bipolar momWhen I was a kid my dad used to drive down this long, creepy, winding road.  It went through the forest, it was always dark even in the middle of the day – even the trees were creepy.  There were some very sharp turns where the road narrowed so much two cars would never be able to pass.  I was always scared senseless when my dad would drive down this road. I was totally out of control and focusing only on what was around me waiting to reach the stop sign.

That is what living with bipolar is like.

You look ahead and all you feel is fear, never knowing what is about to happen. You have no control over that curve coming ahead – never knowing if another car will be trying to come around the same curve as you. You are paying such close attention to the road in front of you and the forest around you that you can’t even look behind to see where you’ve been.  All your focus is centered on the single moment.  You cant see what is in front of you because of all the curves and trees – it’s a powerless and scary ride.  Until you get help.

What happens when you get help? C’mon – let’s go for another ride.

Shortly after my 17th birthday I started driver’s education class. The day my driving instructor picked me up from my home to take a driving lesson, I was clueless I was about to drive this same road that terrified me as a little girl. It hadn’t changed much. Together as a team we ventured down this road to pick up another student.

Imagine – you’re partially in control of the car but you are not able to make any of your own driving decisions. The instructor beside you is giving you verbal instructions, with his hand on his own wheel and a foot ready to press the brake. Not only are you already scared to death to venture down this road, someone else is still partially in control. He is guiding your every move with criticism that is supposed to be “corrective” yet you feel as though you are constantly being picked at. No matter how hard you try to handle that curve ahead – your instructor grabs the wheel and presses the break. Are you ready to drive the road alone yet? Probably not.

One drive down this road with your instructor gives you only little comfort – during only one driving lesson.

That is what it is like when you first see a doctor. She offers her help, support, and guidance. Then you are left to sort of “figure it out” on your own how you are going to live with your own illness. Yes, therapy helps a great deal but you are still left to figure out how you can best drive down this road. No one can drive for you.

Finally have your license – what now?

The first time I had to drive down this road by myself I was still terrified. I was too scared to look around me because I didn’t want to end up losing control of my car. I couldn’t look behind me because the road ahead was so ridiculously unpredictable. With each curve I came around and each car I squeezed by, I felt a little more confident. However, I was still terrified to keep going. I swear it felt as though that first “solo” drive down that dangerous dark and scary road was never going to end.

Imagine – being that scared.

A lot of people have asked me “what is bipolar like?”

Sadly, it is not something that is easily explained, and unless you have lived it – I don’t think anyone can understand.

I am almost 31 years old and I still can’t drive down that road without being afraid. I avoid that road as often as possible. To me it is the only way to keep from feeling so much fear. Dealing with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder is not much different because I cannot make a choice to avoid who I am. I am stuck driving down this scary Bipolar road every day of my life.

I focus so much on what is happening today I find it very hard to look at tomorrow. I work so hard to change with the demands of my life – but I assure you it is never without fear or hesitation. I can’t take enough time to reflect on all that I have already managed to get through because what is in front of me takes all of my focus.

Sometimes I do feel like I’ve reached the end of the road and will be stronger for it, but then it just continues. It isn’t often there is a good healthy break to bring myself back together because I have to keep going. I can’t just stop in the middle of the road to ponder what my next move will be.

When a major depressive episode hits, that is where a lot of people get lost in trying to understand.  Take all I have described and make it dark with no high beams. That would best describe living in a major depressive episode – it intensifies all those fears and feelings to a level that can never be understood by a sober mind.

That is what my life is like, that is what it is like for me personally – living with bipolar.

While I can’t speak for everyone who is struggling to survive mental illness, I can do my best to try to describe my own struggles.  Learning to accept everything and move forward is the easy part. When you realize the grim reality of what is in front of you – it gets very hard. I know one day I will be stable and confident in my own skin. Until then, I will keep on going. It is not always the best road to be on but it is my road and I am not going to give up until the I reach the stop sign. I know it is ahead.

The day will come when I can reach the end of this road and have full control of myself and my illness. When that day comes and I look back I know exactly what I will see.  I will see all of my fears behind me and an open road in front of me. The sun will shine, life will go on, and I will smile.

Could you do it? Drive down this road never knowing when it will end or what is in front of you – paralyzed by the fear of what you don’t know?

That right there is the story of what it is like for me living with bipolar.

Photo by Harsha KR, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.