When I was in my early 20s, I was the life of the party. I was the girl you called when you wanted to go out and have a good time. I was lots of fun — in every aspect. I liked to take chances and I was fearless. Nothing scared me. Everything I did, I did all in.
I loved hard and passionately. I drove fast. I spent lots. I partied to all hours of the night and worked full time, all while going to university full time. I was like a Tasmanian devil. In fact, I was probably a little scary. I was a bright bolt of lightning. I was always ready to go and spoke 100 miles a minute. I was lots of fun, in small doses — but try living that way.
My mind was like a car with the gas pedal stuck to the floorboard, and I could never slow down. Even when I wanted to, even when my body was weary and exhausted, my mind kept going. Logically, I knew I needed to sleep. Physically, my body ached for rest, but my brain said no. It was torturous.
In case you don’t know what it’s like to always be “up” and you think it would have to be better than being “down,” let me tell you a little more. The thing about being up is gravity. It’s the law: What goes up must come down. So one of two things can happen when you spend your life in a state of mania: Either you come crashing down to the pits of hell and want to kill yourself or you can’t and you get stuck midair. Just stuck there, irritating the shit out of yourself and everyone around you until you finally find yourself either homicidal or suicidal. That was me, never coming down.
The prospect of being stuck on go is alluring at first. Hell yeah, it feels amazing to be high on life. You feel invincible, and if you are a creative, like I am, your mind is bursting with ideas. Sure, you better write them down because every thought is fleeting, but you are full of new, innovative ideas all the time. You are happy and up for anything, and you can go for days without sleep. It’s like a superpower, until it’s not.
When I was 27 years old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1. For most people, a diagnosis of bipolar would be devastating, but for me, a diagnosis was a relief. A diagnosis meant there was a treatment. A diagnosis meant I could finally land and finally unstick that gas pedal from the floorboard. I could finally be normal.
According to The National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar 1 Disorder is “manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.”
In retrospect, I had depressive episodes in my teens. My “depressive episodes” were extremely irritating, as one minute I was the life of the party and the next, I was throwing your shit off my balcony because you looked at me wrong. But by my 20s, it was all mania, all the time.
Those were hard years. I did and said things that I would never have done had I not been in a state of mania, things I’m ashamed of and will have to live with for the rest of my life. I did reckless things like getting piercings and tattoos because I was bored. I engaged in too many dangerous behaviors to count, partly because I was binge drinking to try and bring myself down to a normal level and partly because I just didn’t care what happened to me.
Worse still, I hurt people that I cared about with my words and thoughtless actions because I was singularly concerned with “me” at all times. Bipolar 1 made me selfish. My diagnosis almost cost me everything, including my marriage.
The thing is when most people think of bipolar, they are thinking of Bipolar 2. The person who occasionally gets hypomanic and then gets depressed. I was not that person. Bipolar 1 has its own special kind of hell brought on by mania. It’s like being stuck on a ride at the fair that’s making you sick, but you can’t get off. You know it’s not going to end well, but you can’t do anything about it until you get medication and a diagnosis. You’re just holding on for dear life, desperately trying to survive the ride.
I got treatment: medication, therapy and weekly meetings with my psychiatrist. I watch what I eat, what I drink and how much I sleep. I read every book I could get my hands on and even took a clinical psych class or three to better understand my diagnosis. I knew the only way for me to survive my bipolar was to embrace it and understand it.
I have been non-episodic for 13 years. Every day is a new day, and each day I monitor myself, and I have my husband let me know if he notices any out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Not every mood swing is an episode. I’m allowed to have moods just like anyone else, only I have to know the difference between normal mood behavior and excessive.
I won’t lie: I do have certain times of the month when I do still get a little manic, but mostly it presents with my insomnia being a little worse and I know what’s happening. Self-awareness is an amazing thing. These are the times I know I have to make sure I get my sleep. The bottom line is that I know every day that I’m non-episodic is a gift for me, and when/if the time comes that I do ever get manic again, I have to make sure that I get the right treatment, and I don’t have the luxury of choosing to ignore it.