I always want people to immediately understand bipolar as I do, and it is frustrating. How do you explain something so immense, and intricate, in a couple of minutes of causal conversation? I just want to get from point A to point B, quickly. But I have found that saying “hello, my name is Sean, and I have bipolar disorder,” isn’t the most effective way to set the groundwork for any type of relationship.
The first time I sought out a professional respite, a brief moment flashed by where I let out a genuine sigh of relief. After months of insomnia, I was fighting off sleep during work hours, often dosing off where I stood. There was no longer a struggle for a balance between keeping myself together, and falling into rapid cycles of mania and depression. At that point, I was holding on by a thread for my life. The morning that thread snapped, I walked into work at 4a. I realized I could no longer keep my composure and fight the rising madness I tightly kept contained inside. At 6a, I walked out of my job, called a friend, and asked for a ride to the ER. I was finally ok with giving in and seeking what I thought was going to be a period of rest and relief from my difficult and unmanageable life.
Love has kept me alive, on some level, surviving. The kind words and warm hugs and genuine concern from people that love me has kept me holding on by a string all these years. I can imagine that without multiple interjections at just the right moment, I wouldn’t be here. But unfortunately, love from others hasn’t been a strong enough power to make me want to thrive. It wasn’t until I had tools that I could master and manipulate that I began to want to try a little bit harder to do more than survive. Before, I just stuck around for the people that love me, feeling obligated to stay alive to thank them for their unwavering love. I figured I didn’t want to disappoint them anymore, so I would try each day to continue. But now, I get up for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love and live for my family and loved ones too. But for once, I live for me as well.
With bipolar disorder, it’s a given that I will crash into deep depressions out of thin air for days or weeks at a time. Or that I will inevitably snap into manic episodes for no reason for long stretches as well. Or the worst. A mixed state. Thinking about those unbearable bouts terrifies me. Since I am so sure these unpredictable periods of my life will come into play every single year, I spend all of the time when I’m not “in” one of those three states worrying about when they will hit.
When I say I like to be prepared, it is an immense understatement. I take pride in being prepared for the known, and the unknown. I obsessively play the tape through every possible scenario knowing that being fully equipped for each one will boost my mood up a notch. But in all actuality, I obsess over having to know what to expect at every turn, from hour to hour and day to day. My routine and planning consumes my thoughts. So while I feel I cannot rest until I am prepared for every task, every day, every adventure…I never really feel prepared. Never at rest. There is always something tugging at my nerves.
It never seems to be my fault no matter what. At least that is the lie I tell myself. I either blame the disorder, or too often, the other person. So I have been trying to really recognize whether my behavior is simply a flawed, but unique, personality trait. Or whether I need to find more direct ways to master my illness’s distinct idiosyncrasies.
Fourteen years ago when I was 24 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar I, and it saved my life. Slowly, the pieces came together and the many years before that came into focus. There was a reason for all of the madness and the pain and confusion. And there was finally a reason to want to get better. Finding out I had bipolar was the first time I felt like I wasn’t crazy, if that makes any sense.
So sure, it’s okay now that people are open now about being depressed, or bipolar or having any mental illness. As long as we don’t discuss the details that could make other people uncomfortable. Most companies are required to provide the necessary legal measures for people with mental illness. While friends and family hold your hand when you cry and understand you don’t want to see them for months at a time when you’ve locked yourself in your house. But nobody wants to hear the true details of the horrors behind the illness. And everybody with a mental illness has a book chock-full of these details from the depths of depression to the pure insanity of mania and everything in between.