My Beautiful, Nonlinear Bipolar Life
The Unreliable Friend
In my high school friend group, I was known for being late to everything. My best friend and I even have a running joke that she gives me an earlier time to meet up so that I will arrive at the actual time. I was also known to cancel plans at the last minute. I would say I was going to do something and then not do it. I still do this today, although to a much smaller extent than I used to. I rowed in high school, then spontaneously quit without telling my close friends on the team first, and honestly thought nothing of it at the time. I have to live with the feelings I’ve hurt.
The Forgetful Friend
I’ve forgotten birthdays with people I would consider to be my best friends and I’ve forgotten how to get to their house. I’ve forgotten my wallet, keys, purse and phone numerous times. My freshmen year of college, I misplaced my key, then the copy key, then the loner key, then that loner key — I wish I was joking. I probably drove my housemates nuts with the amount of times I misplaced my key. It comes off as the character trait, aloofness. Unfortunately, it may be perceived as a lack of care or a lack of love.
“Crazy,” Off, Odd
Friends would call me unorthodox and charismatic, but enemies would call me off and “crazy.” I am loud with an off-beat sense of humor. I enjoy humor that surprises me or makes me cringe (to an extent) more than I enjoy humor one might expect to happen. I tend to only joke in a dry, sarcastic manner if I consider that person to be a close friend or loved one, but that sense of humor isn’t funny to me for the most part.
Word salad is the best way to describe this sensation. It happens most when I’m cycling or if I’m put in a socially stressful situation. Actual words and sentence arrangement are compromised. It’s embarrassing for me and off putting to others, but not something I have a lot of control over in the moment. People I love get special nicknames and tend to adopt some of this “language” and it’s honestly sweet and validating.
It doesn’t necessarily mean I argue a lot in relationships, but I think it’s a manifestation of the earlier points. Because I tend to be unreliable and forgetful, friends tend to perceive that as a reflection of themselves and our relationship rather than as a manifestation of my mental illness. I’m terrible at scheduling and planning (granted, being a college student with a waxing and waning schedule does not help), so I tend to focus on the task in front of me. This tunnel vision makes it hard for me to stay present or aware of other responsibilities, and I know that has unfortunately hurt people I love.
I hear often from articles or hearsay that individuals who are bipolar induce mania to make themselves feel better and productive. I don’t like that stereotype because it fails to address the lack of control when experiencing hypomania. It’s not as if I get a bunch of energy and will now finally get that project done. If I have a bunch of energy from a hypomanic episode, often it may manifest as physical energy. Sometimes the sensation is so overwhelming I can’t sit still, so now I work out to try to burn off some of that energy. Maybe it will calm my racing, scattered thoughts. Having a lot of energy does not mean I’ll pay more attention to the things I need to get done. It may look like researching a disease for hours, cleaning my apartment for hours or working out at 1 a.m. (yes, I’ve done it)! Hypomania may manifest as irritability and agitation, so it’s not a great feeling to want to lash out on people you love who you know don’t deserve to be spoken to in that way. Hypomanic episodes may last for a week. When I cycled most recently, I hardly slept for about a week, probably three hours (from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.) each day without feeling tired. It may sound fun, but it’s not something to romanticize.
“Bipolars Are Smart and Creative”
I find this stereotype to be deeply misleading for various reasons. I think it’s unfair to make these assumptions. When individuals call me “smart” in reference to my mental illness, I’m bothered because a lot of why I’m “smart” is because I’ve had a privileged life with resources at my fingertips. I think anyone in my position would have the same success, if not more in their own lives. Part two of this argument is being called “creative.” I consider myself creative, but not because I have bipolar II. Many people process their trauma through art because it provides relief and it’s a tangible way to turn tragedy into rebirth and beauty. There is suspicion that what makes individuals who are bipolar create magnificent things and accomplish unbelievable feats is during episodes of mania. The tunnel vision towards one project or thing for hours on end is a possible explanation for the birthplace of this miraculous creativity.
Despite the less desirable aspects of my illness, I believe that my condition gives me a unique perspective on the world. My world is electric and full of vibrant color, and I consider that to be a gift.
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash