To start my journey here with Psych Central, I thought I should share my own bipolar journey. This is one of the most personal things I have ever written and was tough to the write, but I feel it’s important to share it. It will come as a three-part series.
How it Started
My journey through the highs and lows of Bipolar Disorder began when I was roughly 11 years old, little did I know that then. Looking back, I can see the signs that I was experiencing symptoms, but at the time I just felt confused and that something wasn’t quite right. I remember feeling things more intensely than my friends seemed to be, and I remember having a lot of anxiety that seemed to have no particular cause.
However, things didn’t really start to heighten until my teenage years. It seemed like as soon as I hit 13, my brain just didn’t want to cooperate. I was feeling so sad a lot of the time and found it increasingly hard to focus on socializing and school.
I started to try and avoid going to school because I had this intense fear inside that I couldn’t shake, like a deep dark pit in my stomach. I just knew something wasn’t right and at that age, my first thought was to try and stay at home where I felt safest.
This feeling heightened as I got older, although I did do quite well at school and got to a stage where I could really focus on the academic side of things and flourish there. It was something I knew I could control and do well at, so I threw myself into that.
The Manic Years
As I got to the ages of 15 and 16, the depressive symptoms started to turn into something else. I started to socialize more, to develop a big group of friends that I wanted to be out with all the time. I would party a lot, which wasn’t really in my character and I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure why I was doing this. I remember it all feeling completely alien to me and I just didn’t feel quite like myself. Looking back, I can see this was the start of the mania that would stay with me until I was 19, with only rare periods of clarity and relief.
During the coming months I was manic or hypomanic for prolonged periods of time: sometimes days, weeks or months at a time, followed by huge drops in my mood which then swiftly rose once again. I wasn’t stable at all during this time.
I did things that were completely out of character for me. I left the house late and didn’t come home until all hours. I put myself in highly risky situations which I knew weren’t sensible, yet I did them anyway. I drank a lot to try to escape what was going on, to try to get away from this feeling of complete confusion about what my body was doing and why I felt the need to do this.
I slept around, which I deeply regret now and would never have done in my right mind. I treated my family badly, especially my parents, in ways that the ‘real me’ couldn’t have even comprehended. At times I felt as though I was watching myself doing all these things from afar as if watching a film of someone who wasn’t me at all. I had no control.
After some time, rare moments of clarity started to become more frequent, and this was almost worse because I remembered everything I had done and literally had no idea why I was doing it. I was completely terrified of my actions, feeling totally overtaken by guilt and desperation to make it stop, but without any idea how to reach out for help or what could be wrong with me. My mind was so mixed up and I had no idea about mental illness, that it didn’t even cross my mind as a reason. I thought I was simply a very bad person that had no control over themselves. I could not figure it out.
Trying to Cope
I became desperate to find a way to cope. I started to drink more even when I wasn’t manic to forget what I’d done and to deal with my increasing anxiety. I started to seek boyfriends, to seek some sort of love that would bring me comfort. I clung onto this ‘love’ in irrational ways, not wanting to spend any time apart from them because I was so desperate to be held, to be understood, to find someone who could bring me solace; even though it didn’t work.
Next came the catalyst for things to progress, which will be continued in the next installment.