Many people believe having bipolar means simply dealing with alternating very high and very low moods, but there is so much more to it. During a manic phase, the person can experience delusional hallucinations, which can be terrifying. During a depressive phase, the person may become very forgetful or indecisive. It isn’t as simple as “today I’m happy, tomorrow I’m sad”. It can be life-threatening. So please, the next time you crack a “bipolar joke” – bear this in mind.
I’ve always been an emotional person who feels things strongly. As a teenager and up to my university years, I was quite low with periods of anxiety and insomnia, and some high peaks in between, but I never felt that I had any severe problems.
In my final year at university, mania hit like nothing had hit me before. I did not see it coming. Imagine yourself getting drunk, but without any alcohol. You feel lighter, talk more easily and you feel more daring than usual. As it progresses, your judgment begins to cloud. You overestimate yourself. Strangers are suddenly friends. Reality begins shifting – you start perceiving things you didn’t perceive before. In my case, I had a million thoughts and ideas rushing in, which I felt I needed to express. I painted 10 paintings in a row and wrote 60 pages on a creative project. Put on bright colours and felt like everything I did was divine. I thought everybody else was stupid because they didn’t understand my ‘genius insights’. I became psychotic. I posted a lot of weird and embarrassing things on social media and texted people inappropriate or random messages. I wasn’t aware what I was doing during that episode – I had lost my rationality and sense of inhibition. By the time my family noticed I was not being my usual self (I was living abroad), I had already lost connection with my body. I barely slept or ate. I shifted between feeling extremely scared to aggressive, overly sexual or outgoing, and believed I was totally fine. I stopped looking after my body, believing that I could not die. I eventually ended up in hospital to be treated.
Needless to say, “coming down” from mania was very tough and confusing. I needed to realise what had happened and apologise for the things I did not recall saying or doing. It took months to get back to how I used to be. I had lost trust in myself and felt ashamed.
What followed a few months after was what I would call “life in a plastic cage”. Depression slowly snuck into my mind and sucked the life out of me. I felt insecure, worthless, silent and numb. A burden to everybody around me. I would go to the supermarket and stare at the shelves for ages, unable to decide. I would forget my keys or get lost on the road. I couldn't’t concentrate properly. The topic of suicide was on my mind a lot. I was not able to cry. I was completely numb, isolated within myself, even around my closest loved ones. I could not feel anymore. It was my birthday and for the first time in my life, I did not care. I could not feel joy or gratitude. All I wanted was to sleep and not wake up again – to stop existing. It was a dark and scary place to be in.
These two episodes happened within one year. My close friends and family stuck with me through the episodes. When I felt like a burden, they told me I was loved no matter what. They would hang out with me without judging me for not contributing anything emotionally. My university allowed me to resit the classes I had failed. This non-judgemental support was very powerful. With the help of treatment, I have been able to carry on with my life fully functioning and independently, which I am tremendously grateful for. Of course, I also lost a few “friends” who judged me for my behaviour. It was hurtful at times, but I realise now I am better off without them. I will no longer shame myself for something that was not my fault. I know who I can truly count on, and I know that my close circle will be informed on how to react in case of a future episode.