We’re coming up to the birthday that I half heartedly joked I’d never make, when I was 17. 27. Most people struggle through their mid-twenties, trying to find their career, the love of their lives, the right home, and the right friends. I’ve struggled to find the will to get out of bed, instead.
I ‘should’ be happy, or so I’m told. I have a fantastic fiancé, and we are planning the wedding of my dreams, planning to buy a house and enjoying all the millennial aspirations we share eventually coming true. Not through luck – through hard work. For the last 16 weeks I’ve spent each day staring at my computer screen, in an air conditioned office, blithely thinking about committing suicide, and then feeling wracked with guilt that I would even consider such a thing. After all, I ought to be happy.
This is par for the course for any one with bipolar disorder. I tend to be able to mask the main symptoms pretty well for the most part. My colleagues and friends just tend to assume that I’m having a bad day. The crippling lows are met with euphoric highs, and in the blink of an eye I’m back to bouncing off walls and gleefully pitching my next big idea.
The lows feel inescapable, though. It’s like walking through tar. You can see the end of the road, but it feels impossible to reach it. Each step takes an inordinate amount of effort and each moment you’re stuck in the thick, sticky, black darkness, you feel yourself sinking lower and lower. There are warning signs. It’ll start with a nagging feeling of frustration, for me. Frustrated with the pace of life, frustrated with my career, frustrated with the food I eat, the body I inhabit and the area which we live in. And then it builds to a malaise – a kind of inescapable fog, clouding my thoughts and permeating my sleep.
Before I know it, I’m stuck in the deep black tar of a low and imagining cracks spreading across ceilings. Hallucinations are not an uncommon part of bipolar disorder. They can be grandiose or, like mine, subtle, like watercolour paint mixing on a palette. They’re a lot less frightening when you realise what they are – just an overabundance of particular chemicals in your mind, tricking your frontal cortex into over analysing every signal you have picked up – whether visual or auditory.
When I am happy, I will happily cook, bake, paint, laugh, joke, create, write and passionately debate almost anything. I will happily and passionately sell my skill-set in an interview and I gleefully dance on tables and screech along to my favourite songs. The world is a Technicolor playground, and I’m the most popular kid in the city.
When I’m not happy, I withdraw completely into myself and become a determined introvert. I don’t wish to do anything, and the effort of doing something is crucifying intense. The problem is, it’s not a black and white kind of situation. When I’m sad, it’s not like everything ceases to amuse me. When I’m happy, it’s not like the world doesn’t occasionally bore me.
So. 27. The age I never thought I’d reach. Never really wanted to reach. There are signs – as I’d known all along but never really wished to entertain – that I’m not going to get better. This is the long haul. Up, down, in never ending succession, for the rest of my days. It’s exhausting, you know?
And I think the most troubling part is that even now, 10 years after I realised I was sick, and 7 years after I was officially diagnosed, the world is still deeply distrustful of anyone with a mental illness. Am I just as sharp as anyone else? My IQ might be 143, but does that mean anything when my brain is playing cross stitch with homemade chemicals?
This naturally makes it incredibly difficult for me to share my illness with anyone, be it bosses, colleagues, close friends, family. So I think it’s safe to say Bipolar at 17 and Bipolar at 27 have two things in common; 1) loneliness in my diagnosis and 2) that the world is still not quite ready to be accommodating of bipolar (or perhaps, any mental illness).