A large part of what I do as a writer is explain to people what it feels like to have bipolar disorder. I explain and I explain and I explain what it is to have a sick brain. I explain and I explain and I explain what it feels like. What it lives like. Honestly, it’s a tall order at the best of times.
But now, after the holidays, after family, after time away, I am way too tired to tell you what it feels like to be bipolar.
The holidays are here. I know; it seems like they shouldn’t be; but all the inflatable snowmen, tacky garland and lit icicles cannot be denied – it’s holiday time.
Many of us dread the holidays, and even those who don’t can find it difficult to stay even-keeled throughout. Mood shifts are all too common this time of year and many people spend the New Year looking for ways to get back from mania (or hypomania) or depression.
So here’s my guide to staying sane, or at least dealing with bipolar, during the holidays.
Why Depressed People Don’t Kill Themselves
Many people with bipolar depression are suicidal. Not all, of course, but many. Most people with bipolar depression, in fact, most people who are suicidal, do not kill themselves though. In fact, you can live with suicidality for years without ever killing yourself or even attempting to kill yourself.
And while people stay alive for many reasons, I have my own reasons for not killing myself.
Yup, it’s the gift-giving season. I’m buying some gifts that I can’t afford and others that I don’t like. Ah, the holidays.
But the question is, are there gifts that are actually appropriate for someone with bipolar disorder?
Actually, yes, there are.
As I’ve said many times, people view me as a high-functioning bipolar. And to a large extent, this is true. I do many things every day that many people with bipolar disorder can’t do because of their illness. I do battle with my bipolar demons and win more than some others. But here’s the thing: I still find bipolar disorder, and life, to a large extent completely overwhelming and I feel paralyzed by it.
Recently I wrote about the phenomenon of “earworms” which (if you ask me) is a type of obsessive thought. It’s when music gets stuck in your head. It’s something that everyone experiences, and it’s annoying but I suspect that earworms are a type of obsessive thought that occurs in those with bipolar disorder more than for other people. (There isn’t evidence of this, but there is evidence that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) get more earworms and bipolar disorder may be linked to OCD.)
I’m often asked by people, “I want to die. What should I do?”
It’s very, very sad.
But it is a reality for so many. So many people want to die at one point or another in their lives. It might be related to a mental illness like depression or it might not. But regardless as to why a person wants to die, it’s critical to know what to do if it’s happening to you or someone you care about. (Suicide and suicide attempt resources here.)
How Does One Choose a Psychiatrist?
The other day I was searching for a hairstylist. My hair is hard to keep up, very challenging for a stylist and thus, very expensive, so if I leave the salon with anything but exactly what I want, I’m more than a little peeved. I’m the client and I want what I paid for.
And as I was looking at various salons and considering which stylists might do a good job, it occurred to me, I’m spending more time on this than most people spend on finding a psychiatrist.
So how does one choose a psychiatrist anyway?
I am not happy. People who know me well, know this about me. Sure, I act happy, because what choice do I have considering societal norms, but happy I am not.
So the question is, can a person with bipolar disorder by happy?
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to give a presentation on mental illness to a group of ninth-graders through the Bipolar Babe project. I spoke about stigma and my personal story of mental illness. I told them all about my bipolar disorder, my diagnosis, treatments, treatment failures, vagus nerve stimulator, electroconvulsive therapy and more. And at the end of the presentation, the kids had a chance to fill out feedback forms, and one of the words they used surprised me – inspirational.