At the age of 24, I had lived nearly a decade of suffering from erratic mood swings, dark bouts of depression, and moments of mania marked by stimulant abuse. It was finally at that point, I ended up at a treatment center and a diagnosis of my disturbing behavior came to fruition. I had been living with Bipolar II.
Relieved, shock, and fear ran through me upon the diagnosis. What would other people think of me? What was my life going to look like next? There appeared to be a stigma I had myself for those with mental illness – and now I was one of them.
The mental health label threw me for a loop. While individuals with bipolar can be seen as “crazy” in books and movies, I certainly wasn’t. I had been living independently for the last number of years, able to hold a full-time job (albeit taking the necessary time off during times of crippling depression and now for my substance abuse), and pay my bills. Sure, my relationships in my life were strained. At times, I suffered from emotional outbursts, not keeping up with my thoughts, self-harm, and elated periods of happiness.
But there was one thing, I wasn’t crazy.
At the same time, I was relieved to learn that there were certain steps I could take to control my impulsive and depressive behavior. I had been living with these behaviors for years, however, now I had my reasoning for it. Just like my substance abuse, there was other steps and changes I needed to make to handle my bipolar disorder to live a healthy and productive life.
It’s not easy living with bipolar. Walking through the journey to stability from Bipolar II was a journey, and with it, I learned a number of lessons. Here are a couple of them:
I Research My Medication
After an evaluation with a Psychiatrist, I was prescribed a number of medications to handle my diagnosis. Without questioning the medication, the first prescription gave me some serious side effects including suicidal thoughts and severe anxiety. After numerous attempts, and a great Psychiatrist, I finally found a combination of medications that works to keep me stable and productive.
I Know My Warning Signs
Thank God for my therapist. By learning how to monitor my mood, I was able to monitor my feelings and figure out the red flags of onset symptoms that typically spurred my depressive and manic moods. Just like other important areas of my busy life, tracking my sleep, medications, hours of work, and emotional state, I was able to indicate certain patterns that I’ve lived with all my life. According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), manic episodes have a number of telltale signs, and when these red flags pop up, I’m able to use different cools to cope with them – some of them including talking to my therapist, seeing my Psychiatrist, and getting better sleep.
I Live In Extremes
While bipolar isn’t something that is immediately life-threatening, it can quickly escalate. There are days when I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed, there are months where I’m constantly in a state of crippling depression and have urges of self-harm to keep the volume suicidal ideation thoughts to a bare lull. Then, there are times when I find myself over-spending, over-working, and over-stimulated. As I’ve learned to combat my bipolar, I’ve learned how to recognize and respond to these behaviors in a productive way. Whether it be self-talk, seeking out therapy, and regularly making the choice to take my medications, I’ve learned to cut back my extreme cycles.
I Stay Patient
There’s no cure for my bipolar, and just like my substance abuse, it isn’t something that takes overnight to get under control. At first, I expected my medication to fix me, and it turns out that wasn’t the case at all. For months and years I lived in trial and error to find the right treatment regiment that worked for me.
Bipolar is Something I Have, Not Something I Am.
At one point, I thought that my life was over. At one point, instead of myself defining my future, I let my bipolar define me. Over the years, I’ve met many likeminded people who have suffered through the same things I have. I’ve faced the stigma and cried myself to sleep wondering when things were going to get better. Though acceptance and learning about my illness, I learned how to manage my mental health and bounce back quicker from an outburst or a depressive episode. All in all, it helped me take a positive stance on my condition and change my entire outlook on life.