My therapist suggested for a long time I was bipolar. She encouraged me for over a year to see a psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis and start on medication. Because of my finances, I put it off. But that was only an excuse.
The real reason I put it off was that I was afraid. Afraid of being labeled as broken. Something that needed fixing. I wanted to manage my mental health completely on my own. I learned how to love myself just as I was. Therapy was a regular part of my life, after all. I practiced self-care religiously. Shouldn’t that be enough?
It took me until I reached a breaking point with my depression to finally get the help I needed. I couldn’t have done it without the persistent love and encouragement from my partner. When I wanted to give up on myself, he never once gave up on me. He refused. The audacity of that man I will never stop loving.
How Many Types of Bipolar Disorder Are There?
Before I started medication, I spent years Googling what it looked like to be bipolar. What were the signs? Mental illness runs in my family so I saw what it looked like for them. I certainly didn’t have those traits so how could I possibly have it?
One simple answer. Bipolar disorder doesn’t look the same for every person. Sure, there are the standard highs and lows to monitor. But it manifests in entirely different ways. I can only speak about how it’s shown up in my life.
First, it’s important to understand that The American Psychiatric Association states there are two major types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I and Bipolar II. The other type is called cyclothymic disorder but isn’t typically as common. I’m personally diagnosed with Bipolar II. I have severe episodes of depression and hypomania. It’s not as severe as Bipolar I, but still dramatically impacts my life.
What Does Hypomania Look Like?
To me, bipolar disorder looks like two very different versions of Lauren.
The hypomanic episodes are moments when I think I’ve found profound clarity. I have a burst of energy and optimism that is beyond what the average person might consider being normal human experiences. Whenever I feel like I’m about to hit a massive depression, the mania kicks in.
This happened to me in college once. My sister called me on my way to a final exam for Sociology. She presented me with an idea to move with her to California. She was planning to start a new business and a brand new life. What more could a 19-year-old want than to drop all responsibilities and move out to California with her best friend?
I showed up for my exam, my entire body buzzing. I could’ve floated out of my seat if my insides hummed any louder. My eyes couldn’t focus as I rubbed my temples. The anxiety was kicking into high gear. I stared down at my empty exam and randomly filled in the circle to answer my first multiple-choice question. Then another. And another.
The next thing I knew, I Christmas-treed the entire exam. My professor, looked stunned that someone would be able to finish it so quickly. I ran out of the room and back to my dorm. I immediately packed up all of my belongings and shoved them into my Hyundai Sonata.
Around 9 PM, I called my sister and told her I was ready to hit the road. Screw college. All I needed was my sister and California skies.
“Oh, I meant to text you,” she said. “We decided not to go. It’s probably not a good idea right now.”
I was stunned. There was no way to go back and retake my final exam. My entire dorm room was inside of my car. I was about to hit send an email to my advisor telling her I was dropping out. All in under three hours.
Even if she was going to follow through, there was no way she could’ve possibly meant, “We’re moving right now.”
This happened frequently throughout my twenties. I’d get these ideas in my head I couldn’t shake and end up covering my walls with printer paper to write it all down. My last apartment looked like A Beautiful Mind. I’d sell everything I owned, drop all responsibilities, get into my car, and end up in a random state to start over yet again.
Sometimes the hypomania is harmless. There are instances where I channel the energy into something like buying a box of hair dye that will clearly turn my hair orange or purchasing an expensive camera on Craigslist. They don’t hurt me or anyone else. However, one thing remains the same.
Once I come down, there is always a world of regret.
What Does Bipolar Depression Look Like?
The low points of bipolar depression can usually last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. It’s dark in there. Hopeless takes an entirely new meaning. I can’t get out of bed and if by some miracle I do, I have absolutely no energy. I walk and talk slower. Even when I think I can’t cry any more tears, they somehow never cease to surprise me.
I become incredibly isolated. Having depression disassociates me from everything and everyone around me. There is a general distaste for all activities including but not limited to showering, walking my dog, going outside, breathing, working, and existing.
Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon, even when things in my life are going incredibly well. The depressive episode plays a trick on my mind making me believe my life has no meaning. It’s crippling and takes a toll on my eating habits which becomes tricky since I’ve been in recovery from an eating disorder going on a few years.
I won’t give you an example because I think you get it.
Starting My Medication for Bipolar Disorder
Now that I’ve started medication, my life is so much different. I went from seeing black and white to an infinite realm of colors. My ears hear sounds as I’ve never heard them before. My heart feels emotions the way humans are meant to feel them rather than on some extreme seesaw I have no control over.
It’s only been a few months so far, and I’m liking the way things are going for me so far. My doctor warned me that over time, my body might acclimate to the medication.
I will still have days of depression and occasional bursts of mania. But I know I’ve started on the path I’m meant to be on.
The one towards healing and growth.
It’s the path where I allow myself to evolve into the woman I’ve always wanted to become.
*Please note that I am not a medical professional. If you’re experiencing mental health issues, please contact a doctor or therapist for proper help. I’ve also provided a list of resources you can check out by clicking here.
If you want to learn more about my personal experience with depression and how I found my way out of the dark, I encourage you to read my book In Body I Trust.