What it's Like to Have Bipolar Disorder (from Someone Who Knows)

By Tamiera Vandegrift on February 23, 2017

In my opinion, bipolar disorder is one of the most misunderstood and mocked mental illnesses out there. Here are a few memes that prove my point:

This infuriates me for a variety of reasons.

First, I am very outspoken against the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Mental illness is something that has always been a part of my life in some aspect. I have friends and family members who have suffered from demons in their past. I’m so passionate about this subject that I’m currently doing my honors thesis on the representation of mental illnesses in literature. It is an endless, cruel cycle. In the media, people with mental illnesses are depicted as crazy, out of control, vicious, and more than likely homicidal. Consequently, people with mental illnesses are less likely to be accepting of their illness, much less themselves, for fear of being associated with the image portrayed by the media.

Second, I have Bipolar II, therefore I know my stuff. Does this mean that I’m a raving lunatic wielding a mallet in a Stephen King novel? No. (Unless you count my gaming habits). I’ll admit that I’m human. There was a time that I was ignorant toward mental illness and mocked it too. If this is your situation, I’m not villainizing you. I just suggest that you learn more about the subject before you mock it, as it is someone’s reality.

If you haven’t guessed by the title of this article, that’s what I’m here to do! Read on to learn more about bipolar disorder and my personal experience with it.

What is bipolar disorder?

Before I tell you what bipolar is, let me tell you what bipolar isn’t.

Bipolar is not:

Indecisiveness. Having bipolar does not mean that you cannot make up your mind on matters.

Instability. Having bipolar does not mean that you’re a ticking time bomb or someone to be afraid of.

Insanity. I say insanity subjectively here. I consider my addiction to Overwatch to be insanity. Just saying. While bipolar disorder is a mental illness, people suffering from this illness are still very much in touch with reality for the most part.

Now that you know about the three I’s of what bipolar is not, let’s talk about what bipolar is.

Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as bipolar depression or manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes. In other words, bipolar disorder is a disease that will make you feel like you’re sitting on top of the world one moment, then being crushed by the world in the next moment; an endless roller coaster of ups and downs. You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait, I feel really happy somedays, but really depressed other days. Does this mean I have bipolar?”

You might, but consider this. Bipolar is based off of extremes. The extreme happiness, or mania, is accompanied by restlessness, lack of sleep, excitement, irritability, hypersexuality, and grandiose ideas. The extreme depression, or… well.. depression, comes in the form of lack of energy, oversleeping, feelings of hopelessness, and more. These episodes can take place for hours, days, weeks, and even months! I’ll make an example here:

Jane has bipolar disorder. On a manic episode, Jane may quit her job, write a novel overnight, take a sporadic trip to Italy, and/or may learn another language- all in a day or two. On a depressive episode, Jane will not get out of bed, will not eat or shower, and will withdraw from her friends and hobbies.

This is essentially how bipolar works.

How do you treat bipolar disorder?

Bipolar is genetic, so unfortunately, it doesn’t go away. However, it can be treated with the use of mood stabilizers and antidepressants, which help to settle the brain and give it a boost in times of hardship. Additionally, bipolar can be treated with talk therapy along with medications, not in place of them. There is no cure for bipolar, but there is a way to live with it. Finding the right medication cocktail is quite possibly one of the most ridiculous hardships a person should ever have to deal with, but I digress.

What is it like to live with bipolar disorder?

Sit down, everyone. It’s story time.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder over the course of Summer 2016. I knew something felt off within me for a few months, but didn’t know what it was. I’d feel hours or days of joy and motivation, but at the end of the week (or the day), I couldn’t stop crying or bother to make myself something to eat. I knew something was wrong here.

I started going to therapy at my university’s counseling center. For a while, my therapist kept recommending that I consult with a psychiatrist. I kept making excuses not to do so. It took until I lapsed into self-destructive behavior to finally get the help that I needed.

At first, I was misdiagnosed with depression and prescribed Zoloft to deal with it. Not only did the medication not work, it made me feel worse. My classwork and internships were neglected to the point that I had to medically withdraw from some of them. A day where I could get out of bed and make myself eat or shower was a good day. My doctor prescribed Latuda next, which began to work. I began to feel more normal, relaxed, and best of all alive. It turns out that I had endured my first true depressive episode, and there would and still will be plenty to follow. Now let’s talk about mania…

My bipolar squad (my beautiful friends who share the same brain as me) and I play this little game called, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done while manic?”. For me, I recently chopped a good portion of my hair off thinking that if my dream of being a screenwriter failed, I could at least be a hair stylist! I still laugh about that to this day, although I don’t think my hair stylist will be. (If you’re reading this, I am REALLY sorry and we can talk more about this at my next appointment, okay?) The best way that I can describe the feeling of mania is that it’s like the type of happiness that hits you so hard your face goes numb. Literally. Your self-confidence is through the roof. You feel like anything is possible. Adventure is out there… but it can also land you into serious trouble. Mania has caused people to be unfaithful in relationships, do risky things like drugs or unprotected sex, or engage in seriously harmful behavior. For me, mania takes the form of getting all of my homework for the next two weeks done in one night, or… cutting my hair.

Bipolar disorder is one of the most misunderstood diseases out there, according to me. I hope that this article has provided some good information about the illness and what it’s actually like to live with it. I hope this has been an educational experience. If you should have further questions for me, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section or message me privately. I would love to help in any way I can.

In case you were wondering, as for my condition and me, we’re just going to keep on moving on (props if you know what song that’s from) day after day. Isn’t that what we all do?

Tamiera is a senior at Florida State University, studying Editing, Writing & Media and Digital Media Production. When she's not geeking out about movies and puppy videos, she's on her way to a career in screenwriting, while working intensely to finish a few novels before graduation. Besides writing, Tamiera is otherwise obsessed with Coldplay, feminism, dystopian novels, and various types of junk food. She hopes to see one of her works on the silver screen and eventually finish an entire tube of Chapstick.

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