It’s a question I have been asked a lot this last week. For those of you who have been following theextraounce for a while you know that I got to experience the joy of 8 monthes free from Bipolar episodes recently. It was truly wonderful. Since the end of February I have been experiencing mild depressive symptoms and doing my best to control them. But this past week what I was treating as a ‘mini-mild-depression’ turned into the full flown beast and I became extremely suicidal almost instantaneously. And all my loved ones kept asking me ‘what happened?’ The truth is, despite the fact that I know mood symptoms can exist independent of life events, I was asking myself the same question: ‘what happened?’
Let’s nut that out for a minute. Mood symptoms can exist independent of life events. Seems like a simple phrase but it is one many people fail to internalise. I think that’s because we come from a culture that values the logic of science and cause and effect. We assume everything must have a root logical cause. And this isn’t wrong necessarily. Yes, events can be a trigger for mood symptoms. But it doesn’t always work in the direction you might think. People assume losing a loved one can easily turn into depression. This is true. People also think having something awesome happen like winning an award can turn into mania. This is also true. But the fact of the matter is that the opposite is also true. I have had some of my worst manic episodes when experiencing loss. And I once became severely depressed when the pleasure of winning a scholarship wore off. But more often than not, mood changes are like the breeze or the weather, and just change because that is their whim to do so.
And yet people insist on asking ‘what happened?’ It makes me wonder if they have never just woken up on the wrong side of the bed. That is what Bipolar episodes are like (read: just on performance enhancing drugs). I don’t think people actually understand how hurtful it is to say to someone ‘what happened? you were doing so well…’ It’s like, you don’t think I know that? You don’t think I already feel like a failure for losing control of my moods? And worst of all, I don’t even have an explanation to give you to make us both feel better? This past week I have been asked ‘what happened?’ more times than I care to count and the fact is, although you think you are helping, you are making me feel like crap. I feel like a disappointment for not being able to give you an explanation.
The truth is I’m just as shocked as you are that I am feeling this way. I thought I was doing everything right to manage my Bipolar and then suddenly I can’t get out of bed. Suddenly I am staring at the ceiling fantasising about the world swallowing me up. Suddenly I am on the phone to a Suicide Hotline because I am scared of what I might do. When a couple of days ago I was fine. I was managing. I was what some might even call ‘thriving’. So you ask me ‘what happened?’ And the truth is I don’t fucking know.
I have a question for those people who ask me ‘what happened?’ and are puzzled when I say ‘nothing’. Does the fact that I don’t have a reason to offer you make my suffering less valid? Psst. I’ll give you a hint…It doesn’t. In these conversations with people, when I have been asked ‘what happened?’, I have almost proudly declared ‘I have Bipolar. I have a mental illness that makes me feel this way sometimes. It doesn’t need an excuse.’ My feelings do have a source and that source is my mental illness. You may not be able to see it. It may not feel real to you but it is damn sure real to me. And my feelings of distress are just as valid despite them not having a cause that we can see or touch of hear. You may not understand it but it is not your job to. So maybe instead of asking ‘what happened?’ you can ask me ‘what can I do to help you?’