Forging a partnership with bipolar
Although I was expecting the words at some point, actually hoping for them in some sort of way, they still landed like a tonne weight on my chest when they were finally said.
“I’m diagnosing you with bipolar,” my psychiatrist said in almost a blasé, factual tone.
I suppose this is just an average day for her, but for me, my head was spinning and I felt the room flux and begin to dissolve around me into the distance. I’m not sure how long I sat there, without words, but it felt like a lifetime.
I pretty much carried on with my usual business for the rest of that day. I was in an autopilot, stunned to a point I wasn’t sure what else to do other than go back to work and operate in some synthetic way.
I felt a monolithic presence rising in the centre of my consciousness which was demanding to be dealt with, but processing something this colossal and life-changing…well it was tough to know where to start chipping away. Bipolar was gargantuan and I craned my neck, taking it in, feeling like I had a spoon as my weapon of defence.
No ongoing support or therapy was offered to me; all I got was a prescription for an antipsychotic. Before this point, I’d always thought getting the right medication was the be-all and end-all of mental health treatment, but as I stood there with the prescription in my hand, it felt like nothing.
How was I supposed to learn about this illness? Who was going to talk me through the ups and downs, taking a turn beside me in the car as I ride the roller coaster of my moods?
I went online and bought as many books as I could about bipolar disorder and joined some forums. I read as much as I could about the condition and the numerous symptoms which form this complex illness.
These stretch way beyond the few bullet points of the core mood symptoms of bipolar which most people know of. The more I read, the more things in my life made sense.
A web of experiences began to take shape as I made notes in my journal and the more I scribbled, the more validated I started to feel.
As I started to recognise and understand my disorder more, I found I took it easier on myself when I was struggling. I became a lot more confident in protecting my time, my mental space and my schedule including sleep and relaxation time. I forgave myself for turning things down a lot more freely and felt the benefits of doing so pretty quickly.
I’ve still got a long way to go in feeling like I have any sort of mastery over bipolar. I’m still very fresh to the journey as I’ve only been diagnosed for four months, but already things are feeling a little lighter.
Now I know its name, I’ve less to fear in a strange way. A bit like hearing a noise late at night, it can put me on edge, but as soon as I hear the cat walk across the landing and I know what it was, I’m at ease again. Diagnosis gave bipolar a name and an identity.
Of course, it can shape-shift from time to time and very few episodes are the same, but some subtle patterns to start to emerge which can at least give me something to work with. Journalling helped this a lot. I even learned about lingering symptoms after episodes, where it can take several days or weeks to fully recover from a high or a low mood.
Most people seem to think it’s like a switch where you feel depressed but then it ends and you can go about your day, but residual symptoms can remain for a while, keeping you from feeling yourself completely. It’s like climbing out of a dark lake of depression but still being wet and needing time to fully catch your breath and dry off.
Episodes themselves can be traumatic experiences which need to be got over.
I feel at a bit of a disadvantage being diagnosed at 37. If my bipolar had have been picked up when I was younger, I’d have been given much more time to learn how to deal with things.
My life could have been easier up until that day, but I’m just being thankful for what I have now. Lifestyle changes, looking after my needs more conscientiously: it’s all part of forging a partnership with this entity that’s been a part of my life all this time.
Now I don’t fight against it, I work with it. When I feel something changing or imposing it’s influence on me, I’ve less to fear, because I know who it is. I know it’s name.