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I Want More Than Stability in My Bipolar Disorder

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I’m quiet. Because I don’t have a lot to say.

When I’m well, I have “oomph” for talking, whereas when I’m unwell, the thought of ordering coffee is completely overwhelming.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

The opposite is true with writing. When I am unwell, words drip from my fingertips, but when life trots along nicely, I dry up.

So here I am, all dried up.

And that’s good news. Right? I’m so well I have nothing to say.

My mood has become extremely stable in recent months, which is apparently an aim of recovery in bipolar II disorder. No big highs. No big lows.

But the other thing that happens without highs and lows is mood becomes very flat. And that, I do not like.

Mood fluctuation is a normal part of the human experience and isn’t necessarily reactive to circumstance. How wondrously cheerful would you feel if the boss wandered in to say you’re getting a raise. Sadness descends if your beloved dog passes away. These are situational emotions, and for healthy functioning people, just part of life’s journey.

Then there are mood fluctuations outside of situations. One morning you wake feeling well, rested, energized, positive, and ready to face the day ahead. Another day, the clouds are grey. You feel fatigued and drab and with no real desire to even feed the cat.

So, when I say my mood is stable, that’s what it looks like. A few highs and lows, but on a gentle fluctuating wave.

But my wave is almost flat.

Due to mood stabilizers — surely nothing short of a modern medical miracle — I struggle to feel “up.” There’s no get up and go. I rarely feel energized or excited. I just function. Getting out of bed and feeding the cat is all doable. I occasionally dust off the vacuum cleaner. If a friend wants to go for a walk, I can walk. When I’m finalizing details for my book launch, I feel cheerful. There is movement at the mood station, but it’s not a lot.

I expend the energy I have trying to look “normal.” I can do it — don’t get me wrong. This stabilization business sees me getting out there and conversing with people. I get a few things done. Occasionally wander off for a walk. But I miss the highs. I really miss them.

Bipolar is a spectrum of moods from major depression through to mania. Bipolar II doesn’t go all the way to full mania — we have instead, what is called hypomania.

These are periods of overactive and excited behavior that can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts for a short period (usually a few days).

I gotta say, hypomania feels good. And that’s when I can really crank up the vacuuming.

To the outside observer, I might seem completely driven and focused, talking too fast, walking too fast, obsessing over details, completely sleepless, and coordinating a plethora of tasks simultaneously. But on the inside, I could climb a mountain. And I’m sure a few of the mountains I’ve climbed were inspired by hypomania.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right? But it’s part of a swinging pendulum, and when I’m not well, all that machine gun energy will crash and burn to major depression.

This is what happened to me.

And it is this dangerously low major depression the mental health professionals are trying to steer me away from. I gotta say, I don’t want to go back there either. The mood wave with phenomenal peaks and troughs.

I have been on two mood stabilizing medications for 18 months. They appear to be doing a good job and aside from feeling flat all the time, there are no side effects. Everyone else seems pretty happy with this state of affairs. I’m not.

Now that I’m stable, I’m wanting more. It is not enough for me to just think about all the things I want to get done, I want the energy to do more than the basics. I want the energy to be self-motivated. And so, I have made a decision. I’m going to start reducing my medication. Just a little bit. And only under medical supervision. If the wave gets wobbly, I can always go back, but if I don’t at least try a lower dose, I won’t know what happens.

Prior to the overdose, I had — for a long time — skipped my antidepressant medication on a regular basis. I never felt comfortable on it and the first thing the doctors did in hospital was take me off it. Antidepressants are apparently a bad idea for bipolar patients. I haven’t skipped a single, solid dose of my current meds. Not one. I’ve been a very good girl and the results are paying off. But my psychiatrist agrees the ultimate aim for anyone is to be on the lowest working dose, so I’m about to begin the great dose-modification experiment.

Time will tell how it pans out.

My secret hope is I become infused with enough energy to feel inspired and excited, but remain stable enough to sleep at night and stay focused. The most likely outcome is I won’t notice a difference. At which point I will corner my psychiatrist and beg to go down another dose. If things go a little pear-shaped, I can always go back up.

Stability is a lovely thing to have. My life just sort of meanders along. But it also feels pointless. It is hard to find purpose in a life that does nothing more meaningful than stack the dishwasher and write the occasional blog post. I miss feeling like a fully functioning adult.

So, I guess long story short, if I start writing blog posts on a daily basis, you’ll know I’m starting to flirt with both ends of the mood spectrum. Watch this space.

Unsplash image by Luke Pennystan

Originally published: January 30, 2022
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