themighty logo

What Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Really Feels Like

How to explain rapid cycling disorder?

Imagine you’re driving down the freeway. Everything is “normal” except that you’re weaving in and out of traffic 15 miles over the speed limit while you’re singing at the top of your lungs. So, in reality, nothing is “normal” except for the simple fact you’re manic and in the middle of a weeklong episode.

That weeklong episode is filled with multiple stints complimented with the most definite conviction you will absolutely rule the world. You’ll begin to learn the lovely language of Spanish at 2 a.m., and by 4 a.m., you’ll be budgeting feverishly to attempt to snuff the racing thoughts for an hour or two. You have the sudden ability to survive on two to three hours of sleep, if not any at all, and climb to success in all areas of your life. At least you think you’re climbing to success, which you’re not because you’re in an altered reality and the reality is you’re dancing on the line of mania and psychosis.

You are incredibly endearing, full of passionate rants about the universe or the dog sanctuary you’re planning to build in less than 30 days with a budget of the $500 that is sitting in your savings. The $500 is all you have left after you went on a lust-filled shopping spree at the mall, unable to control the impulses of buying everything in your direct line of sight. At the boutique, the saleswoman asks you what you’re up to while you pile rompers and shirts onto your arm, and with a grand smile and alluring voice, you declare you are undoubtedly treating yourself today. After your mania-fueled episode, you’ll sit on your bed with receipts littered all around, fumbling over them as you attempt to grasp the idea you’ve spent $600 in less than two days. Alcohol becomes your daily beverage, and marijuana soothes the war that is taking place inside your mind. Sobriety means facing your thoughts, facing the fact it isn’t you living in this body anymore.

There is no self-care, no desire to feed the wailing in your stomach, no drive to keep the vessel you consider your body to be alive due to hysteria. The brief hours of stability have officially slipped through the cracks and it becomes a vicious cycle of highs and lows, days of staring blankly at the walls while you mourn over the loss of energy, passion and excitement. A will to endure this madness will quickly turn into a zealous passion for life. You’ll create a plan all the way up until you’re 30, hours are spent sketching your dream home and simultaneously drafting a plan of how you’ll fund all of this lavish lifestyle. Your customers will stare at you with a confused look as you bounce around the front office, boasting about you next greatest success while your manager quietly shushes you, reminding you you’re yelling at the top of your lungs and bouncing like the Energizer Bunny. You become mortified as you fall in love with the highs and lows, intoxicated by the endless energy plagued with aggressive bouts, followed by nights of gazing at the ceiling as your mind ceases to come to a halt, counting down the days until you regain your sanity. You begin wondering if this is your new standard of living, if you’ll be able to evacuate the tsunami that is flooding through your mind. You contemplate letting yourself drown as the waves crash through as the current is becoming too powerful to swim against.

You become irritable, waking up with a deep awareness something is wrong. It’s a burning in the pit of your stomach, swallowing your ability to fight the thoughts of fear that arise in your mind. You find it difficult to explain you are frantic to face the simple day-to-day tasks. As soon as you’re awake, you beg for the night, as all the events during the day have become tedious and near impossible.

Mania has hit the brakes, coming to a screeching halt. The irritability has transformed into aggravation and the line between reality and the world your delicate psyche has created begins to blur. You began to lose a grip on your lucidity, you go from zero to one hundred, with little to no control. You stalk around, ready to pounce on any individual who dares to disagree with you, and as they speak, you only hear what your brain says. It tells you they despise you, that your emotions are invalid, it tells you to rip them apart.

Imagine this happens for months, and the time between the manic and depressive episodes narrows. You are spared from the darkest depths of your mind for two days as you get to bask in the glory of mania. The faster you climb up, the harder you fall. It is a revolving door of emotions, a melting pot of racing thoughts, impulsive decisions resulting in the loss of many friends, a disconnection from those who don’t understand and finding comfort in those who empathize with you. It is suicide notes littering your notebooks along with budgets, hundreds of business ideas, ramblings about your woes and unachievable goals.

It feels like you’re falling, with no safety net to catch you from barreling toward the ground at a hundred miles an hour. You eventually lose grip on reality and the scenes that play through your mind spill into your expectations of what life should be. You become petrified of who you are and mostly mortified of what’s to come. Control starts slipping through your hands and eventually, another version of you begins to respond to people. This version wants to see pain, it lives to create chaos. It’s like you’re looking through a one-way mirror and you can see the disappointment on their faces, but you can’t tell them how you mourn for destroying their sanity and shattering their image of you. Instead you’re stuck desperately searching for ways to dig yourself out of the hole you just buried yourself in. You seek ways to unravel your mind, to lay all the pieces of your mental disarray out and sift through each one until you have an explanation as to why you are spiraling out of control, as to why you can no longer see the love in your friends’ eyes.

It’s the shame, credit card statements adding up, unpaid bills scattered around the room. It’s not eating for days because you’re convinced hunger is a weakness. You lose a significant amount of weight and as you stare in the mirror, you marvel at the perfection of your emaciated frame. It is a loss, loss of yourself, of control, of the will to live. It’s wanting to envelop yourself in darkness, glued to your bed and watching day turn into night and night turn into day again. It’s closing your eyes and envisioning your funeral. You obsess over how your family and friends will feel, you begin creating a world for them in which you are no longer a part of. It is the hours you spend weeping, unable to give answers as to why you’re not the person your loved ones knew.

You give yourself a year until you ultimately end it all. You can’t trust your reactions, it has become a guessing game of which version you will bubble to the surface at any given point of time. Your boyfriend stares at you with wide eyes and a broken gaze in the mornings, he’ll tell you that he’s stepping on eggshells in your presence. By noon you are sent home from work because a trigger pulled you into an episode, severing another tie with your family and you’re riddled with the guilt of the chaos you caused. On the drive home, you count the number of utility poles you can collide into, and soon after, visualize a car sliding through the intersection and becoming succumbed by darkness. You pray you will regain sanity someday, that you’ll look in the mirror and recognize yourself again.

It is not “a phase.”

It is not “a feeling you sometimes get.”

It is not “hot to cold.”

It is the fear this insanity may never end. That you will have to swallow 16 pills a day and even that cannot guarantee stability. You’ll have to fight harder than the average person on a bad day just to keep your head above water, that a 20% higher suicide rate is embedded in your armor.

Every Monday, you spend the entire morning dedicated to therapy and psychiatry, the afternoon waiting for your medication to be ready and the evening staring at the eight pills that are going to slide down your throat and give you a moment of numbness. The days after are a battle to stay rational. You’ll attempt to navigate the hiccups of life and safeguard yourself from anything that’ll spark the chaos that lays waiting in the darkest depths of your mind.

It’s spending the next six months of your life trying to explain this is more than an invisible illness. That it has teeth and claws that’ll tear your delicate psyche apart at the very moment you begin to feel the burning of anxiety in your stomach or sadness laced throughout your bones. You’ll spend most of your days trying to describe how it is just as powerful as shattering all of your bones in a car wreck and living up the expectation you will be fully healed from the injuries and trauma in less than two months. It’s learning how to sympathize with those who’ll never understand the darkness in your head and telling them it isn’t just a trend. It is staring at your therapist across the room on the yellow sofa placed in front of the window overlooking the city and studying the way she’s looking at you. She’ll spend hours with you, explaining how you can learn to combat the angst, but it’ll take more energy than you’re willing to give. You’re going to glance over at the clock dozens of times during your hour-long psychiatry session and wonder how you landed right here, in this spot, with a mind that is no longer yours and listen to him list off the medications that may possibly guarantee stability.

You will cry after most of your sessions, your head resting against the wheel and hands shaking. Hundreds of thoughts will flood your mind and you’re faced with the only truth: this is forever and you will have to fight to control your mind at all times. You remind yourself this is one day at a time, that tomorrow you can restart, that you’re brave for waking up every day and swallowing the fear of failure to withstand all parts of the day. You’ll cry as you imagine how beautiful sanity could be, how one day you’ll wake up and be more than just bipolar, you’ll be the version of you that you used to see in the mirror.

You’ve been to the dark side of the moon and back; you’ll never be just “normal.”

Did I properly explain rapid cycling bipolar disorder?

Getty image by Benjavisa