Bipolar disorder affects anywhere from 2-8% of the population, depending on how you define it. It causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood from manic to depressive. These shifts are not predictable. It doesn’t work on a pendulum. A person may have a depressive episode followed by a manic episode, but they may also have a depressive episode followed by a depressive episode with some symptom-free time in between. The type of episode is unpredictable and the length of the episode is unpredictable. This is why having bipolar disorder requires constant care and watchfulness, and I’m tired of it.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years ago after four years of misdiagnosis. I’m actually lucky on that part. The average time a person waits for a correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder is 10 years. That’s after they first seek help, not how long it takes after symptoms first appear. Since then I have been regularly treated, also unusual since many people go without treatment for long periods of time.
Another positive aspect of my bipolar disorder is that I’m fairly high-functioning. I can take care of myself. I can hold down a job, though working full-time exacerbates my symptoms greatly. I don’t have too many problems with cognitive functioning I can handle my own finances with no great impulse-buys. My relationships are strong and I have hobbies and am physically active.
All of this sounds like I’m doing pretty well, and I am. The problem is that even though I’m successful in terms of living with bipolar disorder, it is still a constant struggle. There are people with bipolar disorder who only have episodes once every few years. I envy those people. I, on the other hand, have rapid cycling bipolar disorder, meaning I have at least four episodes per year. That’s an incredible amount of time that I spend having to fight just to live my life.
I am grateful. I know that there are plenty of people with bipolar disorder who do not have it as easy as I do. There are people who are hospitalized, people whose symptoms are worse than mine and people that cannot seek treatment at all. I recognize this. But, as a therapist once told me, downward comparison never works. Just because there are others worse off does not diminish my suffering, and I do suffer.
I am also constantly reminded of my bipolar disorder. I see my psychiatrist once a month. I see my therapist every other week. I take my medication daily. Hell, I write about bipolar disorder twice a week. It makes. me. tired.
At times I am tempted to just throw it all away, to go off my medication and to ignore the fact that I’m sick. The problem is, that doesn’t work. At all. In fact, it would make everything a lot worse. So, there is no break. My only real option is to keep going the way that I have been. To live the ideal bipolar life.
Image credit: Porsche Brosseau