What It's Like to Experience Mixed Episodes With Bipolar Disorder

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I have bipolar I disorder with mixed episodes. This means I can have periods of time where I experience many of the “classic” signs of mania: The frenetic physical energy, the restlessness, the compulsive need to give voice to the torrent of thoughts flying through my head, resulting in pressured and sometimes near unintelligible rapid-speech, the reckless impulsivity in pleasurable activities, feeling grandiose like I have some kind of skills or powers that are greater than other people, etc. With mixed episodes (also known as dysphoric mania), I also get many of the symptoms of depression like dark feelings of hopelessness, a certain feeling of futility in fighting my illness, unrelenting irrational fears about my future and how living with bipolar disorder will affect that, thoughts of suicide, etc. The part where it gets terrifying is that, while my thoughts are bleak and black, they are also swirling with all the intensity of an F5 tornado. There is nowhere to hide. They blow the house down and shred every protective barrier I have in place away, leaving me completely vulnerable to the relentless onslaught of the flurry of racing thoughts and ideas. Psychosis is occasionally a player as well, and so paranoia can become an issue for me too.

They are terrifying. It’s like a fire hose of thoughts is pointed at me and I cannot move or shut it off. The thoughts are “loud” in a non-audible way, but in a way that is impossible to ignore. Sometimes I can’t focus on anything because so many things are running through my head at once. I am scared and I become terrified it won’t stop, or I won’t be able to endure it. I worry I am actually losing my mind.

I blast music in my car, in my ears, in my room, just to try to drown out half of the thoughts and slow down the stream. It helps sometimes. I don’t sleep much because the mania part doesn’t let me and because the thoughts keep me up late. I dream more during this period than at any other time because my brain won’t rest, even if I am sleeping. I can start a sentence off crying and be laughing by the end, the early tears still streaming down my cheeks. I am acutely aware of what I look like to people.

These are the episodes that can land me in the hospital. They are notoriously considered the most unsafe type of episodes for people with bipolar disorder because people have all of the warped depressive episode thinking, combined with the energy to follow through with the ideas. The increased impulsivity I experience in concert with the above is deeply problematic for me, so I will seek an admission if I see those things becoming a serious issue.

I want people to know what these feel like. Over the years, I have found myself frantically searching the web for others’ descriptions of their mixed episodes, and found material sadly lacking. There are clinical descriptions written by people who have clearly never experienced a mixed episode, but precious little written by anyone who has been through one.

You aren’t alone. We are all out here.

My favorite quote is from Carrie Fisher’s book and film “Postcards from the Edge,” when she is describing her semi-autobiographical character, Suzanne. It hit home for me and I relate to it so very much:

“She wanted to be tranquil, to be someone who took walks in the late-afternoon sun, listening to the birds and crickets and feeling the whole world breathe. Instead, she lived in her head like a madwoman locked in a tower, hearing the wind howling through her hair and waiting for someone to come and rescue her from feeling things so deeply that her bones burned. She had plenty of evidence that she had a good life. She just couldn’t feel the life she saw she had. It was though she had cancer of the perspective.” — Carrie Fisher

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via misuma

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To My Husband With Bipolar Disorder: I Will Never Stop Choosing You

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Dear Husband,

I never knew when I married you 12 years ago that you were bipolar and neither did you. We were young and in love, and our love story was turbulent but beautiful. I figured no one else was as passionate as us, so when we were in love with were really in love, and when we hated each other, we really hated each other. In the end the though, my heart always knew, and so:

I still chose you.

Nine months after we were married and you started hearing things and seeing things that weren’t there, I didn’t understand what you were going through and didn’t know it was because of bipolar. I tried to respect your delusions and listen with seriousness, until the night it was all too much and we found you surrounded by police, barefoot and afraid. They misdiagnosed you that night as having schizophrenia, and I sobbed tears that I thought would never end. But they did, and through it all:

I still chose you.

We figured out you had bipolar disorder and you gained weight because you refused to get your meds adjusted and to see a psychiatrist, but you got better. A lot better. In fact, so much better you went back to college, something you couldn’t sit through or do before. You graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science. We had our first child, we bought a house, life was normal. I stopped worrying the other shoe would drop. During this time my dreams were coming true and:

It was easy to choose you.

Before our firstborn’s third birthday, we learned she had a severe developmental delay. Those tears that seemed to come without end came again and I was lost and devastated. Where I was weak, you were strong. Where I was sad, you had hope. Where I felt the weight of the world, you let me share it on your shoulders and eased the burden. You were my rock and as I would close my tired weary eyes, bloodshot from searching the internet, I would fall onto your chest and:

Choose you.

A decade, a fifth wheel, a jetski and two kids later you decided to go off of your meds. I was anxious and you listened to all of my concerns. We had a plan, and a safe word. Three months later after the summer of our lives, you had your second manic episode, a felony and a wake up call. I knew I could get you back and every day I visited you in the hospital, sometimes twice a day. I would leave a sticky note for you that you would put on your room wall to remind you:

I still choose you.

I knew being back on medication would fix things, but then a dark cloud floated above our home and left you sad and empty. Nothing I could do or say could bring you back to me, and even though you were physically there, your eyes were empty. After the long winter, the medication that once kept you stable for 10 years stopped working. Mania came back and shooed the dark cloud away, but also brought with it delusions and hallucinations. Another hospitalization and I thought I would do what I did before, but you didn’t want to see me this time. I would visit and you would send me home. I didn’t know what to do, but

I still chose you.

You still chose me too, but once the mania faded, the dark cloud came back to visit. I don’t know how long it will stay. Sometimes I pray so hard that I see the sun find it’s way to us again and I think everything will the same, but the cloud is thick and covers it up again. I see you try day after day, and I want you to know, I’ll never give up on you because you’re worth it. You are always there for me, even with bipolar and I promise I will always be there for you. And even though you feel I would be better off with someone else, I want you to know that will never be true because I will never, ever stop fighting and:

choosing you.

Follow this journey here.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor.

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The Crash That Comes After Hypomania

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With the ups come the downs. The down is here with a vengeance. The scampering delight of the past few weeks has crashed me face first into the pavement. Not to say I can’t get up, but I’m slow to rise and feel heavy as lead.

I should have known when I was dancing with the kids with a little too much oomph. It felt too good. Lip syncing and flying around the kitchen. This is a good thing for some, but it is my warning that I always choose to ignore — the opposite of this feeling is coming soon. Get ready.

When you think you get a break from this illness it likes to baseball bat you upside your head to remind you that you’re never really free.

Yes, this too shall pass. People say that often and it’s not like they’re wrong. It always does. But with bipolar disorder, there’s an edge to this that isn’t just your everyday “bad mood.” Dangerous thoughts come fast. They come with a vigor and descend on you like one of those zombie armies you see in the movies. You’d better climb fast or they’ll overtake you quick. Lying in bed drowned in daydreams of death. All logic gone — the thoughts you’d never think in your right mind. The muck is thick like tar.

Don’t act on the thoughts. Just sit tight. I can vouch that this is easier said than done. If I had a buck for every time someone told me to fix it with a walk, some gratitude, a supplement or a more positive attitude, I’d be a rich woman. 

So here I sit. Filthy, heavy, breathing heavy with face just above the surface of the muddy water.

This too shall pass.

Follow this journey on Manic Depressive Me.

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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

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The Push and Pull of Mania, Depression and Me

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Before I understood my bipolar diagnosis, I just thought that mania was the creative, determined, hardworking, albeit irritable me and that the depression that came after was the sad, tired me. Depression, I understood. All too well. We are reluctant friends who do not like each other, yet find comfort in our quiet. Mania – well, she was new.

Mania comes in, kicks the door down and says, “I’m here to party, bitches!” But after a while everyone around gets tired of the party. Mania wants to work all day, fast, wants to plan projects and jobs without thinking it through. Mania wants to watercolor at 11 p.m. When everyone is sleeping, Mania wants to listen to music – real loud. Mania says, “Don’t go to sleep, you’ll miss out on all the fun.” Mania thinks three hours of sleep is sufficient. Mania talks back to people and snaps at strangers. Mania says no one else does anything as good as me so I must do everything for everybody. Mania says I’m witty. Mania says I tell the best stories and that I really can do karate in the backyard at 8 p.m., when I really know nothing about karate. Mania says I’m skinny and that my skin has never looked better. Mania wants to talk to strangers and make new friends. Mania wants to paint the house at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday. Mania tells me that the people I love are annoying and that I don’t need them. Mania tells me I don’t have to talk to my partner about decisions and says I’m better off alone. Mania says I don’t have to answer to anyone. Mania tells me to buy the expensive jeans, just don’t tell anyone how much they cost. Mania likes me…. until she doesn’t.

Then depression decides to move in, carrying more luggage than necessary to do the job. Depression is like an old coat that no one likes. Wool. Scratchy. Ugly. Smelly. Sad. Depression always overstays its visit. Depression is constantly unpacking baggage. Depression tells me I’m tired, sad and lonely. Depression sulks and cries for no reason. Depression tell me I’m worthless and that I haven’t lived up to my potential so just give up. Depression tells me that no one likes me. Depression tells me I’m fat and my face is looking old. Depression says not to smile or laugh. Depression tells me it is better to stay in bed. Depression tells me I’m a bad mom to my kids. Depression says I have ruined them. Depression wants to be in the dark, keep the shades closed. Depression cries with me and sometimes I even find comfort in Depression.

Just when I feel consumed by that old coat, dark and lonely, sad and uncomfortable, there’s a knock. Mania kicks the door down and announces her arrival. Depression packs up slowly over a few days, sometimes weeks. Mania calls more and more and I start to go out. And one of them leaves while the other one takes its place. I again am alone in this house with one of the two of my constant companions. I never know how long each stay will last. Weeks, months. Some longer than others. I do know this – it won’t last forever. One will go, one will stay. In those moments, in between — when one is coming and the other going, I can almost see my own reflection. Just me. Without one of my constant companions. Just me. Staring back at me. And then one walks in and I know it’ll be awhile before I’m alone again.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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mother and daughter hugging

To the Mommas With Mental Illness Having a Tough Day, Week or Month

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This week was tough.

I fell into my first full depressive episode since I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder.  Being aware of what was happening and not being able to stop the cycle was frustrating to say the least. I have felt it coming for a couple of weeks now, but I was fighting against it.

On Monday, it was hard to get out of bed. By the afternoon, my body felt heavy. I was exhausted, I was irritable and all I could think about was lying in my bed.

Monday night left me restless. I was awake at 2:30 a.m. with nothing but frustration. I finally fell back asleep at 7 a.m. and managed to peel myself out of bed to take my daughter to gymnastics and go to work.

The whole day was so hard. I struggled to maintain focus. I found myself leaning on things when I had to get up and sitting for long periods of time, constantly closing my eyes and picturing myself laying in my bed.

I got home Tuesday night and I told my daughter that mommy was having an “Eeyore” day and that I needed to lie down. I slept from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., when my daughter reminded me she had nothing to pack for lunch the next day.

I peeled myself out of bed and headed to Sheetz to pick up a Lunchable. “Sure you can get a slushy,” I tell my daughter. Whatever you want as long as I can go back to bed.

On the way home, I apologized to my daughter. “I’m so sorry mommy is having an Eeyore day, baby. I love you so much”

Her response brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart:

“It’s OK, Momma, I know you have Eeyore days sometimes. That’s just the way God made you — it’s your personality. Besides, it would be boring if everyone was the same.”

quote of Eeyore day from 9-year-old

When you’re on the verge of a breakdown and you hear your 9-year-old have more compassion and understanding than most adults you know, it makes your heart swell.

Of course, depression makes it ugly: “She shouldn’t have to see this. She shouldn’t be so mature. She deserves a mom who doesn’t have ‘Eeyore’ Days.”

Wednesday was bad, I’m not going to lie. I’m surprised I made it to my doctors appointment, but I did. She started me on medication.

Thursday wasn’t so great either. I barely got out of bed for two days. I didn’t shower or brush my teeth. My house was a mess. Depression isn’t pretty.

On Thursday evening, I got out of bed long enough to plug my waffle maker in, make some pancake mix and sit on the barstool at the counter making waffles for dinner. One hand was holding up my heavy head and the other was making the waffles. Some days, you just “gotta do what you gotta do.”

Today, was slightly better.

I’m still down, but my body isn’t nearly as heavy. After my counseling appointment I’m working on challenging some of the unproductive thoughts.

Maybe tomorrow will be even better.

Eventually the cycle will rear its ugly head again, but I’ll have better coping skills in place.

If you’re a mom having an “Eeyore” day, week or month— forgive yourself now. Our kids will have more compassionate and empathy for human suffering,  at least that’s my hope.

Sincerely,

One “Flawsome” Momma

Follow this journey One Flawsome Momma.

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Thinkstock photo via ka2shka

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Why Living With a Mental Illness Gets 'Boring'

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It gets boring when I don’t get better. It gets boring when the same horrendous thoughts travel through my mind at 100 mph — the same thoughts that made yesterday so difficult claim my today as their own to ruin.

It gets boring, saying to the same friends, who I let down last week, that I still feel too tired, or anxious, or depressed or ill to see them this week. It gets boring inventing more non-existent plans to excuse myself from parties, hen parties or baby showers I can’t attend because even the thought of them sends me into utter panic.

It gets boring, speaking to the same doctor, week after week, to review my lack of progress. It gets boring, convincing her I’m not suicidal and I am able to take myself to the emergency room I become that way before the same conversation next week.

It gets boring, suddenly feeling euphorically happy and rapidly expending all energy by speaking far too quickly, as I try to convince almost anyone who will listen that I have a plan to save the world, make millions or live forever. All the while, I’m physically shaking so much I can’t even drink a cup of tea. Actually, it becomes boring trying to make a cup of tea — a task that has been known to take three hours, as I am distracted by every thought that must be acted on with a desperate sense of urgency.

It gets boring, realizing for the third time in a month that the manic energy was just a brief state of mind and the darkest, debilitating depression is somehow still there.

It gets boring, having the same Q&A session with myself every single night regarding the pros and cons of taking the antipsychotic, mood stabilizing or tranquilizing medication, and it gets boring every morning wondering if the tiredness I feel is due to the said medications or a persistent symptom of the severe depression.

I believe it all gets boring for my friends, doctors, nurses, colleagues, acquaintances because let’s face it — I believe treatment-resistant mental health problems are boring. There are no eye-catching headlines saying, “She’s the same as she has been for the last five years.” There are no anecdotes to be told about that time when I felt exactly the same amount of chaos as I do today. There are no “Get Well” cards to be written and no concerned friends; no one can be concerned indefinitely.

But truth be told, I wish I could be a bit more bored. What I feel is a failure, anxious, unstable and unpredictable.

Please put your boredom aside and give me a hug, or listen to me tell you my “crazy plans.” It is really scary when it feels like people are too bored to care.

Not everyone with a mental health problem is cured by having a mate “in their corner,” but it makes it a bit less lonely.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via MariaDubova

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