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When Bipolar Mixed Episodes Leave You Unable to Work

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

My name is Spencer, and I will never give up.

Around February 2018, in Reno, Nevada, once again I was freaking out. I was trying to break up with my girlfriend. I loved my girlfriend, she completed me in ways no one ever had. She took care of me, she understood me, I was happy. Yet, I needed to break up with her.

Why? Had there been infidelity? Abuse? A falling out?

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Not at all.

I was experiencing, what I didn’t know at the time, a mixed episode. I had been sleeping maybe two hours a night for the last six months. I had been working and working, and working more than my body and brain could handle, and I worked some more. I was working a bakery job that started at 7 p.m. and we’d finish around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. I’d go home and sleep for half an hour, then go back and work a catering event or on a food truck. If I wasn’t working the bakery shift, I’d work the line in the restaurant.

Now, your first thought may be, “Well that sucks, but he must’ve been raking in the dough (LOL).” Alas reader, I was able to work all these different jobs because I had convinced the restaurant to put me on salary. I was working these hours for the love of the craft. They say, “find what you love and let it destroy you,” and I took that to heart. Let me tell you, I loved this job. But it was too much.

So, back to me trying to break up with my girlfriend. My wife, (spoiler: we stayed together) has always been level-headed enough to deal with my mental health BS. So, she said to me, “Spencer, could this be bipolar?”

That was the opening of my bipolar journey. In narratives of this type, people talk about weight coming off their shoulders. In movies, these moments constitute a brightening of the world and an expanding of vision. Reader, I mean no hyperbole when I say, I literally, literally, felt my shoulders lift up as if a weight had been lifted. My vision gained a brightness to it I hadn’t seen in months, that I’d forgotten was a part of every day. Humans are adaptable, shitty situations are overcome because our brains make us forget what it was like to not be in that shitty situation. I had forgotten the world was bright, that my shoulders weren’t so heavy with the burden of my demons. Her words slapped me in the face and suddenly, I was me again. I was Spencer the human, not Spencer the machine. I looked at her and I said, “I think you’re right.”

Fast-forward to around February 2019, I’m sitting in the office of a therapist, she’s asking me questions that are very easy to answer. Sometimes, I’m God, sometimes I’m a bug and in the worst moments, I’m somehow both. I tell her I stay up at night unable to sleep because I know there are people outside waiting to kill me and my girlfriend, or worse. I contemplate killing myself and I have a plan at least once a week. Sometimes, I don’t sleep for more than three hours a night for weeks or months. At work, I get the feeling I need to scream and punch a wall, slam my head against anything hard over and over for no apparent reason.

Then, I cry. I cry and I cry and I don’t know why, but I know I need to cry. I spend money without thinking, more than we have, putting us in tough situations over and over. I look at her and I tell her, “Ma’am, I’m tired of feeling like this, I just want to be normal.” She pauses, makes some notes, then says my greatest fear in life, “You’re bipolar 1 mixed, you experience mania predominantly, but also experience mania and severe depression at the same time.”

My heart breaks in one spot, but in another it rejoices. I wasn’t “crazy,” it has a name which must mean that it can be fixed.

It’s now February 2021, I’ve been on over 15 different drugs, I’ve been hospitalized in inpatient care three times. I’ve had and quit probably 13 jobs, with my current one being on leave. I’ve come to the realization I cannot work. If you could see my resume, you’d know I’ve tried to work almost every type of job there is. With my problems, even medicated, I’m only probably 70% of who I used to be before it developed fully in me.

So, I sit at home, cleaning the house, taking care of the cats, and I hate it. Some of you out there may say, “I don’t know why he’s complaining, he can sit at home and do nothing, I wish I could not work.” I want you to understand something about me. I love to work, I gain self-respect from accolades, respect and growth I achieve at work because those places lend well to those things. I sit at home and I feel nothing. I see no way to grow, no way to achieve anything, there’s nothing here that I can receive accolades for. The way I have defined myself and my success for my entire adult life is gone.

I have always known with my intelligence and hardworking nature, I could do and be anything. With this mental illness, my hardworking nature actually works against me. The harder I work, the worse I get. Recently, I tried going back to work because I’m a fighter and I just need to try. I had a new symptom, derealization, act up and I fought and fought and pushed myself so far I almost ended up in the hospital again. It’s very important to me everyone reading this understand if there was a way for me to do the things I used to do, the things I love, I would have found a way. But every time I try and fail, I don’t just embarrass myself, I harm myself. It takes me weeks to recover from these episodes and hinders my ability to move forward with healing completely.

What’s left for me in this world? If I need accolades, if I need respect and recognition and something to grow in to feel like a human, which is always my goal, then I have to look to what’s available to me now. These options are things I have never had any interest in, never given much thought to. I’m one of those people who is good at most things almost immediately. But those of us with this ability know the downfall of it, when we find something we’re not good at immediately, we give up and move on to something we can actually be good at. This has come and bitten me in the ass because all that’s left it seems are things I’m not good at. This situation lends itself well to my delusions because I just can’t believe this is real. I can’t believe this is a life some have to live and it fuels my derealization.

So, my first instinct is to give up. I’m here to tell you I won’t do that. I’m going to fight and fight to find my new niche. There has to be something out there for me that I can acquire what I need to feel like a human. At the moment, I’m doing one of the things I’m considering, writing. My family says I’m good at writing, and I will admit it does seem to flow fairly easily when I try. I just want to be the best, so I’m scared to commit to anything for fear of failure. I’m telling myself now, if you do nothing and just sit at home and achieve nothing, you’ll feel like a failure anyways, so you should just give it a fucking shot.

So, I will fight, just in a different way I don’t know yet. I will not go silently into that good night. I will rage against the dying of the light.

What do you guys think? What suggestions do you have for things I could try to seek growth and achievement? Do you have any criticism for my writing? Anything helps.

I leave you with two things: A proclamation and a poem.

It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Albert Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

My name is Spencer, and I won’t give up.

You can follow my journey on Spencer’s mixed bipolar review.

Unsplash image by silviu beniamin tofan

Originally published: March 24, 2021
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