I’ve had bipolar all my life. I know some people would say that’s not possible, but I can’t remember any year of my life without seeing the thread of bipolar running through. At seven I can remember wishing I wasn’t alive. At times the depression expressed itself in self-harm or eating disorders, but much of the time it has just been a grey cloud sat over my head waiting to rain.
Mania is harder to pin down, and it’s only in hindsight I can see the first flickers of it. Terms when homework suddenly seemed easy because I didn’t ned to sleep, the time when I decided to redecorate my parents’ dining room in only two days, the all-nighters I pulled when inspired to write a masterpiece.
I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until after my second child was born – the hormone typhoon attacked with force and spun my mental health completely off axis. Seth was only eight weeks old when I went back on antidepressants, repeatedly changing tablets and increasing doses, trying to find something – anything – that worked.
Then something clicked. Within a week of upping antidepressants yet again, everything felt wonderful. I could finally feel again! Words tumbled out of my mouth at great speed – there was so much to say and so little time to say it. So what if I thought everyone around me could read my thoughts and I couldn’t stop shaking? I was finally better!
Needless to say, it didn’t last. The lesser known ‘mixed state’ of bipolar kicked in, with the worst bits of both depression and mania – feeling suicidal and self-destructive but at four times the speed. I tumbled down through the rabbit hole, not understanding myself at all, until I landed in a black pit of almost catatonic depression that didn’t lift for six months.
I’d like to say that was the end of the story, but that’s rarely how bipolar works. As early summer arrives each year I find myself getting a little bit too enthusiastic, argumentative and anxious. Then, as soon as I (or someone else) has noticed that, I start to dip, and feel low for the rest of the summer before picking up again in the autumn. Over the years I’ve learnt to recognise the warning signs earlier and adjust medication and lifestyle choices accordingly – this summer I’ve been almost symptom free.
The most important thing I’ve learnt – and have to keep learning – is that bipolar is just a small part of my story. In the tapestry of my life there will always be the black stitches of depression, the red of mixed states and the stunning gold of hypomania. But they will never make up the whole picture. My story isn’t full without bipolar, but there’s so much more. And, when I think about it, that’s just the way a story should be.