Hello Marje’s fans! My name is Cat, and I am a 20 year old diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder. Writing is one of my main coping mechanisms for accepting my diagnosis, so I am thrilled to share a part of me with you today.
Bipolar sounds like a terrifying, debilitating, life-changing disorder…and it definitely is. At times. When I was locked in my 2nd hospital, after getting out of my 1st one only 41 days earlier, I thought I had gone absolutely insane. And in a way, I had. I was misdiagnosed with depression and misprescribed an antidepressant that ended up making matters worse. Hospital-worthy worse.
But my 5th psychiatrist listened to me and changed my meds, and my 12th therapist listened to me and believed what I said, and I stabilized in six months. And here I am!
I write when I’m depressed. I write when I’m manic. Okay…I mostly write when I’m manic. And I write when I’m stable. When I sit down and open my laptop, I have no idea what to expect from my brain. I have no idea which me will come out. But today I have a theme in mind, thanks to Marje’s suggestion, and that theme is using quotes to explain what bipolar is and what it means to me. I hope you enjoy!
Four Quotes to Help You (and Me) Understand Bipolar Disorder:
“I have traveled through madness to find me.” –Danny Alexander
I started experiencing my first symptoms of bipolar disorder when I was 14 years old. Before long, I self-diagnosed myself as depressed. When I wasn’t depressed, I thought I was back to normal.
I didn’t know that when I felt normal, I was actually feeling manic.
It started with hypomania, which is a less intense form of mania. A patient who only experiences hypomania is by definition a patient who is never hospitalized for mania. Patients without full-blown manic episodes are diagnosed with Bipolar 2.
My hypomania didn’t detract from my life. Sometimes I was impulsive, but that was written off as a teenage rebellious phase. Sometimes I talked really fast and bounced off the walls with energy, but I was just labeled an extrovert, maybe with a little bit of ADHD thrown in. My experience mimics many other patients who do not get diagnosed properly, if they get diagnosed at all. Hypomania often looks like normal.
I don’t know if it was growing up or going off to boarding school or college or what else, but the full-on mania came. I was hospitalized. Twice. This was partly due to my misdiagnosis of unipolar depression and subsequent treatment with antidepressants. Antidepressants like Prozac close the mechanisms in the brain that essentially “suck up” serotonin, leaving more happy neurotransmitters for the depressed person. But more serotonin in a person with bipolar can induce a manic episode. And it did.
So when I was correctly diagnosed, I felt a wave of relief wash over me, softly pulling me into the comfort of the sand bar and telling me that the storm was over. My psychiatrist, the first person other than myself, did not only acknowledge my madness, but he accepted it. And he helped me. I figured out who I am; I understood why I felt the things I felt and did the things I did for the first time.
“It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.” –David Jones
Bipolar is a mood disorder. “Extreme mood swings” its simplest definition. Everyone has mood swings, right? But not everyone has depression. Not everyone has mania. And not everyone has both. Only 1% has both.
Depression is a curse. I cannot get out of bed, but I cannot sleep either. I don’t care if I fail out of school, or if I never see another human again, or if I die of starvation. I see no point in doing anything. I know I am hurting others by my illness, and I feel incredibly guilty. But I cannot fix it. I know the world would be better without me. I consider how I want to kill myself, but realize I don’t have enough energy to go through with it. I continue merely existing.
Hypomania is a blessing. Or feels like it. Feelings of euphoria, self-confidence, and high energy emerge from within me. I love everyone and everything so, so much. I feel like I can and will conquer the world. I am more important than anyone else. I have been put on this Earth to do something extreme. I will be famous. I deserve to be famous. I am intelligent and creative and hardworking and hilarious, and I will persevere until I get to the top.
Mania is a curse. Mania makes me irritable, to the point where no one wants to be around me. Racing thoughts envelope me, they take all of my energy as I fruitlessly attempt to push them away. I cannot concentrate on my studying, or anything else. My anxiety rises to full blown panic attacks, and I feel my heart will beat out of my chest, my body will shake until I have nothing left, my breath will soon fade away. I am determined to kill myself, to go through with the plans I made when I was depressed. I lose touch with reality. I am not lucid. I am hospitalized.
“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” –Lewis Carroll
This is a classic bipolar joke, saying that a patient experiences mood swings throughout the day everyday. Typically a person with bipolar disorder only experiences one to two mood cycles a year. Someone with rapid cycling bipolar experiences at least four mood cycles a year. But some patients do experience mood cycling throughout the course of a single day. I experienced daily rapid cycling that was induced by my antidepressant, and it was absolute hell. Up and down and up and down and mania and depression and mania and depression. A never-ending rollercoaster.
“I doubt sometimes whether a quiet and unagitated life would have suited me—yet I sometimes long for it.” –Byron
Some people crave the stability and fear the mood swings. A stable phase will inevitably give way to a manic or depressive phase, and one waits in terrified anticipation for the ball to drop, the stability to break, the walls to close in on each other.
Other people crave the mania, refusing medications, therapy, and other treatment options in favor of the literal “high life.”
Bipolar disorder cannot be cured. It is a lifelong condition, with onset on average between 15-25 years of age. Medications only attempt to manage the symptoms, hopefully making each episode less severe, if your psychiatrist perfects your drug concoction. Therapy helps patients to learn how to cope with extreme emotions, manage stress, keep up a daily routine, and in general reduce the negative effects the illness has on their lives. But someone with bipolar disorder will never reach a “quiet and unagitated life.” My life is full of changes, of fluctuating brain chemicals and emotions and reactions and anxiety and elation and fear and contentment. My racing thoughts will remain loud; they continue screaming and shouting until they are heard. I will make stupid, risky, impulsive mistakes. I will feel magnificent one day and miserable the next. These symptoms will never stop.
Whether I crave normalcy or insanity (and it does depend on the day), I do not get to choose. And that was my first revelation post-diagnosis. I am bipolar, and bipolar is me. It is not all of me, but it is part of me. And that is that.
Thank you for reading,
Cat’s social media:
Cat Davis is a 20 year old student at the University of Virginia, and she writes a blog about her bipolar 1 disorder at highrisk1.wordpress.com. She is an Ambassador and writer for worthliving.co, a mental health awareness website based in Nova Scotia, and her articles can also be found at botid.org, alltop.com, selfgrowth.com, and iam1in4.com
It has been such a pleasure to welcome Cat Davis to my blog to talk about mental health issues, the importance of which I cannot stress enough. Thank you to Cat for sharing her personal story and joining in my series of guest author/writer/blogger posts about writing inspiration. I discovered Cat recently via Sue Vincent’s excellent blog: Sue Vincent – Guest Writer Cat Davis – Against Stigma
I’d love to hear your inspiring stories. Recently, I featured my daughter Natasha Mallon’s guest post about her friend’s psychedelic folk music band: Guest Post – Natasha Mallon – Music Spotlight Wax Machine
So if you love to write, or create beautiful photographic images, art or music I’d love to hear from you. I’d also welcome stories about your art, photography and/or writing helping you to cope as a form of therapy.
If you’d like to be featured on my next guest post, please do get in touch via my email: email@example.com, or find out more here:
Much love, and don’t forget to comment before you go.
Bye for now, be kind, share the love.
My social media links:
Fellow Administrators of our Authors Bloggers Rainbow Support Club #ABRSC on Facebook, myself, my good friends Colleen Chesebro and Debby Gies. Click on Colleen’s and Debby’s photos to be directed to their awesome blogs. These ladies rock!