This post contains content that may affect even mildly sensitive people. If you are upset, depressed, or thinking of harming yourself in any way, please look here: http://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/ . Or call 800-273-TALK.
But I have committed to shedding light on what having Bipolar I Disorder feels like from the inside, so I’m addressing something very few people will talk to you about.
Preface: bipolar mood is measured on a scale of 0-100, with zero being you lost the battle and 100 being you believe you are the invincible second coming of Christ. What might be considered average would vary between 45-55. Most people with bipolar I tend to push things to 60, because everything on that side of the scale just seems better (it’s not, I assure you).
Okay, now that we’re all straight on the scale, let’s get started.
Ideas arrive in my head in identical boxes. They may vary in shape or size, but my mind treats them equally as they come through the door. They’re much like your thoughts (‘cept I’ve got Prime, so they show up faster).
Imagine this: your emotional state is neutral. You are matching socks after doing the laundry. You reach out to the basket and your hand freezes mid-grasp. Your brain is now wondering about the physics involved in hanging yourself from the second-storey bannister. The materials involved, the requirement of a counterweight… then you realize what a financial burden it would be on your family if they had to sell the house, and you go back to matching socks.
The boxes the ideas showed up in were identical, and my brain treated one no differently than the other.
They are simply facts in my universe. The lower the mood, the more frequently they appear.
Standing in the shower, water pelting my shoulders as I sing along with my favourite group. Lyrics coming out, shampoo scrubbing just fine, and then I wonder what playlist I should build to listen to for the time between when I take the pills and they take me. I can’t decide if it should be music, an audiobook, or an episode of Star Trek. Then I think I could actually use that time to record a message for my family that will make them magically understand, and switch back to belting out the next song and squeezing the sponge.
When I’m hovering around 35-40, my brain does not distinguish between these thought patterns. One is no more alarming to me than the other. Nor is one more attractive than the other. You’ve all seen Pixar’s Inside Out – they get rolled away and stored appropriately.
Because of the scientific way I approach my illness, I am able to identify when my inner self talk is just me being me, or if it is my illness: Bad Brain. The lower I get on the mood scale, the louder and more persuasive Bad Brain becomes. Until I can’t move, can’t speak, can’t refute what Bad Brain tells me.
Bad Brain says I am unworthy. I am a waste of oxygen. A burden, always a burden. I am a walking negativity epidemic.
And in that moment, I loathe myself because I am a f*cking intelligent woman and understand completely what is going on in my mind…
But who, in that moment, doesn’t have the strength to care.
We’re in the 20-25 range now. The ideas that were just ideas at 45 get polished like jewels and presented by Bad Brain as the only way out. But for me, it is rarely to end my own pain. It is to stop the eternal emotional and financial drain Bad Brain says I put on those I love most. People who would be freed by my absence.
Bad Brain is unbelievably good at convincing me of the guilt of my continued existence.
Days and nights creep by, and each time a toxic idea shows up, it stays longer and longer. Bad Brain finesses the details. It uses my intelligence against me, with redundancies and back-up plans and ways to minimize the pain of others.
Remember – I *know* why this is happening while it is happening. I know I have bipolar disorder. I know that there is something defective in my brain that created Bad Brain, and I know that my success rate at fighting Bad Brain is currently 100%.
But Bad Brain keeps me isolated. It stops positive messages from getting in. It amplifies despair and helplessness and the knowledge that even if I succeed in fighting it this time… I will always end up right back here in the darkness.
At this point, we’re likely below 20. I should admit myself to the hospital. But minute after minute, Bad Brain asks, “Why bother?”
I lose blocks of time. It doesn’t matter if or when I sleep or eat. I begin to lose access to the rational part of my mind.
But it’s in there. And even at 15, a tiny part of me is begging for evidence. For irrefutable proof. For something the Bad Brain can’t twist and dismiss. For the facts that prove why I need to stay.
This time, I decided to almost double the dose of my antidepressant (to the highest dose I’d previously taken). I had an intervention with my best friend, who isn’t afraid when I say I want to die and reminds me of the reasons I can’t. Who can yell louder than Bad Brain.
I also created a way to carry around the facts my brain needs to win the Bad Brain battle. And a lot of you are part of it. I’ve taken the positive comments you’ve left or encouraging messages you’ve sent and written them in a little notebook. These are your thoughts; how can *I* argue with *your* thoughts?
I can’t. And so far, neither can Bad Brain.
The meds started improving things in about a week. I’m working with my psychiatrist and counsellor. I’ve got strategies and tools and plans… and I have you.
And my success rate remains 100%. Thank you.