Bipolar disorder is a touchy and difficult subject, being traditionally a very misunderstood mental illness. It is generally viewed as rapid mood swings, but these “mood swings,” are usually months long, having very extreme ups and downs. People affected by it experience crushing depression and then inflated, maniac-like happiness, receiving impulses (often self-destructive) that are incredibly hard to ignore. It’s more than simply feeling sad in one instant and then feeling happy in the next — it’s obsessing over a tiny interaction, illogical, intrusive thoughts keeping you awake at night staring emptily at the ceiling.
Here, I ask my friend everything I’ve wanted to ask her about living with such a crippling illness.
How would you describe the transition from high to low?
A plunging type feeling when it happens fast. Dread. For me it begins to accumulate in my chest, ‘it’ being knots of tension, an intense anxiety type feeling. This feeling spreads to my arms and the front of my head. I would describe it as an Anxious Fog, caused by incoherent thoughts. This fog settles for a small bit and can either just stay where it is, or it can get progressively worse. Either or, I have to fight to work my way out through both, and it is very, very tiring to do this, but it’s worth it. Sometimes I transition into a low state over the course of a few days. This is a scary enough situation because the logical part of my head watches the illogical part of my head try to take over and must continuously fight it. It’s a very grueling experience. I would go into more detail, but I still don’t even understand it myself. My head goes into over drive over very minuscule things that a lot of people wouldn’t even think of as a problem.
When I am in a low state, I feel as though other people can find me very difficult to deal with. I will ask them questions like ‘are you sure it’s okay if we hang out’ and, ‘I’m so sorry if I’m annoying you but..’ or ‘do you hate me? Are you sure you don’t hate me? Do you even actually like me? Can you tell me why we are friends?’ Having to provide someone with that level of reassurance is extremely overwhelming and tiring, whether you love them to the moon and back or not. This is something I am well aware of when I am doing well in my head and thinking rationally and logically about things (something I one hundred percent have the ability to do). When I get bad, this awareness escapes me, my insecurities and fear of abandonment will take over, and I will end up impulsively asking my loved ones these questions, often pushing them away from me with how intense I can be with them.
How do you cope with heightened impulses?
A heightened impulse for me was when every single emotion I was feeling bubbled up to a breaking point. To break this overwhelming and unbearable emotion, I would often end up carrying out some form of self- destructive and impulsive behaviour. Heightened impulses are something I have always struggled with and it took me a very long time to be able to control them. They resulted in me going through a three year period of some serious self — destructive behaviour. I used to have absolutely no control over what I was doing to myself. If I was having a panic attack or a breakdown, my control would be gone; I could do anything in the heat of the moment. I have done some very dangerous things to myself as a result of impulsivity. All through this time I was carrying out talk therapy with a counsellor. She didn’t know I had BPD. I didn’t even know I had BPD. I never even considered myself as someone with a borderline personality at all, however I did learn how to cope with heightened impulses from the tips and tricks I learned with my counsellor. I learned to literally take two seconds before carrying out impulsive behaviour to think to myself ‘do I really need to do this?’ Something that simple can save your life. ‘Do you really need to carry out this destructive behaviour? Is this something that needs to be done?’ That’s what worked for me personally, and it took me a very long time to master. I’m proud of myself for learning how to control myself.
How do you pull yourself out of a depressive state?
Healing days. Healing days are my most recent way of pulling myself out of a depressive state. Unfortunately with me, it just so happens that often I have to hit rock bottom before working my way back up. Either that or a reality check. Both happened to me recently, but for the better. After this reality check I thought, ‘screw this, I’m changing my mind set for the better’. I got myself back to a stable sense of mind with this attitude in just two or three days.
Day one I was sitting in my room bawling crying, listening to my housemate’s friends having fun in our kitchen, laughing and being happy, and I was feeling cut off from the world, forlorn and completely alone. I had just made a mistake in one of my friendships, and catastrophized the situation in my own head, something that happens to me very often.
Day two, I went to all of my lectures in college surprisingly, sat myself down, and put on classical music. (Listen to ‘Divenire’ by Ludovico Einaudi, you will LOVE it) I took out my sticky notes and wrote out really nice messages to myself. I wrote things like ‘pace yourself’ and ‘be patient with them’, ‘they want you around’, ‘people just want to see you happy’. These are things I have to always remind myself of, so I wrote them out and stuck them on my wall in such a way that I can see them straight away when I wake up.
Day three I had invited a couple of people over for prinks before going out. Yes I was terrified no one would show up. Yes I was terrified of going out. People did show up and it was brilliant. I did slip up and ended up going home early because I was anxious, but instead of dwelling on the slip up, I focused on how good the prinks were before we went out. I have kept myself at a fairly stable enough mind set since then and I hope I maintain it.
How do you feel about medication?
I was on medication myself not for BPD, just for anxiety and depression for around four or five months. I ran out of it during the summer and haven’t been on them since August I’d say. I really feel as though medication can help if you get the right medication. Getting it right is crucial and it can take a while for some people to find the medication that suits them. It did level my head out for me when doing the leaving cert. I decided to stay off medication because I believe I need to be without it and see how I get on without being medicated for a few months. I can go back on them whenever I please. I believe that there is absolutely no shame in being medicated. If you need medication, you need medication, and that’s that.
Have people treated you differently after the diagnoses?
Unfortunately, they have. I have had two situations in the last two weeks where friends have treated me different because I told them I had BPD. It’s not their fault. It only makes me want to strive for a more healthy and level — minded head when people do this. I want to break the stereotype that people with BPD are scary and insane and incapable of doing certain things. It literally fuels me to go out and live and function like any other person despite my mental illness, no matter how hard it will be. I want to train my brain to be able to do this, no matter what the challenge.
How often do you feel stable?
I honestly don’t feel stable very often. There is always something going on in my head that I am fighting. I’m always fighting for control over my own thoughts so as they don’t take me over. I’m always trying to decipher in my head whether a person hates me or not, and this person could well love me very, very much, and I would just refuse to believe them. I would push them away then, thinking they despise me, when in reality, they love me.
This is another part of this mental illness that shakes me. Socializing and having healthy relationships with people. I find it very difficult. Especially at the start of friendships. I can get very unstable when beginning a new friendship with somebody, because I get attached very quickly. At the moment, however, I am doing moderately okay. I have to keep reminding myself of the messages I wrote myself that I put up on my wall. They really help me if I feel my mind is veering to a negative state.
Describe what a good day feels like!
A good day is a strange and beautiful experience. I remember waking up one of the days last week and feeling actually chilled out about a situation that I was over analysing for weeks and texting my friend ‘I can’t believe I’m actually kind of okay with this now, I feel calm about it now.’ It’s like as if the fog lifts and you can think clearly for the first time in ages. You feel everything level out. There’s always that doubt in the back of my mind on a good day that ‘this is temporary, this WON’T last so don’t keep your hopes up’. I have hope that my good days will become more frequent than my bad. I think that everyone should have that hope.
Editors note: Everyone’s experience of mental illness is different. This is one girls story, and what works for her might not work for everyone. The important thing is to ask for help if you’re struggling. Thanks for sharing lovely lady x