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Bipolar Type II: Surviving a “Bad Day”

Yesterday was a bit of a difficult one.

Not long after shaking out the morning cobwebs, I felt a terrible, familiar itching in my chest. A feeling that you would likely equate with anxiety, but without the anxious thoughts that usually accompany the sensation. They would come later.

The apparent delay that I experience between bad feelings and bad thoughts is actually a bonus as far as my treatment goes. I’ve been prescribed an atypical antipsychotic that is fairly efficient in halting the process as long as I recognize the sensations early enough. On this day, however, the medication seemed to be of little use. The physical symptoms were rapidly increasing and my thoughts were starting to race. I had no choice but to hold on tight and ride out the storm.

13 Comments to
Bipolar Type II: Surviving a “Bad Day”

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  1. Thank you for writing this Stephen. I am also a BPII rapid-cycler. You are right – it takes so much energy just to act normal when you cycle down. I feel such a strange mixture of fatigue, sluggishness and hopelessness, and racing thoughts, irritability and rage. Work is really tough – especially the little things: saying “hello, how are you?”, remembering to smile, responding to emails and phone calls.

    • Thanks yourself Ian, it’s always good to know I’m not alone (not that I’d wish it on anyone, but you know what I mean I’m sure).

  2. This was nice to hear. Not that you were having a bad day, but that I am not alone. Everyone and their dog tries to convince me that my feelings influence my moods, but I get a very definite “clunk” in my thought processing that alerts me that I am suddenly going to be thinking in a more negative or reactive way. I have a very hard time with trying to act “normal” too. It’s not easy when you have a 6 year old that wants sleepovers and the like, when you really don’t have it in you to pretend to be enjoying yourself, or otherwise normal. I have a very hard time explaining to family and friends the ins and outs of my mental mess, so thank you. Maybe this article would help them “get it.”

    • Hi Erin, I hope you have success in communicating your issues to family and friends. If this post helps then I’d be thrilled. Best of luck!

  3. Echoing others I want to say thank you for sharing this – I am also BPII, also rapid-cycling, and trying to deal with managing my work and social lives in a situation where no one in those circles knows my diagnosis. Even for those that do know I find that they have a hard time understanding, and I am actually going to share this article with my roommate in the hopes that it will enlighten him a bit more about my situation and why there are days I just don’t want to hang out, or smile, or chitchat. Thanks again.

    • You’re welcome Jenn, I hope to continue writing articles from time to time that focus on what it’s like having BPII, so hopefully there will be more material for that kind of use. I hope it works out!

  4. I am so glad I found this website. Hello Steven, I’m Bi Polar 2… I think in the next 5 years it might change to Bi Polar 22 on account of technology. I feel the same way as you described. The only thing that saves me is my Snarky Sense of Humor. Wishing you wellness…Desiree Cart Dugas

    • Hi Desiree, thanks for the comment and never let go of that great sense of humour. “I think in the next 5 years it might change to Bi Polar 22 on account of technology” nearly made me choke on my coffee. Best wishes!

  5. Steven, thank you for putting the feeling/biology into perspective again. I have been struggling with the negativity and I still (after 6 years of meds) find it easy to spiral myself in thoughts when I can’t seem to get myself out of it. The back of my mind still pipes in with “it’s your brain.” However, that duality is a challenge as we all know. So thank you!

    • Hi Meredith, yes that duality is quite the beast! I like the “emptiness” perspective of Tibetan buddhism as a reconciliation, but there’s no need for me to get all philosophical here. I’m very happy to help you with your perspective. We’ll always be challenged by negativity, but the more often we can pull ourselves out of that hole, the more likely we can do it again next time. Maybe even slightly easier. Best of luck!

  6. Thanks for sharing this. My 10 year old son has bipolar 1 with the rapid cycling. I have seen him start to cry, then smile big as he laughs, then cry, then smile all in a matter of seconds. This will go on for about a minute, he usually starts to slam his head into the ground begging for his moods to stop changing. Seeing it happen, it is very clear that this is a biological reaction. He has no feelings or thoughts that bring this on. Sometimes he comes to me right before it starts and shares that he feels weird before the first tears fall and the cycling begins. My husband and I have always thought of it as a malfunction in the brain chemicals, it’s like all the wrong signals are being sent to the brain. It’s very scary to watch, almost surreal, but one thing we know for certain is that it’s a very real experience felt to the core.

    • Hi Mama Bear, I couldn’t imagine the helplessness you must feel when your son experiences these episodes. Your strength speaks for itself, and your son will have a better chance at recovery because of it. At 10 years old his brain still has a lot of significant changes to go through, which means that he may naturally grow away from these horrible symptoms. Unfortunately this is no guarantee as I’m sure you know, so I hope you can find an appropriate way to monitor any progression. In my opinion your best line of defence at the moment is to find a competent child psychologist to consult. Best of luck to you all!

  7. I’m so glad I came across your blog…I’m BP2 and frequently experience the same type of ultra-rapid cycling throughout a 24 hour period which you described.

    This not only aggravates me, but makes it difficult for family and friends who still don’t fully grasp why I must retreat sometimes and cannot always be in their presence or respond to casual conversation with the polite and cordial graciousness that I would like to display in every social situation.

    When I don’t feel in full control of my emotions (especially when that emotion happens to be anger or irritation at something or someone), I feel it would almost be irresponsible to allow myself free reign to mingle with unsuspecting people in casual social situations where I might become provoked or aggitated by something on my mind (that has nothing to do with them) and lash out with strong words or abrupt actions that could easily spoil their day, and worse, lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. I’d rather not play Russian Roulette with longtime friendships, family members, or new acquaintances, who might get caught in the crossfire if I don’t choose to take my leave when I feel Dr. Jekyll has exited the building, and Mr. Hyde is on his way up. haha. (Or in the more poetic words of Wise King Solomon)…

    “The beginning of contention is as one letting out waters; so before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” (Proverbs 17:14)

    Fortunately, I’ve become rather good at prevention and damage control measures in the ‘social’ department, by monitoring myself (like you mentioned/recommended), but I continue to struggle with maintaining a productive flow or functional daily/weekly/monthly routine that will allow me to accomplish what I need to without getting stuck in the mud and spinning my wheels.

    I completely relate to what you said about rewritting/erasing your sentences and not being able to follow through on what you wanted to express. It is very frustrating to have a plethora of ideas and projects racing around your head and feeling ready to execute one of them, but less than 30 mins later (before you’ve even had the chance to begin), you suddenly lack the focus and determination needed to motivate and propell yourself into sustained action.
    It’s almost as if I have enough anxiety and mental energy to fret and overanalyze my thoughts, but not enough drive to zoom through the barriers of indecisiveness and second guessing and inner distractions that hamper my ability to make the most of those small ‘windows of opportunity’ that briefly appear throughout the day, when I finally feel up to accomplishing something.

    So on that note, although I’m relieved to have a ‘milder’ version of BP (compared to those with full-blown manic depression like a few of my relatives and friends have), at the same time, I’m almost envious of their sustained ability to remain in a manic state long enough to at least enjoy a period of high productivity and accomplishment before the eventual crash.

    …then again, I wouldn’t really want a BP ‘upgrade’ either, because it’s a much uglier and painful crash when you fall from a higher altitude…Alot of people have survived intact after multiple car wrecks, but not many people walk away from a plane crash.

    • Hi Kim, your post is very insightful, honest, and very much welcomed. Thanks for sharing with us, and for giving me another person to relate to, hehe

    • sounds like me! I have a million things I want to do, but 30 min later, I talk myself out of it. I’m trying, but it’s such an effort! But I finally applied for school to get my Bachelor’s degree. If I can get a reference following occasional episodes of erratic behaviour. By the way, when people talk about bipolar II “episodes” or “relapses”, what do they mean? One “blow up” or a series of days where you feel out of control?

  8. It is great how you have been gaining insight into your bipolar disorder and are learning how to cope with it. I have manic-depression, and have a problem in keeping a job as well. Blogging has been therapeutic and meditation has helped me so much in controlling my thoughts. Today I blogged about a simple way to do it. I hope you find it helpful or find other ways to conquer your illness. More power to you!

  9. Hi Steve. It interesting that you speak about Bipolar II with ultradian cycling. My psychiatrist diagnosed me as bipolar NOS for just that reason. He said my cycles didn’t meet the minimum duration requirement (which was several days, I think). You’re not the only one I’ve heard of that has BPII with ultradian cycling, so I wonder why my case was judged differently. Aside from that, I totally identify with physical feelings going before the mental. It is not always that way but often it is. I wake up some mornings and there it is from the moment I wake up. When I start out the day that way, of course the negative thoughts are going to rush in. I’ve also had the reverse where I would be sunk in my negative thoughts with terrible emotional pain and tenseness in every part of my body. All of a sudden (and for no reason I can see), I feel the physical tension and emotional pain drain out of me. It always surprises me that it could happen that suddenly. Once I start feeling the pain fade, then my thoughts turn to thoughts of amazement and relief followed by more and more positive thoughts. As far as social situations are concerned, I have my “happy face” that I put on. I go around the corner, out of sight, and my face crumples. There are certain times (especially in the morning)I just have to avoid people. I absolutely hate it when people say, “How are you?”. I grit my teeth and think to myself, “Believe me, you don’t want to know”. Then I push myself make small talk. Every morning coming into work I either rush in from my car or I pretend to be getting something out of my car so that I can arrange to walk in by myself. Of course, there’s the occasional day when I’m just about bouncing down the halls and talking a mile a minute (oh, to have more of those days). It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who writes and rewrites and rewrites again. I can spend an hour or two writing one email. Thanks for sharing. Reading about people’s real life experience is so much more helpful than the typical generic article about bipolar symptoms.

  10. Hi Steven, it feels like I am reading about my own life. I have recently given up trying to work other than sporadically on a self employed basis. Luckily I finally was approved for a small disability pension. I have 4 grown kids and only one really gets it, mostly because he suffers from the same sort of issues. I have been diagnosed with bipolar but medications don’t work well. It is a very tough life for sure and I struggle when I am really down to accept that it will get better. Some times I just can’t face that fact that I likely have another 30 years of life at least.

    • Hi Sam, I can’t say I understand your situation precisely, since I don’t have kids, but I know what it’s life to dread the thought of facing the future. Just try to remember that the next 30 years aren’t set in stone, and positive change is always a possibility.

  11. My 18 year old daughter has just been diagnosed with BPD2 after years of therapy and after seeing 4 different psychiatrists. I cannot stress enough how important seeing a competent professional is! Go to/google an academic medical center with a strong psychiatry program and find a specialist in mood disorders. Travel hundreds of miles if you have to. Sam, you can find someone to help! Have any of you had experience with acupuncture? A friend of my daughter’s (with BPD2) has has much success…You all have such wonderful insight. Have any of you considered getting certified (online programs) as a coach? I’ve read that people with BPD2 often have executive function problems. So do folks with ADHD and there is ADHD coach training out there. It helps with executive function skill development and helps people keep on track toward a goal (could be simplest of goals.) Most ADHD coaches have ADHD; I think the best BPD2 coaches would be people with BPD2!

  12. Steve
    first,I want to thank you for this article,I found it exactly when I needed it.I’m BPII and battle through rapid cycles quite often(too often).The nature of this beast is brutal and unforgiving,and when it shows up theres nothing else to do but hang on tight and let it eat.Some days I can actually feel it in my veins (impossible for me to put into words).My career and my personal life are in complete shambles,I havnt been on any medication in 2 years and I’m exhausted.I know walking around like this is playing with fire and I need to take responsability and fix it,but I’m scared,I know all to well the ramifications this will bring to an already exceptionally difficult existence.Reading and writing this was theraputic and a step in the right direction.Thanks again.

  13. Hi, Steven. So glad to have stumbled upon your blog! This whole article is such an articulate description of many of my experiences. And while I wouldn’t have wished this disorder on you (or anyone at all!),I admit that most of the connection to others I experience these days occurs when I find someone else who walks (or trudges) along a path similar to mine. I have told so may people, including mental health professionals, about having the physical down precede the mental down . . . that the thoughts are simply my mind’s frantic attempt to match the physical in order for the whole experience to make sense! (right- as if anything about a mood disorder makes sense!) Until I read your blog I had never found anyone who fully believed that! It’s almost a bit healing to have my perception validated. Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome Nneen, and thank you for sharing with us! We all need validation from time to time.

  14. Thank you for writing this. I have bipolar II and I had a bad episode this morning. I was researching ways, anything, to help deal. I stumbled upon this post and, while I don’t wish these symptoms on even my worst enemy, it was reassuring to realize that I’m not alone. I thought I was the only one. My fiancee went to therapy recently and mentioned my extreme mood changes, and even the therapist said it’s very unusual for a bipolar II person to shift as quickly as I do. That made me think that I’m not even normal in my disorder! But when you said “This means that I can experience severe shifts in mood multiple times in the same day, sometimes in the same hour. My moods range from depressed to irritated to euphoric, all at varying levels of intensity,” I felt better; less alone. Thank you again for sharing.


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