You did not think we would get our little bipolar butts out of national mental illness month with nary a thought or word about it, did you? Come on, you should know me better than that by now. So, here we are, on the last day of the month and I was going to write about a totally different topic (which I will tuck away for later). Instead, I will write about the illness we live with every day because this past month I hope you had a chance to participate in something or learn something or attend something that opened the conversation of mental health.
I have bipolar 1 with psychosis. The difference between this disorder combo and schizoaffective disorder is that schizoaffective disorder also has the element of delusional thinking with it. Bipolar 1 is a psychiatric illness in which one’s mood varies from one extreme to the next. In order to be classified as bipolar 1, a person must have had at least one manic episode in his or her life which is preceeded or fallowed by a hypomanic or depressed state.
This is tricky because if you do not know information about bipolar disorder, you may have no idea what it is and when it is happening. Features can include being very upbeat or jumpy and wired or unusually irritable. It is often only in hindsight that it is seen for what it truly is.
In bipolar 2, a similar yet separate diagnosis, the main difference is that you must had one serious depressive episode and a hypomanic episode (a tamer, but just as destructive form of mania). I bipolar 2, a full manic phase is never achieved.
Cyclothymic disorder (You thought your version was the only version of bipolar disorder)? Two years at least are spent between many episodes of hypomania and depression, though the depression is not classified as major depression.
Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed when a person is in their early ’20s. But there is no hard and fast rule some are teenagers. I was 27. Yet, others live most of their life misdiagnosed. When they properly are 2+2=4. The great thing about the right diagnosis, whether right off the bat or later, is we know the nature of the beast and, in so knowing, we can treat it. We begin the trial and errors of medication cocktails and psychiatric therapy.
Some people want to know what it is like living with bipolar 1 with psychosis. Scenario one: Imagine jumping from a plane while eating your favorite M&Ms without thinking (or caring too much) what was going to stop you from being crushed when you landed. Scenario two: You are not just hearing something, you are hearing a dozen people calling your name. This is child’s play to what will come next – they will tell you things, nasty things trying to erode any self-confidence you may have. Scenario 3: Things will grow dark regardless of the time of year. You will want to sleep all the time and will not have the energy to do much more. You will isolate yourself because you do not want to be bothered. You will idealize death disguised as mercy. All these things, as different as they are come, with danger. My life is dangerous. Being beautifully bipolar is dangerous, one in three of us will attempt suicide.
Lucky for me and for many of us, we are rapid cyclers. We do not take a break every couple months. Our rollercoaster is faster. I may be happy today and sleeping all day tomorrow. Just like the name our cycles, or episodes, occur quicker than your old run of the mill bipolar disorder. And yes, it is hell.
But regardless of which bipolar diagnosis we have we are blessed we get to see the world a little brighter, feel things, even if it feels bad, with a higher sensitivity. That makes us beautifully bipolar.