Mental Health Interview Series Pt. 4: Bipolar Disorder
For all of you who have been (so kindly) keeping up with my blog recently, you’ve probably read the first three parts of this mental health interview series, featuring Jiggy, Nicole and Jesse. I don’t know about you, but I have learned so much from these three humans about mental health, how it affects each person in such a drastically different way, and how everyone’s outlook on it is also so unique.
If you’re not a regular reader and just tuning in for the first time, make sure you check out my introduction to this interview series for some background on why this topic is so close to me. You can also read all about Jiggy who has spent several battling depression, Nicole who has been in recovery from an eating disorder, and my fiancé Jesse who was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Today, I’m featuring my fourth and final interviewee, Tyler. I’ve known Tyler longer than anyone else that I’ve interviewed so far. I met Tyler when I was 12 and we became friends instantly. (See highly embarrassing picture below that I took on my Juke phone, circa 2006).
We shared a weird, slightly disturbing sense of humor and stayed part of the same small group of friends for the next five years. Now, over a decade later, it seems that fate has managed to reconnect us. Tyler and Jesse have different diagnoses, but both experience a lot of the same effects from their mood disorders. I can’t say that the circumstances are ideal, but I’m so glad that the universe has brought Tyler back into my life.
I hope you enjoy our discussion below and that you take away just a little more knowledge and understanding than you may have now. Happy reading!
I understand that there is more than just one type of Bipolar Disorder. Which type do you have?
Bipolar Disorder Type 1, which entails both the manic and the depressive phases of the disorder.
When did you first know that there may be something affecting your mental health?
I was approximately 16 years old; I started having severe mood changes that would disrupt my daily life.
What was your initial reaction when you were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder?
At the time I was too young to understand. It took years of treatment and research to understand why my mind behaved, perceived, and acted upon things the way it did.
What do you think is the most common misconception(s) about BD?
That there is....vastly....so much more to it than an individual appearing to switch moods from one end of the spectrum to another without warning or cause. It depends on so many factors such as amounts of sleep, types and quantities of foods consumed, medication, physical activity, and your own body's timing of the cycle from the manic to depressive phase. Which is why the disorder used to be coined manic/depressive disorder.
What does BD look like for you? In what way(s) has BD most affected your life?
My mood cycles are not constant, sometimes a high or a low will last for a couple days, weeks, or even months. Although it it is very easy for me to distinguish whether I am depressed or manic. Bipolar disorder is highly disruptive to daily life and makes it almost impossible to function on a level that most healthy mood states would enable an individual to do so. While sunken into a depression even accomplishing simple, basic task can seem overwhelming and almost impossible, and the anxiety that accompanies daily duties is crippling as well. Although while manic I tend to talk in a much faster canter, I require very little sleep, and I have the ability to process information at a much faster pace. Most bipolar individuals would say that mania feels very good, even though it comes with many downsides. I tend to exhibit grandiose behavior and my inhibitions are diminished, which makes it much more difficult to resist urges. These urges can entail reckless spending, a much higher libido, and ignoring responsibilities in favor of something that is much more fun or interesting. Hallucinations are not uncommon and until I am accustomed to them they can be fairly frightening, although fun at the same time if that makes any sense?
How do you feel when your BD brings you to your lowest point?
There is really no better way to put it than rock bottom. I feel utterly useless, hopeless, and a feeling of impending doom. Anxiety sets in and wreaks havoc on my body in a very physical way. These symptoms include heart palpitations, violent tremors, insomnia, lack of appetite, and irritability. It is also very difficult to avoid becoming violent when upset. Although with time I have gotten very good at controlling those kinds of outbursts.
What do you want people to know about BD?
That with bipolar, as with any serious mental disorder, others need to regard these individuals as living with an entirely different deck of cards than the typical person plays with, which completely changes the game. People should not be so quick to make assumptions or judgements based on how able another individual is to accomplish tasks or act in a certain manner as the typical person can.
What is the biggest daily challenge you face as a result of your BD?
To put it simply, accomplishing daily tasks that others consider routine, but for people like me can seeem insurmountable.
In what ways, if any, have you learned to cope with your BD?
Medication is essential, it is the key to attempting to live a fairly normal standard of life. Although of course, as with any medication, there are side effects. These side effects for my particular "cocktail" of meds at times include extreme fatigue, slight dizziness, and a feeeling as if you are walking around in a haze or a fog. Research is also key, the more you understand about how your own mind works the more capable you are of identifying issues and addressing them.
How common is BD?
It is very common, there are more than 3 million cases reported in the U.S. per year.
Do you think your BD has held you back in life, or prevented you from doing something you wanted to?
Absolutely, I often feel, possibly incorrectly, that without these burdens I would be a lot farther along than I am now. There have also been many times that I have abandoned plans or simply just ruined what could have been a good time due to my severe mood changes or I experienced a hypomanic episode, which is an extreme form of mania that can include high irritability and an affinity for violently reacting upon impulses.
Sometimes it’s hard for people to know how to help someone suffering from a mental health disorder – do you have any advice for these people?
Just bear with us, and if this indivudual is close to you, do as much research as you can to educate yourself on how to properly react to certain scenarios. More often than not a typical reaction to stimuli is not appropriate for somebody suffering from a mental disorder.
A common belief that many people have is that mental illness is just weakness or an inability to deal with life’s challenges. What is your response to that?
Complete and utter hogwash. If an individual did even 15 minutes of research it can be quickly be established that mental disorders are just as much of a reality as cancer.
How, if at all, has your BD affected those around you?
Completely. I generally wear my heart on my sleeve and I have no problem explaining or describing to others what my daily life entails. Many of those who are close to me have seen me manic, hypomanic, depressed, insanely angry, or miserably crying. Obviously I do my absolute best to control all of these reactions and those who do not know me well generally take me as a generally mentally sound and educated indivdual. But those who know me very well see my struggles every day.
Has anyone ever treated you differently because of your BD?
Not very often, the most common response is one of ignorance and lack of experience. People may have there own reserved judgements but it is not very often that someone has the kahones to say them to my face.
Have you ever tried any type of therapy for your BD and if so, was it a positive or negative experience?
Some individuals find that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is very beneficial for managing bipolar disorder. Personally I do a very large amount of research and with the wonders of the internet I am able to access much of this information on my own. Not at all to say it is invalid but in my particaular case I did not find it very effective. For me, the majority of the benefit has been identifying the proper cocktail of medications to manage my disorder.
What is your proudest accomplishment that you’ve achieved despite your BD?
My wonderful relationship. Maintaining that has been the keystone to managing my Bipolar Disorder.
How do you think your BD has changed over time?
My cycles from manic to depressive used to occur very often and without notice. I have observed that as I get older the cycles have become more elongated, although still not at all predictable.
A huge thank you to Tyler and to Jiggy, Nicole and Jesse for all sharing their time and stories with world. This was such a rewarding experience for me and I hope you all took a little something away from it as well.
This is the end of my mental health interview series, but I will be blogging a lot about my own mental health journey in the near future.
Talk soon :)