Today I had an interesting interaction with a fellow student at university that I thought I might share with you. We were doing a dreaded get-to-know-you activity (as often is the case in the first week of classes) and conversation turned to my diagnosis.
‘So why are you studying part time?’
‘I’ll be honest with you…Because I have Bipolar.’
‘Wow. I’ve never met someone with Bipolar.’
‘Well if you have any questions, ask away. I wont get offended.’
‘What’s it feel like to have Bipolar?’
I had never been asked that before. I didn’t quite know how to respond. So I told her about my challenges with my identity, my overall lack of autonomy in my daily life and how I struggle with the idea that I never know who I will be when I wake up in the morning. I talked about my struggle to find work-life balance and my frustration that keeping myself well is basically a full-time job. I could see from her face that she was a bit puzzled. It dawned on me that this wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She wanted to know what being on the edge feels like. So I asked her.
‘Oh, do you mean like how do episodes feel?’
She nodded shyly.
It got me thinking. This is something a lot of people probably want to know but have never had the courage to ask. Being Bipolar feels like being on the verge of frenzy. It feels like every emotion an average person has ever experienced on performance enhancing drugs. It feels like the upmost extremes of human experience. It feels like having a lifetime of experiences condensed into a few minutes.
The best analogy I have ever come up with for describing Bipolar is fire and ash. When I am manic I am like electricity, a raging flame, beautiful but destructive. I am full of energy but it isn’t all positive. In fact, most of it isn’t. I am paranoid, anxious, aggressive. I am also creative, capable of achieving greatness and filled with the supreme wisdom that I am always right. I can not be proven wrong. I am God-like. In fact, I could be a God. As powerful as I feel when manic, it is also scary. I lose touch with myself, with others, with reality. I lose the ability to reflect on my actions and become impulsive and reckless, without concern for others (the opposite to who I am when stable). And then eventually this all must come to an end. One can only be a raging flame for so long. The flame starts to falter, the body starts to feel tired again and the mind begins to slow. Thoughts change from coming a thousand per second to moving in slow motion and centring on death. There is a massive pit of guilt in my stomach because of all the harmful things I have done while manic. I can scarcely move. Seconds feels like centuries. All I can feel is loneliness, agony and the desire to die. I disappear, retreat unto myself and become a hermit.
Whether I am fire or ash, I lose who I am.
But I couldn’t quite get my thoughts around all of this when I spoke to my class mate. It was far too complex for an ice breaker. So what did I tell them?
‘How does Bipolar feel?’