“The weather is so bipolar.”
If I had a penny for every time someone has used ‘bipolar’ as an insult, I’d be a millionaire by now. Statements like this perpetuate stereotypes that are so harmful to people like me who struggle with bipolar disorder every single day. And the mainstream media isn’t doing much to rephrase these narratives. We are portrayed as being angry and abusive or that we will never have stable relationships or be able to have successful and fulfilling careers. The reality is that bipolar disorder can be managed with psychoeducation on the different aspects of the mood spectrum and with the right medication. It doesn’t have to end after a diagnosis.
Bipolar disorder is a very complex neurological disorder, with very complex mood oscillations. People with bipolar disorder can experience; mania (high energy moods), depression (low energy moods), mixed episodes (mania & depression manifesting at the same time, and stable moods. Multiple factors can spark a mood episode and understanding what your triggers are, makes it a little bit easier to navigate.
Growing up, I remember always feeling like a black sheep. I felt more intensely than others did and self-regulation was not something I was able to practice. I didn’t have words or understanding about these mood episodes at the time. Once I felt something, it lasted weeks. The first mixed episode (manic energy & depressive thoughts coexisting) I remember from my childhood lasted months and pushed me to make reckless decisions that I don’t recall making. At the age of 12, I walked home from a friend’s house at 1 am by myself. When the adults in the house asked me how I could be so irresponsible, I had no answer. All I remember is having a breakdown in the bathroom and the rest was blank. With time I would come to learn that this is what a mixed episode feels like.
I spent years not understanding these moods, which I thought were feelings at the time. I thought that this is what everyone felt like. The intensity and duration baffled me but I figured that as I grew older it would pass. I was so wrong! With age, major life changes, and drinking heavily; my mental health further declined. At the age of 21, I was misdiagnosed with unipolar depression and prescribed SSRIs. This was the single worst part of my journey with bipolar disorder because it intensified the highs, which meant the lows were even lower. I had suicidal thoughts for weeks and could barely make it out of bed. But after this depressive episode passed, I thought I was getting better. My energy levels were higher and the future looked brighter than ever! I had bottomless amounts of energy, felt on top of the world, and had the most extravagant ideas of what my life from here on would look like. I spent money without having any self-control and was on cloud nine.
Eventually, the depression came around again and with a vengeance. How could I explain this pattern I’d lived with for so long to people who didn’t feel half the amount I did. People who seemed to get through a year without being thrown on a rollercoaster of emotions every few months.
In 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic, I had my first full-blown manic episode. The stress of this unknown illness and being trapped in a house left my brain firing off over time. My mother talked me into going back to see the psychiatrist and this time I was correctly diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. My diagnosis set me free. I was no longer suffocating with the symptoms of this illness. I started taking mood stabilizers and since then my life has followed an upward trajectory. I educated myself on the disorder and understood the triggers that could spark another episode. I stopped drinking and implemented a strict daily routine for myself that tides me over even when I am in the midst of an episode.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder but there are ways to manage the mood episodes. Life doesn’t have to end the day you get diagnosed with mental illness. In fact, for me, it finally began. I got to catch up on all the experiences that I lost to my illness. I was given the chance to rewrite my story from a place of stability. I wish people understood how lonely it feels to live with a stigmatized mental illness. How horrific the highs are and how all-consuming the lows can be. People think that mania is just feeling on top of the world but they are so wrong. It’s terrifying to feel so intensely.
When I started taking mood stabilizers, I felt like I finally had control over my life. My brain was no longer battling itself. I felt calm and relieved to have some sort of control over the intensity of my moods. I found tools, identified potential triggers for episodes, and found ways to take care of myself, whether I am manic or depressed. I found a community on Instagram with hundreds of others living with bipolar disorder. And now it doesn’t feel as lonely and scary anymore. I now want to amplify the voices of those who live with bipolar disorder.
There is still so much stigma in India about mental illness and coming out with my diagnosis has been quite a scary but also a very freeing experience. I want to break down the stereotypes we have in India about bipolar disorder. So I started a campaign called #mentallyilltogether on my Instagram @bipolarbix. I created a space for other mental illness warriors to come forward and share their stories. I want people to hear our voices and understand that mental illness is not a choice. And yes, there are ways to manage our illness. If raising our voices made even just one person feel less lonely, then my job here is done.
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