In retrospect, I can recognize the signs. It starts with agitation. I mismatch and contradict what people say. My filters are gone and I sometimes say insensitive things, things I wouldn’t normally say or would have said more diplomatically. I don’t sleep well that night. And the next day – well, the next day is unbearable.
For most people, Mental Health Awareness Month means educating ourselves about mental health and acknowledging its importance. It means that for me as well. I’ve always been intrigued by various mental disorders and learning about them and how they affect people and their families. But over the last two years since the commemorative month was designated, the awareness part of it means something much more personal, much closer to home. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For me, it’s every month.
My typical bipolar episode is one that most people don’t really know about: the mixed state. It’s when you experience both mania and depression at the same time. There aren’t that many references to it, and when I find one, it’s very short, almost dismissive. And that’s dangerous because of the 10-15% of people with bipolar who commit suicide do it while in a mixed state – you’re depressed but you have the energy of mania to do something about it. One minute you hear raging and wailing in your head, and the next minute you can’t stop crying. You don’t rest. You don’t lie down waiting for it to pass because you can’t. You pace, you walk in circles around the kitchen table, you feel like throwing your head into the wall, and sometimes you do. You’ll do anything to stop the relentless churning. It’s like having an egg beater in your head. And usually the only thing that stops it is the right medication.
Often when people feel better after taking their medication, though, they think they don’t need it anymore and stop taking it. And they immediately go into an episode. I knew that I wouldn’t stop taking my medication because I felt better, and so I developed this false sense of security that if I just took it every day, I would never experience another episode.
But if I don’t manage my stress, I can easily have what is termed a breakthrough episode. It will seemingly come from out of nowhere because I wasn’t paying attention to my triggers, and I wasn’t aware of the signs I exhibit when I’m beginning to go into an episode, the signs I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Over time and vigilant self-awareness, I have come to recognize the signs much earlier and can take some backup medication that my doctor has prescribed for these situations. It usually does the job, and I am back at my baseline within 2-3 days, very grateful that I didn’t advance into a full-blown episode, which sometimes feels like a glimpse of hell.
There are worse disorders than bipolar, worse diagnoses and outcomes. This is not a poor-me post; it’s an attempt to increase knowledge during Mental Health Awareness Month. We are not just in treatment centers and residential facilities. We are among you every day, working, paying bills, taking our kids to scout meetings, grocery shopping, lobbying for our children who have developmental disabilities, trying to function even when our neurotransmitters misfire, hoping like hell that when they do, we’ll gain the upper hand.
[image credit: Gifts for Awareness]