Please note that this is article is written to be an informative view of what it is like in reality living with Bipolar Disorder. We hope there aren’t, but aspects of the article may be slightly distressing. Our intentions are to provide a good, in depth, but realistic overview of a severe case of Bipolar.
This is just one person’s experience of Bipolar Disorder; everyone is individual and their experiences with Bipolar may differ.
If you relate this is in any way, there are a variety of support lines and help available which are listed at the end.
It’s beyond the scope of this article for me to describe the specifics of how my bipolar has affected me over the years in its entirety and to tell you succinctly all weird and wonderful behaviours I have indulged in and the specifics of all my episodes. Suffice to say it has been a roller coaster ride of good times and some very distressing, embarrassing, undignified ones. I want to concentrate on telling you how my own personal manifestation of bipolar made me feel so anyone reading this who can relate but doesn’t yet have a diagnosis might be able use my story as means of seeking help and treatment. I am now in recovery, which is a lifelong process, I have developed means of coping and living with my illness, I have achieved contentment, acceptance and ways to lead a productive and fulfilling life.
For me, bipolar consists of 4 core states. Mania, mixed states, severe depression and being ‘stable’ (i.e. I have periods where my bipolar is in remission). I have bipolar type I and am at the severe end of the spectrum.
Mania begins when I start to suffer insomnia but don’t feel tired. I have a general sense of wellbeing and happiness. I am gregarious in social settings and more productive at work. I start to fixate on plans that derive from the abundance of ideas that start whizzing through my head at an increasingly rapid rate of knots.
At first, it’s an absolute pleasure, I am ‘hypomanic’ now. People come along with me for the ride, I am more confident with the ladies and my friends laugh at all my jokes and antics. I am the instigator of nights out, I am Mr Generous at the bar (I am drinking more than usual by now). I disregard aspects of life that I usually maintain, for example, my bills fall behind, I don’t organise myself like I usually would, I don’t do a food shop or do my housework. I mean what’s the point?
Everything is excessive, I won’t have a pint or two I’ll have 3 to everyone else’s 1, I will dine in fancy restaurants, I will treat my children to elaborate gifts, buy things I don’t really need, and it will be the very best of everything (of course). The intensity of my ideas increases, I will obtain credit to fund the plans I have developed and I am so convinced of the shear brilliance of these plans that when people who love me try to intervene it literally feels like they’re trying to rob me of the proverbial lottery ticket I am holding in my hand.
I’m manic now, I am obnoxious in social situations, domineering in conversations, overbearing and I upset those around me (probably because it was 3am last night when I absolutely had to call them and tell them everything because it simply can’t wait until morning). I am starting to become grandiose, nobody can tell me anything because I am an expert in anything and everything. I am disinhibited, inappropriate, if it’s in my head its out my mouth, no filter. Every female I come across is stunningly beautiful, my libido is soaring, and I am a Rockstar they all want to be with. I am a thrill seeker, so confident in my own abilities, I am the archetype of a superhero.
It’s getting dangerous now, rules don’t apply to me at this point, I’ll do what I want when I want with who I want. Anyone who doesn’t agree with me (that’ll be everyone by now) is a boring source of negativity I simply don’t need in my life, and I’m not shy in coming forward to tell them (I am psychotic by now).
At this point one of two things happen, it’s inevitable, either the police detain me on section 136 of the mental health act, or, a panel of mental health experts track me down – either way I find myself sectioned under the Mental Health Act and detained to hospital where rapid tranquilization will eventually bring me back to Earth.
At this point, I am either stable or I develop the cursed crash, a bipolar depression. If I am stable, I don’t necessarily remember everything I’ve done while manic, but I know it isn’t good. Embarrassment, humiliation, remorse, a distinct need to hold my tail between my legs and approach those who I have inevitably annoyed, upset, even cut all ties with me so that I can apologise profusely and try to make amends. During a protracted period of stability, I am a good father to my children, I manage my responsibilities and obligations in life effortlessly, my performance at work is satisfactory, I can think clearly and am a creature of habit and normality. Everything I do is proportionate to the situation and on an even keel.
A bipolar depression (for me) isn’t necessarily about feeling sad, it’s a physical state of being. I can either sleep to much or not at all. The organs in my body feel like lead weights and I am in physical pain, I have apathy towards anything and everything from the people I love to the career I enjoy. I might know that I need to manage my affairs, maintain my responsibilities, hell even my dietary intake and personal hygiene – but it’s all so insurmountably difficult it all falls by the wayside (I am clinically depressed at this point). I don’t answer my phone because I simply can’t face the world let alone someone who wants or needs to speak to me. I know I am being irresponsible, neglectful, even downright rude and dismissive and I begin to hate myself, I disgust myself, everyone would be better off if I just did myself in, I’d be doing them a favour, I’d be doing myself a favour (I am severely depressed by now).
I’ve had a protracted period of feeling physically ill and in pain, I am convinced that I am in fact dying, my insides are rotting and my body is shutting down, I am reflecting on everything negative I have ever done and if I felt embarrassed; ashamed, guilty when I was stable that was nothing to what and how I now feel. I am planning my demise, my thoughts are either coming too fast or not at all, I am there in body but not in soul. I am virtually catatonic, or I am ruminating and convincing myself I am guilty, guilty for anything and everything (I have psychotic depression by now, I’ve lost touch with reality and I am being persecuted by the version of reality in my mind).
I have self-isolated to the point people are starting to worry and, guess what, one of two things happens, I come to the attention of the police via a welfare check to my home or friends/family/work have raised the alarm – either way I end up in hospital, if I have capacity to understand and make decisions I go voluntarily, if I don’t, I am sectioned and detained to hospital under the Mental Health Act.
By far the most excruciatingly painful state of my bipolar is a mixed state, I have the same level of apathetic disdain for everything that means something to me when I am well mixed with a level of hostility and irritability that is so far removed from my underlying personality. I might have fist fights in the street, I might be verbally aggressive to loved ones, I will feel like I am crawling out of my skin in a discomfort of rage and physical pain. I am an insomniac that hasn’t slept in ages (14 days is my current record) and my level of exhaustion is felt physically yet I still, paradoxically, have the drive and energy of a mania. I am not able to be rational in this state and will be sectioned virtually immediately because of my heightened risk of suicide and/or risk to others.
So, there you go! One man’s description of what it’s like to live with bipolar. It’s not exhaustive but it’s an adequate description of how I feel at the various times of when my bipolar was in control of my life.
Treatments and the Future
That’s how it used to be, before I found the right treatments for me. This has been a combination of Lithium (a mood stabiliser) and psychology which involved me coming to terms with my levels of grief, grief for my behaviours and how it affected those I love, grief for the sense of a lost life that I used to feel. I went through a period of being very secretive about my illness, psychology helped me understand that I have a severe and enduring illness. I wasn’t to blame, it was how the illness MADE me behave. I have learned how to manage stress, which a massive precursor for an episode.
I have learned my warning signs and the ability to seek professional help at these times to intervene quickly before things get out of control. There is an element of trepidation and fear for what might lie ahead because the illness has been/can be so devastating to my wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around me. But I have also ‘connected’ with my situation and can proudly say that I haven’t had a severe episode of any connotation for about 5 years now.
This is something I live with, the cards I’ve been dealt in life. And I now do this while being a productive father to my children, working in a career I have established for myself and for the most part achieving the life expectations and desires I had for myself.
I am not saying that it must be like this for everyone nor am I advocating that you (if you have bipolar) follow in suit but I made the decision some time back to remain single. This is because my illness has affected partners I have had and because of what I live with I must safeguard those close to me. I take pride in the fact that I am, in my mind, being responsible – it has helped with the sense of guilt.
I also made the decision to be open about my illness and this has set me free. Yes, there is a stigmatised view of mental illness by some, but for the most part people have been interested, supportive and accepting of me and my situation. One close friend told me recently that I was her hero. Why? Because in her view I have a successful fulfilling life, despite the obstacles that have been in my way. She finds my new-found aptitude to the management of my illness endearing, inspiring and believes it demonstrates my strength in character.
So, in summary, what would I say to anyone who can relate to whatever degree to the description of my bipolar? If you suspect that you have these tendencies GET HELP IMMEDIATELY, write a description of your internal experience and any ‘episodes’ you’ve lived through to date and give it to your doctor.
Engage productively with your treatment and understand it isn’t going to go away. Accept that some people’s lives take an unexpected course but strive to achieve your goals and life expectations the best you can even if you must re-evaluate some of them and move the goal posts accordingly and appropriately.
Embrace recovery, however that might manifest for you, become an expert in your condition and the means of living effectively with it. Understand that you will have to make adjustments, (for example, I am now teetotal, I have told my bank and Experian about my condition so that I can’t get credit even if I wanted too, I have a joint account with my mum and she whips my money out straight away if I am on the ‘high’ side), because self-neglect and an inability to function at times has been an issue for me I have people in place now who will help me with a food shop and take over managing my money and bills if I am on the low side.
I make a conscious effort to ensure I have positives in my life by developing hobbies and interests that are productive. Indulge and develop your talents (we tend to be a creative bunch), this will help with your sense of self. Accept all the help on offer to achieve this and implement the skills you will be taught consistently. Let people in and develop mechanisms of support.
If you do this, you will be okay. If you do this, you will go on to feel like I do now. Proud of yourself!
If you would relate or have been affected in any way by this article, please feel free to pop me a message or reach out to the Arthur Ellis Team on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to do a bit more research, please use credible sources, a few that may help are listed below.
Phone: 116 123 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
Phone: 0300 304 7000 (Local call rates, 6pm-11pm. 7 days a week)
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Local call rates, 9am-6pm, Mon-Fri)
To arrange a call back, leave a message on 0333 323 3880 or email email@example.com
Find your nearest Support Group – https://www.bipolaruk.org/find-a-support-group