In the dark of day. In the light of night

In the dark of day. In the light of night.A look into the life of someone with bipolar disorder.

I am not defined by bipolar disorder. It does not write the rules of my life. However, it creates a path that I have no choice but to walk.

In order to understand, or at the least try to understand the mind of someone with mental illness cannot be done, if you don’t have an understanding of at least the facts of bipolar disorder. 

So, before I give you a peek into my mind – let me give you the facts of bipolar disorder first.

In your visit do walk gently. Not only is it a fragile place, but also a place I as someone with mental illness chooses to show. I don’t need to show it to anyone. I, however choose to give you a glimpse into it, in the hope that you, the gentle reader will come to a place of compassion, understanding and care.

The facts first then.

1. Bipolar is a mental illness. Not just something that causes a person to be moody. 

2. Bipolar is recognized by the DSM-V (The diagnostic and statistics manual – edition 5), psychiatrists, leading medical universities and the World Health Organization as a serious and debilitating illness. 

3. Bipolar means you cycle between depression and mania. 

4. Bipolar depression is not the blues, it’s not feeling down. It is a serious state of hopelessness and despair over which the sufferer has no control.

5. Mania or hypo-mania is a state of elevated mood, heightened senses, increased energy, irritability and grandiosity that is not induced by narcotics.

6. Mixed state is a state where both the symptoms of mania and depression are present. 

7. Rapid cycling is a period where you alternate between mania and depression in a short period of time. 

8. Psychosis is a state where you have hallucinations, you have from light to severe loss of reality, rage attacks and you are generally not in control of your actions. 

9. Suicidal ideation is the constant thinking about suicide. 

10. Suicide attempts are often part of bipolar disorder. A big percentage (up to 25% of all sufferers successfully complete suicide)

11. Medication forms a major part of bipolar treatment. This can include anti-depressants (which in its turn can induce mania), anti-psychotics (which have a huge range of side effects, ranging from weight gain to complete impotence) and mood stabilizers (often anti-seizure medication). Sleeping aids, anti-anxiety medication and others can also be part of the cocktail of medication that someone with bipolar takes. 

12. Psychotherapy forms a big part of the treatment of bipolar disorder.

These are the basic facts. Bipolar is much more complex than that, but I will not bore you with those details. These facts in any case mean nothing if a human being is not attached to them. 

So then, a peek into the mind.

I was a regular kid (albeit a quiet one on the nerdish side). I did exceptionally well in school. In my grade 10 year I achieved distinctions in all of my nine subjects. I wanted to become a medical doctor. Then, in the space of a few weeks all of this changed. I was more away from school than in school. I went from excellent grades to failing subjects. I slept up to 18 hours a day.

Then I had my first suicide attempt. I was only 16 years old. I was in hospital for 6 weeks. After that I barely lived. I just carried on from day to day. When I was 19 I had my second, very serious suicide attempt. I almost lost my life and was in hospital for a long 3 months. 

Over the course of the next 23 years I went from sleeping 18 hours a day to a drug abusing alcoholic that did everything from cocaine to ketamine. I found work and excelled in it, only to see it fall into pieces. I had times of such severe depression that I could actually see darkness in the day. I had periods that I was so manic that I could see the room as if it was day, even though it was the middle of the night.

Then the diagnosis came. You have bipolar disorder.

I have travelled a long, long road. Today, I am narcotics free. I manage to get through my days, I sleep my nights. After all those years I am finally starting to live. 

That is just a bit of background. Here is what it feels like.

When you have depression, nothing makes sense. You feel utterly numb. The things that are important to you no longer feel important. Things that would normally make you happy leave you wanting. You are able to stare at a wall for several hours with barely anything going on in your mind.

When you have mania you feel as if you can take on the world. You have a million plans. You have unlimited energy. Your thoughts and your speech are rapid. You have increased libido.

There is a massive amount of guilt when you suffer from bipolar. You are the one that understands your abilities better than anyone. Only to see them not amount to anything. You are frustrated with your anger at the sound the phone makes when it rings. You are ashamed at your inability to perform sexually due to the side effects of medication.

You often avoid discussions, going out, being part of the regular every day life. Things that other people take in their stride triggers you into depression or mania. 

Every day you start the day and you hope that today stability will visit you. Sometimes it does. Sometimes you can go days or weeks doing so good. And then you crash. A crash is what we as bipolars refer to as the moment when you go from mania or stability into depression. I am fortunate in that my days of depression are not as many as they used to be. But they still come. And they are catastrophic events that take away my will to live.

But I do live, because I have chosen to live.

Sometimes we get confused. Maybe it’s part of the bipolar. Maybe it’s due to the heavily scheduled medication that sometimes makes you feel numb. I have very vivid dreams. They are both disturbing and unnerving. It is a side effect of medication that I have no control over. It’s the choice between two evils. 

I get lonely. I get excited. I get depressed. All of those things I do get support for. But I also deal with them alone. Only I can really understand what is going on in my own mind.

I have come to a place where I am integrating bipolar into my life. I am not shy to say I have it. The more I talk about it the more awareness I will create. I have hope. 

Many people with bipolar do not have hope. If you love someone with bipolar remember this one thing. They, more than anyone want to be better. They want to smile at the day.

Bipolar disorder is not a death sentence. It is a reality. It is a serious medical condition. However, the possibility does exist that you can live with it and go to bed and say, yes, I am ok.

We may see dark in our days, we may see light in our nights.

But we see the same beauty that you do.

I have bipolar. I am not bipolar.

© Herman Le Roux 2016

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