It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything in regard to mental illness, but -in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month- I thought I’d shine some light on my personal diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder.
I spent years assuming that I had a mixture of anxiety and depression…and medicated separately for each (mostly with alcohol, but also with prescriptions). Anxiety and depression are both talked about so freely and described openly by so many people, that it was natural to assume that would be the appropriate diagnosis. More than a few years but less than a decade ago, while taking an antidepressant, I had my first experience with what I know now as a wave of mania followed by depression followed by mania until I could get in with a psychiatrist who lovingly explained that my previous diagnosis was incorrect, and prescribed something that would make me feel level for the first time in ever.
Let me explain “mania” and “depression” to you as it relates to my experience with bipolar disorder:
Mania is not sleeping. Mania is starting so many projects but not being able to focus long enough to finish any of them. Mania is crying because I feel spread so thin. Mania is not eating. Mania is a very short fuse. Mania feels like anxiety…because it causes me to be anxious. Mania makes my muscles ache from being so tense. It might last a few days. It might last weeks. It might last months. literally. months. And it might seem better some days only to throw me back on the ground the next. Mania is feeling like I need to sleep…and wanting to sleep…and craving the ability to just sit and watch TV or read a book or write…and, regardless, not being able to sit still…even at 2am. Mania is impulsivity like most have probably not experienced since childhood…like…in mania, if I want something and don’t purchase it or make it or do it, it feels like my skin is crawling out of itself. Mania is not being able to sleep because I am 100% sure that we are getting bombed…and researching how far bombs can travel from various points around the world…and telling myself, “Your kids are safe. You are safe, Dani. Everyone is safe.” Over and over and over again. And my husband telling me, “Everything is fine. Everyone is safe.” And still not sleeping because…well…mania. Mania is barricading myself in the house and telling myself it’s because I’m an introvert…when it’s actually because I’m too scattered and nervous to leave the house. And, all of the sudden, when I least expect it…my mania can drop me into…
Depression. Let me first say that depression is not a lack of not being grateful…but the lack of being able to feel gratitude. Depression is not delusion. Depression for me is extremely dark. It feels worthless and painful and hopeless and suicidal…and, as difficult as mania can be to manage, the depression is what prompts me to take medication. I can live with mania. I can apologize for getting angry and snapping at my family…and I can tell myself that it’s fine to never leave the house or to stay awake for 72 hours with a few 30 minute nap sessions…but the depression is too dark to handle on my own. And why try? That’s like playing Russian roulette.
So, it’s been a while because I had taken a break while having babies, but I’m finally back on my medication. Finally. And, things haven’t immediately improved upon starting a medication for bipolar. Not for me, at least. It’s taken several weeks to feel “okay”– and I still feel pretty anxious…but it’s getting better. I’m sleeping again. And I’m taking deeper breaths. And I can lay in savasana and not feel panic. …Do you know how freeing that is? To not feel panic when you’re accustomed to feeling panic (but hiding it) 24/7 for weeks on end? Savasana has forever been the most difficult pose in yoga for me. It’s when you have to lay still at the end of your yoga session and breathe and feel strong and confident and safe… The first night after having a pleasant experience with savasana, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband all about it…in detail…how calm and relaxed I felt, the images that floated through my carefree mind…and how I wanted to be able to access that feeling all the time. –I know that people without mental illness also have days when they’re unhappy…or stressed…or anxious… I know that I’m not supposed to feel calm and relaxed at all times; that would be completely unnatural to a human being. But medication has helped to find a middle ground in the extreme highs and lows.
Anyway, this has been just a very brief glance into what my experience has been. I wanted to write this because this is not a diagnosis that’s talked about. Ever. Or rarely, at least. There’s a ton of shame and hush associated with it, whereas folks talk about depression or anxiety or ADHD without reservation. So here I am!–declaring no fear or shame or hush…I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have me. Not today, at least. And for that I am grateful.