears, their doubts… turning a simple apprehension into full-fledged paranoia. It can eradicate any amount of sensibility or reasoning in a person’s mind. It clouds over every sense, every thought; every mode of perception is suddenly dominated by an alien force. It can turn your most favorite thing in the world sour, and will encase you in an ever-enclosing box, overrun by muddy water and vicious figments of your imagination. For me, bipolar disorder is intrusive, destructive and oh so capable of controlling every inch of you.

You may not want to give in to delusions. But you will. You may not want to fall into a dark, bottomless pit with the entire world crashing down upon you, but you will do that, too. Bipolar disorder will not ask you if it can stay. It will kick down the front door of your mind and stay there until some Godsend man or woman finds a cure. You must be careful. Even if you think you’re doing fine. Even if you believe with every inch of your soul you are finally free of this awful disease, one must be careful. And one must not test it or entice it to come out. But rather, treat it with care, and hope for the best.

I believe about 5.6 million adult Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, and 14.8 million adult Americans will suffer from depression. People can spend their lives never reaching the point of stability I have come to reach today. I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m healthy. But for so many others, they are years, (for some a lifetime), away from recovering from the crippling disease. It consumes lives. It rips families and friendships apart. Relationships are mangled by this illness.

I, myself, have severed many relationships because of my inability to believe I can redeem those two years of reckless, bizarre behavior that taint my past. It is a shame I carry with me until this day, even though I know it’s not my fault. My senior year of high school was lived by a brazen girl who was not me at all.

To get people to understand about this disease is hard. And the Hollywood version of any type of mental illness really aids none. I understand how difficult it may be for some to comprehend a group of people that are mostly labeled as “crazy,” but really, we are just a group of people, genuinely misunderstood, who at times have little hope for ourselves, little confidence in everything that we do. And for those of us, like me, who have “healed,” we live with the fear (that at times is more predominant than others) that it will come back.

It meaning the thing that destroyed our lives, sent us catapulting in a whirlwind of desperation to feel sane, anxiety, paranoia, emotions of grandeur that left us laughing one moment, then wanting to end our lives the next, delusional stupor and a constant, constant need to be anywhere but inside our heads.

When you have a mental illness, it can be as debilitating as any other type of illness out there. It consumes you completely. It takes over your body, your mind, your soul. It affects your moods, your emotions, your mentality. And when something has such omnipotent control over you, nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. You may not be paralyzed from head to toe, but with an illness like manic depression hauling the reins on your mind, you might as well be.

I sometimes forget that my full recovery from my bipolar disorder episodes is something I should value. So many other people have a long ways to go. And I wish I could just give them hope, you know? And tell them, it’s all OK! Things will get better. They can get better. I promise! Your life might be pit of misery right now, but it can change. Please. Just know that. You know? I wish I could help…

***

Four years after I had written this piece, I had another relapse in 2012 — another mental break with reality. The delusions and hallucinations returned. You would think after having two previous breakdowns (one of which landed you in a psychiatric hospital) and knowing what I knew about bipolar disorder, I could spot another relapse coming a mile away. I’m saddened to say I couldn’t, and ’til this day I still marvel at my inability to see what was transpiring before me. I should have known, I always think to myself. How could I not have known? How could I let it happen again?  I thought I was so strong, but the disease broke me down again.

Some days (even now) it’s hard not to feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

But please know, after every relapse, is a chance to rebuild. A chance to stand up once more and fight back. We cannot let mental illness win. Life is too short and too precious. The road to recovery isn’t easy. I thought I was pretty much immune to breaking down again. I was wrong. But I am still alive and kicking. I have reached happiness once more. It can be a long, rough journey ahead of you, but the road to recovery is one worth taking. It won’t happen overnight, but it isn’t hopeless.  Surround yourself with people who care. Take your medication (if you choose to take medication). Go to therapy.  But most importantly, don’t give up. Don’t give up. You owe that much to yourself. You are stronger than you think. Do not let your mind make you think otherwise.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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7 Confessions of a Bipolar Mama

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I was diagnosed late in life — just three years ago, at age 44 — with bipolar disorder. I had suspected for most of my adulthood that something was greatly amiss in my mind, and bipolar often seemed to fit, but I was under the mistaken impression I could overcome the wiring in my brain by sheer tenacity. After a major manic episode followed by a spectacular spiral that ended with a suicide attempt, I began to seek much-needed treatment.

What follows is a list of things that may or may not be revelations to those who do not suffer from mental illness. It is my fond hope that it may help those who want to understand better the inner machinations of the bipolar brain.

1. I won’t always know what I need.

Do I need to be left alone? Or do I need company? More talking? Less talking? A therapy session? Medication adjustment? Time? Chocolate? Although most people might know exactly what they need and when, it is not the case for me. Often it’s trial and error to find out what will work during a particular depressive or manic episode. Patience is key.

2. I am a really, really good actor.

So good, in fact, I fool myself sometimes into thinking I’m not as sick as I am. My suicide attempt was an almost out-of-body experience. The days leading up to it I was faking happiness and well-being, so well I even fooled myself into denying I needed help. The whole time I was carrying out my plan, it was as though I was standing aside and watching from a distance. Encourage frequent and deep self-examination and regular psychiatric visits.

3. It’s a whole different world inside my brain from what I let on.

Sometimes the struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy requires every bit of energy I have. I don’t always have much left over for cooking and cleaning. Your patience and help is, as ever, appreciated more than you know.

4. I worry constantly that I passed my “sick” genetics onto my beloved children.

My eye is always on the lookout for symptoms in my own children that signal any dangerous mental aberrations. I grieve deeply that they are at an increased risk for inheriting bipolar disorder and depression because of me.

5. I worry I may neglect my own loved ones by my need to check out occasionally, and that they will wind up resenting me.

6. I worry that people will think I’m a fake.

Do I really have bipolar disorder, or is it just an excuse for acting crazy and getting away with it? Can I really not control some of my actions when I have a manic or depressive episode? Surely this is all just a ruse. These thoughts cause heaping loads of self-inflicted guilt, which nobody needs or wants. Reassurance is extremely important, and regular visits with a psychiatrist will help reinforce the truth that this is a disease that warrants careful management.

7. My heart is not bipolar, only my brain.

If you stick with me, I will love you passionately and eternally. My appreciation for you will increase exponentially when you bear with me during the difficult moments as I wrestle mightily with my disease, I am capable of deep and abiding affection. When I tell you I love you, don’t question my motives or sincerity, and I long to be accepted and loved in return, flaws and all.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the 19-Year-Old Girl Who's Still Waiting for the Right Mental Illness Diagnosis

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Hey, Kiana, it’s me! Well, actually it’s you. It’s the older and slightly wiser you, four years into the future. I’m writing this to hopefully shed some light on how you’re feeling at this moment, and hopefully to help you in your future.

It’s 2013. You’re 19 years old. You’re attending Pierce College for lack of anything better to do. You’re not quite sure if you want to graduate, but you sure don’t want to sit around the house all day. You’re trying to juggle two jobs: one at Victoria’s Secret as a sales specialist, and the other at the school working as the lab technician. You love both jobs, which is great! You are still single, and you have your eye on this particular boy. Let me tell you now, don’t fall for it. That boy is nothing but trouble, trust me. 

I want to talk to you about these next few years. Right now, you’re in this weird place with your emotions and how you experience your everyday life. You’re struggling pretty badly right now, and it hurts to tell you it won’t start getting better anytime soon. I will tell you this, though: even if you don’t think so, there are so many people who love and care about you. Your best friend, your favorite professor, your family and some of your acquaintances care about you. They don’t like to see you hurting, even if they don’t necessarily say it. So, if not for you, be strong for them.

You’ve been taking different medicines left and right. You’ve mostly been taking anti-depressants which, if you haven’t already figured out, don’t really help you. You’ve had countless therapists and doctors tell you contradicting things about what they think is wrong with you. I know you want to know why you are the way you are, and why you feel the way you do, and no one is telling you anything different. Oh, you’re just really depressed, they say, we just have to keep raising the dosage of your medicine. Before you know it, you’re putting tons of pills in your body and making yourself think they are helping because you’re so desperate to feel better.

Let me save you the trouble, and another year of misdiagnoses. Are you ready?

You have bipolar disorder. Shocked? I know you are. You go back and forth with the mania and depressive stages of the disorder. Sometimes you switch from mania to depression and back to mania, all in the same day. Sometimes you experience depression for an extended period of time, almost lasting two months. One thing is for sure: you love the mania. You may not have known why you feel so creative, so energetic and invincible all the time. You never sleep, and you always want to write and listen to music and do anything that keeps you occupied. The only issue with the mania, as you have already come to find out, is the stupid (yes, stupid) decisions you can make while in it. You spend money carelessly (usually resulting in buyer’s remorse when you come down from cloud nine), your sex drive is at an all time high (I’m proud of you for controlling that, by the way). I could go on about a few different scenarios, but at this point I know everything is resonating with you.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the definition of bipolar disorder is: a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in moods, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. You experience the manic (high energy, no sleep, irritable) state and you also experience the depressive (low energy, loss of motivation, sad) state. Specifically for your case though, because everyone’s bipolar is different since it’s a spectrum, you experience a mixed state as well. The mixed state is just what it sounds like, a combination of the two, can be extremely dangerous. That’s usually the state that things like suicide and self-harm come in to play. You don’t want to start down that road, so get help if you’re feeling that way, OK?

Earlier I mentioned something about the medications you’ve been taking. Along with everyone else with bipolar, traditionally SSRI antidepressants can trigger manic episodes. You’re probably thinking, “Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me that?” Well, since diagnosing bipolar is so difficult, usually doctors will just try anti-depressants to see if anything changes. For you, though, it only made it worse. I know you like the mania, but you can’t live in that state forever. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for someone to tell you this. Better to hear it from yourself, right?

The experience you’ve had with bipolar is strictly from the media. For example, remember that one LifeTime movie you watched about that girl who supposedly had bipolar disorder? Guess what? That’s not bipolar. People with bipolar disorder don’t wake up one day, suddenly flip and decide to kill their husband because he didn’t do the dishes. Bipolar, along with any mental illness, is stigmatized and wrongly portrayed in the media. It causes those who have the illnesses to hide away, and feel ashamed of themselves because if they dare to say anything about it, the judgements flood in. You are so much more than your diagnosis, and once you realize that, you will become stronger and you will accept yourself.

I can’t wait for that day. Prepare yourself for these next few years, because you will need all the self-support you can muster. Your family and friends are by your side through it all. Stay strong, babe. You can do this.

With all the self-love,

Kiana

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Walmart Told My Limping Daughter 'Only Adults' Could Use the Electric Cart

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My daughter and I encountered an amazing champion the other day. I’ve been wanting to write about our experience, but I’m a little embarrassed we even needed her help. You see, my daughter has bipolar disorder. Normally she runs and jumps like most other children her age. But recently, one of the medications we’ve been giving her to stabilize her moods makes the right side of her body numb. The most noticeable part of this is that she walks with a limp. We’re trying to get rid of the offending drug, but since it will take awhile for the effects to lessen, she lives with the limp for now.

She’s pretty good about not letting the limp get in her way. I’ve noticed that it gets worse when she’s tired or has walked a lot. Knowing this, I was not surprised when she asked me if she could use an electric cart at Walmart on a recent shopping trip there. Since we hadn’t used one before, we asked the women at customer service if she could use one. I was polite and explained my child had a limp. After looking at us quizzically, both employees said no. They told us that the carts were only for adults.

Soon after, I was stopped by a Walmart employee. She had heard the whole exchange a few minutes previously. She felt that we were discriminated against. She informed me the carts were there for anyone who needed them. Then she confirmed this with her manager. I made sure to get the manager’s name so when we went back to get the cart, I could tell the women at customer service.

My daughter and I placed our order at the in-store McDonald’s and waited at the counter. The next thing I knew, our new hero was riding up on the cart. It wasn’t enough for her to tell us she felt we had been wronged. It wasn’t enough for her to confirm with the manager that my child was entitled to a cart. No, this kind and caring lady went further out of her way. She secured and brought the cart to my child.

My heart was singing at the actions of this compassionate woman. She didn’t need to hear our story. She believed us and wanted to make things right. Once we got our food, my daughter happily climbed aboard her new ride. Since my mom had had to use a cart like this in her later years, I knew how it operated. I gave my daughter a quick tutorial and we were off. My daughter was so happy to not have to worry about her leg slowing her down. I stayed close by her assisting her as needed while we shopped. At one point, the cart stopped working so we flagged down another employee who called guest services to bring another cart. I don’t think the employee who initially denied my child the cart was too happy to bring out a replacement cart. She did though.

When we were done with our shopping, guess who was waiting to ring us up? Yep, our new friend. While I was finishing paying for our purchases, I chatted a bit with our helper. I thanked her profusely as I explained why we needed the cart. She wished us well and sent us on our merry way. I’m not certain how long my daughter will have this limp. I hope it won’t be permanent. Whatever the case, I’m glad there our people like the employee at Walmart, who go out of their way to make sure my daughter has what she needs.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected act of kindness, big or small, that you’ve experienced or witnessed in an everyday place. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When People Ask 'What Does Your Son Do?'

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My son Cole is a competitive swimmer and we attend a lot of swim meets, swim practices, etc. When you attend these events, you meet a lot of other swim parents, and typically the conversations result in questions about other children, including of course, “Does your other son swim?” A lot of swimmers are part of swim families, and all of the kids swim.

Well, not so much in our family. I mean, Bryce swims. He loves the water. Bryce is sensory-seeking – meaning he craves stimulation. Swimming, taking baths, jumping in waves in the ocean – all of those things fully stimulate your entire body. So, yes, Bryce loves to swim, but he is not a “swimmer” like Cole.

Of course, when you answer, “No, he doesn’t swim,” the next questions is always, “What does he do?” It’s not rude or even nosy. It’s just conversation and of course people think that when you have a son as into their sport as Cole your other son must also be into something. So, how do I answer? Sometimes I just say, well Bryce is a video game kid and not really a sports kid. But, I always think, do I need to explain more? Do I tell them that Bryce has tried to participate in sports but it’s so difficult for him? Do I share with them that Bryce has special needs. How do I explain it? Do I go into detail, or leave it at “special needs?” Do I say, Bryce has behavioral issues? That isn’t really correct. Do I say, Bryce is diagnosed with mental illness? Or, do I go into details.

Bryce is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, executive functioning disorder and has developmental delays. He is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. I mean sometimes I don’t even know what to say because the list is so long and the list can change.

Or, do I tell them, well we tried soccer when he was younger. But since Bryce didn’t understand how to play the game, got frustrated and had impulse control issues, he just ran into the other kids. We tried swimming. Bryce made it through two practices before he realized that you had to actually pay attention and swim back and forth in the lane over and over again. So that didn’t work. We tried diving. The description for diving said it was great for kids with ADHD. and it was at the same time as swim practice. Perfect, I thought. That was going really well until we wound up in the emergency room because Bryce got upset to the point where he wanted to kill himself (that is a whole other post). We recently tried an art class. And guess what? Bryce made it through half the class before he decided he didn’t want to do it. But, he calmly came and told me he wanted to leave. He didn’t scream, yell, call anyone names, hit anyone or throw anything. Success!

I know I do not need to tell anyone that Bryce is diagnosed with a mental illness or that he has developmental delays. Yet, many times I do. Why? To explain why it is that he plays a lot video games? Is that me feeling a need to not feel guilty? Probably a little. Is that our society expecting everyone these days to “do something.” Probably a little. It’s also just me telling about Bryce. That is who he is. I also do it because I want to stand up against stigma. I want people to know that it is OK to talk about mental illness. That I am not afraid to talk about it. And, when I do talk about it, other people talk about it. Maybe other people will get help for their child or find services. Because we have had success for Bryce and that is because we do get him help.

So, what does Bryce do? He loves video games, drawing, animals, stuffed animals, jumping on the trampoline and swimming. He loves swimming.

Follow this journey on Think of Happy Things.

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