In the Mind of a Person With Rapid-Cycling Type I Bipolar Disorder


I’ve always been emotionally explosive. I’m like a raw nerve. I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder (Type I, severe, rapid cycling) until I was 32 years old, but when I finally got the diagnosis, hoo boy did my life-long wild and erratic behavior suddenly begin to make a lot more sense to me.

It was an enormous relief — to have some sort of explanation for the rampant mood swings, the overwhelming irritability, the rages, the meltdowns, the all-or-nothing approach to absolutely every aspect of my life.

Finally, I felt less alien, less alone. There were others out there just like me, bouncing off the walls, invincible, out of their head with grandiose plans to achieve this, that and the other… and then, the next week, having to cancel everything because life was over and there was nothing left in the world. Therefore, I could not leave my bed, much less my house. And this isn’t hyperbolic. To be frank, this is putting it rather mildly.

I live, primarily, inside of my head, the roar and silence of my mind consuming nearly all my mental and emotional energy. I find it difficult to emerge very often. Although depression and mania are expressed in opposing timbers, they are equally demanding and clamorous in my mind. Because they insist on my undivided attention, the world surrounding me is dimmed. The voices, feelings and needs of my family, friends, anyone, everyone, are drowned out. To hear, engage, converse, react appropriately (in the societal sense) I must concentrate hard and, even then, I fear I’m not getting it right.

My mental illness makes me feel selfish. Immature. Self-possessed. Self-obsessed. Needy and greedy as a child — a wretched woman-child. A blight, a leech, a mistake.

A dominant portion of my genetic make up is the predisposition for anxiety, engendering considerable fear, self-doubt and rumination. It presents itself most potently during mood fluctuation — usually at the height of a mixed episode when agitation becomes extreme. Then the anxiety itself promotes a depressive swing, underscores it. The hopeless, frantic rumination presses in. I’m afraid to be alone but desperately averse to the company of others.

This is social anxiety magnified. Overtaking me. Engulfing me. Controlling me. There is the tiny cross-section of time: intermittent bouts of hypomania, in which I am hyper-verbal, creative, expressive, gregarious, enthusiastic, euphoric. They are fantastic. And fleeting.

At various points of occurrence, the illness presents a false demeanor. I am caught up in the play acting, the pretending. I am fun, spontaneous, likable.  It is a farce, though, this pleasant and engaging personality, this false congeniality.

The more I learn about bipolar disorder, the more unbelievable it is that it took well into my 30s to be properly diagnosed. Furthermore, I think my mood swings might be slightly more complex than I originally thought. My depressive and manic periods can last three to six months, switching back and forth, tag-teaming me mercilessly. Compounding that, I’ve already been told I am rapid-cycling, which means that within a depressive or manic period, I have shorter, more subtle mood shifts throughout the day.

Read: My mind is set to spin cycle, and neither delicate nor permanent press settings are options.

I think the patterns in mood-switching are becoming more predictable, but I’m still taken by surprise when I suddenly find myself mired in depression or consumed by mania. I suppose when one is “crazy” and going “crazier,” they are probably too damn “crazy” to realize it.

The mornings are always the worst. Regardless of whether I am in a manic or depressive period, each morning weighs me down. My eyes open with reluctance as the anxiety kicks up into full-force. My armpits already slick with anxiety sweat, my breath is shallow. My heart speeds up. The dread is overwhelming. The dread, the anxiety, the feelings of worthlessness are almost too much to bear. I take my medication, the pills which are supposed to make me not so unhinged.

But I am. Still. So. Unhinged… unhinged enough to know the suicidal ideation isn’t that far behind me. In fact, I can see it rearing its ugly head again.

 My last trick of the night, folks. After waking, I lay back down. I pull the blanket around me, over my head to block out the light from the cheerfully obnoxious sun. What a bastard.

The sunshine remains unceasingly cruel, mocking me, almost taking pleasure in my suffering. I keep the blanket tucked around my head, even though it is getting hot and uncomfortable. It’s hard to breathe in there. I don’t like that. Sometimes, I think I want to die, but I’m afraid of the suffering. I forget that I will most definitely do not want to die later in the day, post-mood shift. The afternoons are better, and the evenings are excellent.

Every morning I forget that, since I am taking the pills, I am feeling better. For part of the day. At least the whole day isn’t just one long, drawn-out morning.

It takes an hour or more for me to coax myself into an upright position, to put my feet on the ground. To slowly stand. To look in the mirror and quickly look away, hating what I see.

I don’t start feeling better until about halfway through my workout when the endorphins kick in. And then the creativity returns, the ideas come, the planning, the small glimmers of hope. These feelings are not steady throughout, but they make enough of a dent in my misery to propel me through the rest of my workout.

Post workout, I am feeling pretty, even for a while, just so long as I do not linger in front of the mirror. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. Mirrors seem to have magical properties — they are able to transform my mood almost instantaneously. If I can remember to keep away from mirrors and other triggers, to take my medicine on time and to employ healthy coping strategies, I can get through the day, relatively unscathed.

If I can do that, then I can actually take advantage of the fact that I’m bipolar, because, even though each day’s most basic demands leave me completely exhausted, my bipolar brain is the very reason I’m able to write the way that I can. If I wasn’t unhinged, I’d not likely have a comparable grasp of the English language, of syntax. Words are a powerful display of feelings, and sometimes people, even the ones we love, don’t understand or have access to suppressed feelings locked away for one reason or the other.

And I’d chose this any day.

Follow this journey on Salt and Pepper the Earth.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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