I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II when I was 21 years old. I went through a rough patch in college and once I got my diagnosis my life made more sense. However, there are some things I wish I had been told which no one ever shared with me at that time. So here they are.
1. Those manic times when you think you’re productive aren’t always as good as you think
There was a time in my early twenties when my manic phases were in full effect. At first it was scary because I was getting three or four hours of sleep a night and felt fine. I wondered when my brain was going to stop functioning due to lack of sleep. But it never happened. So I then realized I could be quite productive. And I enjoyed that. But as comedian Chris Gethard told me (and I agree): “With the manic phases where you’re really productive you say, ‘Oh I just stayed up for twelve straight hours and I wrote fifty pages of shit!’ And then you go to sleep for a few days, you come out of it, you read those fifty pages, and there’s like, maybe three paragraphs that actually make sense.” And he’s right. It’s not worth it. While I could do a great deal of things, my creative work wasn't of good quality. Other work I would do, such as chores on a list, I find I can still do and don't need the other side effects that come with the manic phases.
2. You will get irritable
My stereotypical view of bipolar before I had it was that you are a sex-crazed, drug-addicted party animal for a while and then a crying mess that can’t get out of bed for the other part of your life. First, I didn’t know there was bipolar II, thus, a different spectrum of experiences that were also identified as bipolar. Second, I didn’t realize the amount of irritability that went into my manic phases. And it’s often about things that are small and unimportant. Let's say I’m running a few minutes late—what does that matter in the big scheme of things? But if I’m not paying attention to it I allow it to ruin my day by making me cranky toward everyone around me. Often times I have pre-arranged notions of how I want things to be and if that doesn’t happen I can be a jerk. I’ve gotten better at becoming aware of it but it’s still not always in check.
3. There are medications out there that can help (but it may take a while to find the right mix)
I received my diagnosis when I was 21. It took what seemed like decades to find drugs that worked for me. In reality it was less than a decade. But during that time I was on more medications than I can remember. I felt as though the moment might never come where I could experience some stability. But through experience and trial and error it worked. When I first started down that road I was so impatient. I know medications don’t always work for everyone but when you have diagnosed bipolar disorder they’re often pretty key to getting well. I’m glad I stuck through the process.
Being depressed sucks all around, but there is one aspect of it that I despise more than any other: irritability. With all other aspects of depression I am the only one who feels bad. Yes, it can affect others when they see me feeling sad or withdrawn, but it’s not a feeling of being under attack. It’s a passive feeling.
Yet my irritability affects not only me but also the individuals around me because I often lash out at them over minor things. I grow frustrated when things don’t go my way or aren’t how I planned them to be. For example, on a recent Sunday I wanted to do my laundry and then go to the public library and work on some writing. But my partner and a family member asked me to come to brunch with them. We discussed this idea earlier in the week but I hadn’t heard anything so I assumed the plan wasn’t happening. Based on that assumption I came up with another idea of what I was to do with my day. I knew I had agreed earlier to do the brunch but the change in plans left me irritable.
As I rode the bus to meet my partner and her family member, I grew annoyed and frustrated. Beneath that, though, was a level of concern: would I have the opportunity to do my laundry? I wanted to work on my writing because I set a deadline for myself for edits on a book I’m working on. But these were both self-imposed deadlines. There was nothing wrong if I did these things in the time schedule I had given myself. The world would not end, no one would find themselves disappointed.
I tried to walk myself through this line of thought to calm myself down. I wanted to get to the point where I wouldn’t find myself annoyed at my girlfriend or her family member. This time I was able to do so, although it did leave me depressed. While I exchanged one emotion for another, I was able to get my laundry done and I still have time to finish the writing. My irritability didn’t help anything—it didn’t allow me to be more productive or make anyone happy.
Irritability is still something I struggle with, more than anything else with my depression. It’s a side effect rarely discussed in mental health circles. But it’s something I want to focus on more as I move along in my mental health journey. I wish to do so both for myself and the family, co-workers, and friends who are on the end of my occasional foul mood.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.