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What It's Like to Be 'Almost' Bipolar


Every new psychiatrist is the same. They go through the questions, tick the boxes and give me a puzzled look. They lean back in their chairs and stare at me in silence for a few minutes. Sometimes they flip through their clipboard or scroll through their computer, as if they missed something.

“You have almost all the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder,” they always say. “But you’re so stable, and you’ve never suffered a manic episode.”

After further discussion they end up putting me in the “bipolar” box. The medicine works. I’ve had those dramatic, roller coaster mood swings. I’ve felt the ghost of mania that makes me want to run a thousand miles, clean a thousand plates and write a thousand stories. I’ve felt the fall, to where I don’t want to move or speak. My symptoms have made every psychiatrist confident that I do not have only depression or anxiety. Each one has never been sure whether to put me in bipolar 1 or bipolar 2, and always tentatively chosen the one my previous psychiatrist tried; which is usually bipolar 2. My current psychiatrist, luckily the best by far, was further shocked to find how low my medicine doses were, and told me it was something short of a miracle I wasn’t driving myself crazy with all the mental work I was doing that the medicine is now covering.

I joined The Mighty’s bipolar page, hoping to find a community where I could connect and learn more about what I had. But every article left me feeling empty. I couldn’t connect, I couldn’t relate. I’ve never spent too much money in one hour, signed up for something life-changing without thinking or done something extremely dangerous because I felt invincible. When I was first diagnosed, it wasn’t as puzzling. I was 14, so my mental illness could develop further into a more diagnose-able pattern. But as I got older, the puzzled looks became longer and harder.

My mania episodes are as I described them earlier — like ghosts of what mania is for others. But my depression, the fall after, is just as severe as what is usually described for bipolar 1. I’ll feel the rise, feel the urge to do, to create, until I get angry and agitated because my body won’t move fast enough. I won’t do anything terrible. I’ve never destroyed anything for the sake of sating that bottomless energy. I’ve imagined it, thought about it; how I felt invincible, and wanted to test it. A knife couldn’t hurt me, just make me bleed. Maybe jump down those stairs, like in a movie, and feel the pain travel through my bones. Drive so fast my heart pounds, and then faster. Tell everyone what I’ve been holding in and stop biting my tongue. Quit my job and pursue a completely risky career.

They never cross the threshold of unplanned thought. Often they are fleeting, but my mind is stuck on fast forward until the ghost mania subsides. Then the crash comes, and, unfortunately, it is not as minor. I go from bottomless energy to bottomless despair. I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to move.

This cycle has haunted me for years, and I’ve grown accustomed to it. The pills help me maintain some control over the crash. But the fact that no one has been confidently able to put me into bipolar 1 or bipolar 2 always hangs over me. I’ve entered those mania periods and felt that maybe I was faking it. Maybe I didn’t have a mental disorder. Maybe I had just thought I did. Maybe I got addicted to the pills and this is how I keep them coming. If I don’t understand anyone here, I must be faking it. Maybe I just have depression or anxiety, and I’m using bipolar to make me sound more complex.

But the truth is I do have bipolar. Once the fog has cleared and I look at my life from an untainted perspective, which isn’t often, I see the signs. I remember the situations and experiences. Mental illness, like most medical conditions, injuries and illnesses, are not fixed and easy things. There are a lot of grey areas and blurred lines. It isn’t super important that I fit in one specific mental illness space. What’s important is that I have found something that works. That helps. That I’ve found a healthy way to manage the unusual and unnatural or missing chemical reactions in my brain so that I can live my life better.

Have you ever felt this way? If so, share your story.

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Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash