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My traumas of being bipolar

I want to start it by saying that the story will go about a mental illness I have been struggling with for a few years now, bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression. As there is a lot of stigma attached to mental illnesses I want to be upfront: I did absolutely nothing to contribute to my condition. Bipolar disorder has a genetic predisposition that manifest in your life at one point, sometimes for no reason, sometimes due to some stressful circumstances. But in any case I was born with it.

Trauma of depression

Looking back, I can’t say for sure when it started. Recently married, with a dream job and wonderful friends, I felt like I was on top of the world, before it all came crashing suddenly.

It all started with a weird time I was having at work: overworking was part of my industry description but somehow  instead of taking, my work kept giving me energy. The amount of adrenaline was unbearable. Just to be able to calm down this rush I would hit the gym on the early nights in a vain attempt to help me sleep. To be able to satisfy my greed for work and the desire to over-achieve I was taking over more and more projects, my adrenaline rush and increased levels of concentration allowed me to cope with growing workload. Days, nights, weekends, all my time was devoted to work. Horrible headaches and muscle pains haunted me every day and it felt like my mind was sharp to work but my body was failing me.

And then I crashed and couldn’t handle it anymore. We all heard what depression is like: people dare to talk about it more and more openly now. But no one is as open about the depths, horrors and ugliness of bipolar suicidal depression.

I spent days lying flat one the sofa in the living room: no energy to shower, no appetite to eat, no desire to even switch on the TV. I felt wiped out, I felt empty. I wasn’t myself anymore. I was lost and paralyzed with fear. If you haven’t been in that dark place you are unlikely to understand how scary suddenly losing the will to live is. Why would I not want to live? I wanted too much to just want to live. I can go on and on how depression can break every single part of your life, reducing you to nothing.  And when I thought I hit the rock bottom things got worse. Hallucinations creeped in gradually. First I heard my mum calling my name. Then other voices. Kill yourself – one voice ordered me. Visual hallucinations followed: I saw Alice in wonderland scenes, I talked to a dead boy, I saw the face of my husband crawling with insects. As if all this wasn’t bad enough I also had tactile hallucinations. I was not trying to get by not day by day, but survive minute by minute because this is all you can do in this kind of depression. My first severe depression lasted 6 months. 6 months of daily struggles with every small daily tasks and 6 months of voices telling me to end it. 5 months I went partially to work. Can you imagine trying to fake being normal in front of your colleagues through cacophony of voices in your heard?

Despite months of treatments, depression seemed to be getting worse. There seemed to be no way out of this dark place. What happened next is very hard to explain.

Trauma of mania

I believe the difficulty of describing a manic episode rises through the confusion that one brings. Even now, back to the “normal”, I still feel like I can’t understand myself what exactly happened that time, nor do I have good memory of the following episodes. Blanks in the memory and the fact that you literally lose touch with reality don’t help it either. I remember clearly only how it all started: suddenly, powerfully, amazingly.

A day after I hurt myself badly again, I sat at the office of my psychiatrist as he looked puzzled. Neither he, nor me knew how to keep me alive. I can’t say for sure, but I think it was the next day, that the sudden change happened. Depression was gone, it was finally over. The feeling was truly amazing. I felt like I survived a war, I was alive. The feeling of joy was overwhelming, it was nearly too much, I felt a bit like jumping up and down and running around embracing the miracle that is life. I sent an email to my doctor to let him know the amazing news. I was so happy and energetic, I am sure I have used numerous exclamation marks and emoji in that email. A call followed, when I once again thanked my psychiatrist for getting me out of depression back into the amazing life, while he, however, was more concerned than relieved. He suspected that I wasn’t feeling “normal”, I was going manic and it had to be stopped. Obviously I called bullshit on this. How could he understand the joy of simply being alive after months of wishing to be dead every single day? Who was he to judge what being “too happy” is? For a while I was flying high as a kite. Things started getting out of my control. I started losing touch with reality. I was thinking fast and talking so fast no one could understand me, which made me furious. No one like my fantastic ideas. I was told I screamed at people but as I was going too fast I couldn’t longer create memories. A manic episode escalates very quickly and you are basically gone. You can do completely stupid things like decide you can fly and jump of the building. Because mentally you have checked out. After losing touch with reality various hallucinations take over, you can’t tell which of them are real or not. That one time I remember sitting in a conference room in the office and walls started moving. Later I spent a week with a man’s hands on my neck trying to strangle me. A crucial moment for you and your doctor is to catch you before you are gone mentally and make you agree to a medication plan. You will be given drugs with most horrendous side effects so that you don’t die in an accident. Sometimes it’s too late and hospitalization is required. Once again, in every of these episodes I worked until I got powerful visual hallucinations and started losing touch with reality. Faking being sane is fucking exhaustion.

Aside from pure manic and depressive episodes I also get mixed episodes. Being both manic and depressed is very dangerous. Manic impulses and insanity execute depressive thoughts without you being mentally present. This is how I attempted suicide a couple of months ago basically without realizing it and was hospitalized for the first time.

This is how bipolar disorder started for me and has been a roller coaster ever since due to the fact that I have a rapid cycling form of the disorder.  This means I have 4 or more episodes of mania or depression every single year. I deal with it coming back every few months and destroying what I have built since my last episode. I deal with accidental starvation, powerful audial, visual and tactile hallucinations, I deal with suicide and loss of control over my actions. In between all this I also deal with work. In between every episode I do my best to integrate back into the working environment and function as normally as possible.

Trauma of silence

At the beginning I was referred to an intensive psychiatric care unit, which was supposed to educate me on how to cope with disorder, stabilize me with medications and transfer my case to normal care. It takes about 6 months they told me. Well after 2.5 years they no longer expect it to happen anytime soon as I keep rapid-cycling, and every episode wrecks my life. The mere burden of the thought that you are stuck with it for all your life, the understanding that even if you stick to your meds and be on your best behavior you are never in the safe zone is heavy. And this burden is made heavier by the fact that you are going through all this in silence and try as much as you can to maintain a visibility of normal life.

There is no winning over it, no beating it, only the slow chilling realization that you are stuck in it f-o-r-e-v-e-r. There is also little to none public acknowledgement of your struggles, no support outside a very small circle of family and friends, no bragging statuses on social media “Today I am bipolar free”. No, mental illnesses are suffered through in silence, surrounded by constant lies, the exhaustion of pretending like you don’t have it nearly as strong as exhaustion of actually battling it every single day. I want to live in a society where I don’t have to lie to my colleagues that I have a flu or a food poisoning, because these are not something to be ashamed of. As if my mental health is. Despite the fear of stigma, over 2.5 years later I stood up and spoke up. Cause first of all “The only thing more exhausting than having a mental illness is pretending that you don’t.”. And secondly the web of rumors and lies at work was worse than the truth. That’s why I chose to be open about my struggles with bipolar disorder.

I still want all this to end. But although I am stuck with bipolar disorder forever, I will battle the demons as long as it takes, and to spite them, I will have a wonderful life, in sanity, insanity and in between.

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