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When Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis Make Your Life a Living Hell

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So many positive, happy, uplifting things have taken place even just within these past few weeks. My wonderful family and I all got together for a raucous, pleasant and COVID-free Thanksgiving gathering where we laughed, we joked, we hooted, we hollered and I got to leave the event knowing all my loved ones were safe and healthy. Then the night after that, I spent three hours in the kitchen, toiling over a hot stove, blasting my favorite music, all in order to whip up a delicious Thanksgiving buffet dinner for me and my parents.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Just the other week I received a surprising text from an acquaintance asking me if I’d like to meet up for a walk around one of our local parks so we could talk and get to know each other. I actually went on that walk the other day and had a very nice time. Past that, many of us are in the end-of-the-year holiday season where most people seem to be in good spirits, partying moods and getting comfy at home in fuzzy robes and slippers.

So then why the absolute hell did I lock myself in the bathroom the other night around 7  p.m. to drown myself in a bitter, sorrowful cascade of tears and then continue to descend into a depressive pit that rendered the rest of my night absolutely joyless and meaningless. Or, why did I randomly and fitfully start freaking out in my room earlier? Because my bipolar disorder decided it was time for another random hypomanic episode, that’s why!

When you have a severe mental illness, I’ve found from my experience it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, your birthday or your wedding day. It doesn’t matter if you just landed the job of your dreams, found Mr. Right or if you were finally able to buy that house that you’ve been saving up for. As I have gotten older, most days seem to just bleed into one another, none really being all that special compared to the rest, and I have learned to never expect my mental health to act “appropriately” on any given day. I used to think I could force my mental disorders to “behave” during holidays or special events, as if they would concede and make an exception. Or, I used to pretend like I could mask the inner turmoil I was feeling by plastering a cracking smile across my face, bursting at the seams.

At this point in my life, I simply don’t care to hide like that anymore — when I am truly wallowing in the depths of despair, when my brain is burning from mania, when I just can’t be bothered to crawl out of bed to face the light of day, that act of pretending or masking is being seen less and less. Right now, going into December, I don’t feel like Christmas is on its way at all — our entire house is incredibly morose, aching and sick.

Many times, mental illness does not play by any sort of logical or reasonable rules, it does not rest or bide its time, it can feel like its only reason for existing is to make its victims struggle and struggle terribly. Mental afflictions often do not make any sense whatsoever, they can be incredibly unpredictable and some of them come from a place of utter chaos, destruction and constant grieving. Someone living with mental health issues could have the best day of their lives, yet by the end of it, they could be reduced to a sniveling mess on the ground because that’s just how mental disorders work sometimes. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason for how they affect someone, there is only confusion and pain.

Ever since October, I have not only been experiencing a gut-wrenching and troublingly distressing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) flare-up, but I have also been in the throes of a random hypomanic episode, both of which are still very much present in my life. They both started around the same time and neither of them have taken their barbed hooks out of me yet, although I am desperately waiting for the day they do. With my IBS flare-up, I have been gritting my teeth through nausea, agonizing intestinal cramping, diarrhea and constipation, severe abdominal distension, etc. I’ve also been frequently taking laxatives which are hard on my body, yet I have no other choice. With my hypomania, it essentially means I am being subjected to something akin to a manic episode, yet hypomania is a few notches below that. So now that we’re about to go into December, I’ve been dealing with this shit for about two months, and what a fun two months it’s been!

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and I’ll die up on that hill — one of the hardest parts of living with mental illness for me is the unpredictability of it. I personally can’t even predict most things related to my mental health and yet I’ve been living with it for 30 years. It also seems to be one of the pieces to mental illness many people seem to have the most difficulty understanding. I assume they just simply cannot fathom how someone can completely submit to their emotions and poor mentality. Most people have some sort of stability and consistency in their lives, right? They overall do the same things day-to-day, week by week and it doesn’t typically change much.

Living with psychosis in bipolar disorder is one of the cruelest, saddest and most unfair ways to live that I can think of, in my opinion. My life is absolutely, 100% ruled by how well or how badly my mental health is at any given time. Many people are stressed or burnt out due to their career, home life, school, etc., right? I am simply exhausted and burnt out by my life. At 29, I feel like I am mentally going on 50. I’m like this jagged, fractured porcelain doll who keeps picking up the pieces of my broken life and haphazardly gluing myself back together again time after time ad infinitum. I’ve hit so many walls I’m surprised my head hasn’t caved in.

Let’s specifically take a look at these past two months and everything that’s unfolded, shall we? I have basically been involuntarily strapped into an out-of-control roller-coaster that’s completely and utterly spinning out. And every time I try to escape, it sends me crashing straight back into hell. I keep frantically clawing my way out, the skin on my calloused fingers peeling away, my eyes dark and heavy. Yet, when I reach the top, I’m kicked right back down to where I started. The continual ups and downs I have been put through just in these two months alone have left me in a neverending state of trauma, disorientation and total emotional overload.

My manic symptoms are manifesting themselves through scattered whirlwinds of uncomfortably high energy, staying up until 5 and 6 in the morning, getting a buzz off of not eating, feeling like I want to take on the entire world at once and sporadically fluttering around as a social butterfly. My depressive symptoms come out in the forms of suicidal ideation, sleeping until 3 in the afternoon, comfort eating, self-isolation and simply not wanting to live anymore. Psychosis is rearing its ugly head by causing me to hallucinate “shadow people,” have both tactile and auditory hallucinations, debilitating paranoia, dissociation, depersonalization, envisioning images of me cutting the veins out of my hands and so on. My entire being feels as if it’s been dissected into about 50 different pieces, all writhing in agony, all crying out for solace, pleading and begging and shrieking, the anguished screams haunting me.

Also during these months I have obviously not only been in contact with my psychiatrist, but a new therapist as well (new therapists at this point are like new sticks of gum). My psychiatrist has suggested I go into yet another outpatient, psychiatric hospitalization program, meaning I will be going through it for the third time in four years. He has also been steadily increasing the dosage on my antipsychotic. Despite the increase, I have still been having breakthrough symptoms of hypomania, and it is not being controlled anywhere near as much as it needs to be. So, now I’ve been told to stop the antipsychotic I was on and start a new one — these kinds of medication changes are never fun.

One of the most alarming breakthrough episodes out of many took place just the other night when I was randomly thrown into a depression that completely rendered me unable to function and I felt invalid the rest of the night. Snotty tissues were scattered all throughout my room, my body was heaving from how violently I was sobbing, I was gasping for air, my entire head was reeling, my face was smothered in tears and mucus and the thought of suicide became a little too tantalizing. My spirit was crying out to be heard, it was searching for someone I could talk to, yet it was told to quiet itself because no one was willing to listen.

The other week after randomly breaking down in my car in a Publix parking lot and crying all the way home, I charged into my mother’s room and announced, “This is hell. I am in a living hell — it is here and it is now.  If there is an afterlife and I was asked what my own personal hell would be, it would be being forced to relive the disaster that is my fucking life.”

We are now at the point where we’re considering trying some pretty out there and possibly risky treatments to get help, such as a complete hysterectomy for my premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMMD) which is more of a hormonal disorder than a psychological one, though it is indeed both. Or other treatments such as ketamine infusion therapy. Medication and therapy can only do so much and I have been dealing with both since elementary school. I am willing to try almost anything to get the relief I am constantly seeking (barring drugs and drinking because I am surprisingly straight-edge). I have grasped at so many straws now there aren’t very many left. 

My two-week, outpatient, psychiatric program started on December 21, 2020, and I am currently still waiting for my antipsychotic to take full effect and what a waiting game this is. I truly, truly wish this hadn’t all taken place around Christmas, yet here I am. I hope anyone else out there with bipolar who reads this is doing as well as they can and I want them to know I see them, I feel them and I care about them.  Do what you need to do to get through this thing we call life.

Getty image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: February 4, 2021
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