Last year, I was alone in my apartment, having a complete meltdown when something within me allowed me to down a bottle of pills and tequila. I laid there – eyes locked on a photo of my daughter – until I could no longer keep them open. I spent the next week in the hospital. As difficult as it has been for me to process that moment in my life, I don’t regret it, because it was my turning point. It was the moment that forced me (and everyone around me) to come face to face with my mental health.
A month before the meltdown, my family and I were celebrating my college graduation. I’d earned a full time slot at my temp job and corporate even approved my request for a raise.
My daughter, who had been living with her dad while I finished school was finally getting ready to come back to me full time. My relationship at the time was constantly up and down, but we weren’t having any significant problems.
For the most part. I was in good spirits – I was energetic and pumped up about my future plans post college. Nothing could get in the way of me being great.
So What Happened?
In a matter of a month, I went from feeling on top of the world to wanting a way out of that world.
This wasn’t the first time I had gone from being extremely happy to pure depression. I had a past of shifting through cycles of deep emotions I couldn’t seem to control. It was something I battled with periodically.
We don’t always understand our own despair. I didn’t understand why I had so much to be happy for, yet, I felt so empty inside. How could I be so depressed with life? There were people in way less fortunate situations than mine. Yet, all I wanted to do was sulk in my feelings and be angry at the world and everyone in it.
Even though I was excelling in life, internally, I felt defeated. More than anything, I felt like there was no point to life – no point to college degrees, career success, family or friends. None of it truly mattered because in the end, we let it all go and we die. So, why entertain all the stress and obstacles of life just to die? (Melodramatic much?)
In Spring of 2018, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic-Depressive Disorder) is a mood disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain which causes a person to shift through cycles of euphoric highs and depressive lows.
Quick Overview of Bipolar Disorder
Types of Bipolar Disorders
There are several forms of Bipolar Disorder:
- Bipolar I
- Bipolar II
- Cyclothymic Disorder
- Mixed Features
For the purpose of keeping this post as concise as possible, I will only discuss Bipolar I and Bipolar II.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by two major mood episodes – mania and depression (aka really happy and really sad).
Let’s start with Manic Episodes-
Mania (Bipolar I)
Mania is a euphoric experience resulting from abnormally elevated energy levels. During a manic episode, a person becomes extremely hyperactive for days to weeks at a time. A less common fact on mania is that mania can also present itself through irritability. Instead of someone being extremely happy or hyper, they could be extremely irritable and still be experiencing a manic episode. Someone in a manic state of mind is at risk for hospitalization.
Hypomania (Bipolar II)
Hypomania is a less intense version of mania. A lot of people who experience hypomania actually like it. Like mania, a person in a hypomanic state of mind also becomes wired with energy but unlike mania, hypomania allows the person to function flawlessly during these energy boosts. As a result, hypomania is commonly associated with high levels of productivity, creativity and self confidence. Hypomania usually will not put someone at risk for hospitalization.
Shared Symptoms of Mania & Hypomania
- racing thoughts
- acting on impulse
- grand ideas and plans (that we actually take part in, impulsively)
- restlessness and/or insomnia
- increase in goal oriented activity – being more productive & active
- really talkative
- extremely social
- easily irritated
- increase in sexual promiscuity or sexual desire
- boost of self confidence & self esteem
The following are symptoms of mania, but not symptoms of hypomania
- hallucinations (hearing or seeing things)
- delusional thoughts
- lasts for a week or longer
Bipolar depression is often categorized as major depression or chronic depression. During a depressive episode, one may feel hopeless, empty or have suicidal thoughts, frequently. Major depression could cause someone to become hospitalized.
Depressive episodes are more severe with Bipolar II individuals than Bipolar I. When comparing Bipolar I and II, you could say Bipolar I has extreme highs and semi extreme lows while Bipolar II has semi extreme highs and extreme lows.
Symptoms of Major Depression
- fatigue, tiredness; lack of energy, sleeping too much
- thoughts of suicide or “ending it”
- loss of appetite and weight loss or increase of appetite and weight gain
- easily irritated
- feeling unworthy/worthless
- body aches and pains that don’t go away
- difficulty concentrating, remembering or focusing
What Bipolar II Feels Like To Me
I have hypomanic episodes and for the most part, I don’t mind them. Some of my most productive moments happen during a hypomanic episode. My energy levels are through the roof like I’ve been drinking Red Bull. My mind starts racing and spitting out the most wildly amazing ideas and plans. And I’m a risk taker, so I take action on those wild ideas and plans. I really feel, in that moment, I could conquer the world.
Hypomania is less severe than mania, but hypomania still manifests in unhealthy ways. There would be nothing wrong with these productive hypomanic states if it weren’t for the gradual crash and inevitable plummet that follows.
I eventually get tired. But, at night my body gets restless and insomnia kicks in, keeping me awake. On the nights I manage to doze off, I’d wake up at 3 in the morning and not be able to go back to sleep. From the moment my eyes opened, my mind would start juggling a million thoughts at once.
At that point, I get cranky. Crankiness leads to irritability, which makes me feel anti social. I withdraw for too long and I get depressed.
Understand, it’s not simple sadness. It’s chronic depression and even though I want to snap out of it, I don’t have the energy, motivation or will to. Then that further depresses me, because then I feel depressed, lazy and weak. A loud feeling of numbness comes over me when I am depressed. I just don’t care about anything. I just exist.
What I Really Think About All This Mental Health Stuff
When my psychiatrist first diagnosed me with Bipolar II, I was really skeptical about it. Brain scans are not required to diagnose bipolar disorder. It is a symptom based diagnosis.
“So you throw together some symptoms and boom! Just like that you can label someone mentally ill?”– Me
I wasn’t buying it and to be honest, I still don’t – not 100% anyway.
As much as I hate putting labels on things, it took the label to make me get face to face with my mental health. It really didn’t matter what I thought about the concept of mental health symptoms and diagnostics. The fact was that I was experiencing the symptoms. And having them all summed up and examined made me take a deeper look at my mental health. Being aware of my mental health helps me keep a grip on it.
There are so many factors (or “triggers” as they call it in the mental health world) that lead to a troubled mind: Social relationships, environment, economic hardships, internal struggles, spirituality, fatigue, exhaustion – all of it at the same time.
No one is responsible for our lives but us. We all have a responsibility to ourselves first, before anyone else – even our children. If we aren’t right inside, then nothing we touch will be right. A person has to first help themself before they can help others.
My spiritual and mental health are my main priorities now. If it doesn’t make me smile regularly, it has to go, if it gives me anxiety and stress, it has to go. Stress free is the way to be. What is meant for me is meant for me and I no longer dwell on the things that aren’t. Nothing is worth my peace of mind and my life. I now realize I have the power to make my life what I want and I choose peaceful above all else. Dassit.
Give Up Every & Anything Before Giving Up On Yourself