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Bipolar Disorder: What Does It Feel Like?

By Jane

When people ask about bipolar disorder, they often ask about what it “looks like” and usually not what it feels like. A lot of people think of a drug addict or an “out of their mind” person mumbling to themselves or laughing maniacally.

That’s it. They don’t think of the artists, actors, musicians, mathematicians, scientists, and numerous other creative and highly intelligent people who happen to have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is often seen as a flaw, as something to be fixed.

As a person living with Bipolar and who started having symptoms at the age of six, I used to believe that too. I used to have prejudice against myself, and others like me. “Why can’t I just deal with it? Why can’t I pretend my emotions don’t exist like everyone else?” It took some time for me to realize that my illness comes with gifts too, and not

just struggles.

So, what does bipolar disorder feel like? That’s a complicated question.

The truth is that it’s different for everyone. I can’t speak for all people with bipolar disorder, but I can speak for myself and my experience.

To me, it feels like being nearly torn in two. It feels like I’m constantly battling against the two sides residing in my mind that are my most extreme, most consuming selves.

On the one hand, I have Mania, which feels like an exciting hurricane of the highest high I can possibly feel. The scary thing about it is that it feels good. It’s tempting to just escalate it until I crash back into depression. That’s what makes it dangerous, because my behavior may become riskier in an attempt to keep that high. It feels like I’m riding all the intoxicating frequencies that surround my reality. Every small, seemingly insignificant thing is brighter, more vibrant, and more exciting than anything you can possibly imagine. Once you’re in it, you don’t want to leave. But you always have to be pulled away, because Depression is waiting impatiently on the other side.

Depression feels like a takeover. When I’m depressed, I feel like I’m in an alternate reality where my entire life is a black hole. Even when my life is going perfectly, and I “should be happy,” depression still feels like it’s consuming me. Before I knew how to manage the symptoms, I used to sleep for twelve to fourteen hours a day, feel tired all day, do almost nothing, and then I would repeat the pattern over and over until it passed. I wouldn’t remember to eat most of the time, and when I did, I’d binge. I would have the most morbid and frightening thoughts enter my mind that were not my own. It would all feel like a blur. Everything would fade together, and I’d feel like I don’t remember whether it’s tomorrow or yesterday, or even today, and I wouldn’t care in that moment.

Mixed episodes feel like Depression and Mania are roommates in your head fighting over the remote to your life. When I have a mixed episode, I usually rapid cycle, meaning I switch from mania to depression, depression to mania, and the cycle just keeps going. Sometimes during a mixed episode, I feel like both mania and depression are occupying the same space, and I feel like crying and laughing at the same time.

I want people who don’t have bipolar disorder to understand that what I live with is a chronic illness like any other. Mine is just invisible and affects my brain. When I’m experiencing a manic, depressive, or mixed episode, my mindset isn’t the issue. The issue is that I have a chemical imbalance. Yes, I can ease the symptoms with coping skills, but I can’t make my emotions or symptoms completely go away. My emotions are the symptoms.

I also want people to understand the gifts I have received from living with Bipolar. I am more creative and more empathic than most people who do not have Bipolar. I have an enduring strength from the experience of living with Bipolar, that continues to this day and beyond to help me move forward.

I have learned how to live with my illness instead of trying to make it go away. I have embraced it, without allowing it to take over my life. I have found joy. I have found love. I have found gratitude.

I am more than my illness, and that will never change.


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