Living With Bipolar Disorder
Living with bipolar disorder can be chaotic — first, you’re stuck in high gear, then you’re stalling out, spinning your wheels. This pattern repeats itself, and each time it can feel discouraging as if there is no end in sight.
As hard as it can be to live with bipolar disorder, it can seem impossible to convey to friends and loved ones what it is like to endure the cycles of mania and depression. It is also challenging for those who do not live with the illness to understand just what their loved one experiences.
Charlie and Sharon share their personal experiences with living with bipolar disorder.
Mania: It Isn’t All Fun and Games
Imagine this: you are on a carousel, one that starts out slow then begins to gain speed until you’re moving so fast you can hear the wind whistling in your ears. At first, it is exhilarating, but then it becomes difficult to breathe.
Then, the light starts to dim until it fades completely. You move faster and faster in the darkness until it seems as though you will crash at any moment, that there is no end.
You cling to your seat, not sure if you’ll ever get off. This is mania.
It can be fun at first. The racing thoughts that accompany mania may be creative or insightful, latching onto one another in a fluid motion.
There may be an increase in productivity and a euphoric mood. But when you reach the higher stages, things change.
Your thoughts start to move far too quickly — so much, so they all start to mix together, and it feels impossible to pry them apart. You begin to make poor decisions because the higher you go, the less insight you have when it comes to decision making and rationality.
Signs of mania only get worse: you may spend too much money or engage in risky behavior. You may start to have hallucinations or delusions — such as seeing things that aren’t there or believing you are receiving messages from a higher power.
From the outside looking in, it may seem like a series of poor decisions or bad behavior, but the thoughts and actions that occur in mania aren’t conscious choices. Thinking shifts from the rational to irrational as you ascend higher.
Depression: More Than Sadness
Depression is different. The world starts to move in slow motion.
Perhaps you let a few tasks slide at first, but before you know it, showering and getting ready for the day can feel like a monumental accomplishment. It is as if the darkness of depression has sucked the pleasure and joy from life.
If you have not experienced depression before, it can be easy to think the individual should just push through or snap out of it. But it isn’t that simple; when you are depressed and attempt to keep moving it can feel like trying to stand while hoisting an insurmountable weight against your back.
The Awkward In-Between
Between the poles of speeding up and slowing down, there is a place of balance, a place that is stable. This middle ground has to pick up the pieces left over from the destruction of mania and depression and reassemble them.
It can feel helpless watching your life periodically fall apart and then having to rebuild it. Finding a balance between the two extremes can be difficult, as is living with the aftermath of a manic or depressive episode.
And mania can be seductive. Sometimes we long for the euphoria, especially while in the grips of depression.
Navigating life with bipolar disorder is challenging. It requires sacrifice and lifestyle changes that may be undesirable, but are nonetheless necessary.
From the outside looking in it may seem easy to make positive choices, but even when you are not living with bipolar disorder, implementing change can be a difficult task.
Support Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
Many loved ones want to know what they can do to support someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When someone you love struggles, it can be both frustrating and heartbreaking, and often friends and families are at a loss as to what to do to help.
One of the most important things that everyone can do — both those diagnosed and their loved ones alike — is to educate themselves. Learning more about bipolar disorder equips the person living with it to make the appropriate lifestyle changes, and it provides insight into the disease for friends and loved ones.
Bipolar disorder is a complex illness, and the support of friends and loved ones is paramount to successfully managing the illness.
You don’t need to make it better, and you don’t have to impart words of wisdom. You only need to be there — to listen, to offer support, and to let your loved one know they are not alone.
It is not easy living with bipolar disorder, but the support of loved ones makes the journey more bearable.
Next page: Read about Sharon’s experiences with living with bipolar disorder and on how to manage expectations, developing a routine, and striving for balance.