The Made-Up Word That Helps Me Describe Life With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder. When saying these two words, the first thoughts that come to mind are guilt, shame, loneliness and anger. Ever since I can remember I’ve been struggling with bipolar disorder, and those around me have been struggling, too. I say those around me because bipolar disorder is not just a one-way diagnosis. It affects everyone around you, especially your loved ones.

I have been searching for a word to describe what it feels like living with bipolar disorder and I came across altschmerz. It isn’t quite a real word, but someone named John Koenig made it up by altering a real German word, that real word being weltschmerz. It does not have a direct English equivalent. However, in German, welt means world, and schmerz means pain, so as a compound word, the combination, literally translated, means “world pain.

So, imagine carrying a world of pain every other week, because that is what living with bipolar disorder is like. One moment everything seems to be working out just fine, and the next you get knocked from your pedestal so hard you feel the earth shatter. It is searching for purpose, meaning and peace in everything (anything), yet somehow it keeps eluding you. You seek out things or opportunities that you think will make you happy, but the truth is, nothing seems to make you happy. And that is when the guilt manifests. You find all these new and exciting endeavors in order to fill this constant void you are carrying. You think, this is what I need, this is what I have been searching for, but then something happens. Either your plans fall through or it changes, or the satisfaction of things working out is short-lived and replaced by a new set of variables you didn’t plan for. Then you feel disappointed, anxious and guilty. Guilty for getting everyone on board and excited, getting them to believe in what you are trying to accomplish, because when you hit rock bottom, they don’t get it. How could they? How can someone be depressed and disappointed if they got exactly what they wanted?

This is the rollercoaster ride of having this disease and this is the dark truth, the dark place that my mind resides; it feels like nothing is going to make me happy or help me feel at peace. I feel this constant shame for not being able to shake this empty feeling despite being blessed with more than most. The shame and guilt of not being happy alone, not with people — not anywhere — that is the loneliest place to be. People get angry and frustrated with me and think I’m just trying to make up excuses (it’s not that hard, right?). They think I’m lazy, or procrastinating and that I’m not trying hard enough, but the truth is I feel stuck. When I find a potential means of spending my time in a positive and productive way, I either loose interest quickly or it somehow turns out that, yet again, this is not the token that is going to provide me with peace. The sad thing is (and this is when I get angry), it seems that nothing can bring me peace. All I want to do is sleep for that is the only time that I am not confined to these dark places.

I feel like I experience everything about life in full throttle. I sometimes feel like I am absorbing every inch of pain and disruption of this world and I can’t breathe. My heart and thoughts start racing and I feel like I literally cannot stand being alive. The darkness consumes me. I have taught myself to “think” my way out of this darkness, but it is short lived and soon the somber cloth is draped around me again. I find myself back at square one. These highs and lows are exhausting, not only to me but to those near and dear to me because every other week I am in a different state of mind.

Honestly, this is not a way to live. Believe me, I don’t want to either, but I just have no idea how to find peace inside this constant, ongoing war.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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