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I remember waking up one morning and barely being able to move. Life suddenly just felt heavy and pointless.
My boyfriend came into the room, knelt down beside me, patted me on the arm and said, in a patronising tone only someone who’s never been where you’re at would use, “oh, you’re depressed, aren’t you.” He gave me a pitying look and before I could even blink recognition, he proceeded to grab his bag and almost joyously leap out of the apartment, to go work on his manuscript…about toxic masculinity. This, I thought, is how it is to live with bipolar and in turn, to live with someone who can’t deal with your bipolar.
Needless to say, the relationship broke down about a month and an apartment move later. I was devastated, not just because I loved him, but also because I believed that I’d finally met someone who understood who I was and could deal with it.
My bipolar had started when I was in my early teens. My parents had separated and the impact on me had been inconceivable. I spent three years in a state of catatonia. I wouldn’t wash for days, would cry myself to sleep at night, and cry again come the morning. I pulled out of school and pulled out of life. Completely. Then, when I was 15, a family friend offered me a job in their hotel. I was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed to take it. Only, that’s when the shift happened.
I didn’t want people to see me unraveled. I didn’t want people to know what was going on, how I was struggling. So, I put a brave face on to the world and went out there and faked a smile, until I almost believed it. Only, the strain of faking it out there, meant that the need to fall apart when I got home was monumental. It was like bursting at the seams with all the repressed emotion I’d stored away for most of the day.
Soon this swing between one version of myself and the other became so big, that it felt as though there were two people cohabiting in the same body. And they didn’t seem to be friends.
My public persona just seemed to get bigger and louder and more erratic as time went on. Meaning that my private persona got heavier and darker and more fragile in order to compensate.
When I was happy, I was ecstatic. Ideas would flood in and everything seemed amazing. I couldn’t sleep because I’d be buzzing. I’d get higher than any ecstasy hit I’d later come to experience. But the comedown was always brutal. I’d be floored completely. Unable to communicate, to function, to even imagine living. Suicidal thoughts would seep into my mind and grow roots that still, to this day, I struggle to weed out.
The worst part was, nobody knew. I hid everything from everyone. Maybe in part because I was ashamed, but also because I didn’t really know what it was, or how to explain it. I just felt broken, useless, alone.
In my darkest moments, I would consider reaching out. Yet, I feared no one would understand, or that their attempts to sympathise would only make it worse. I longed for professional help, yet when I was in a low, there was no way I could get out of bed, let alone to a doctor’s office and hold a conversation. And when I was back on high, I was convinced that I was fine. That everything was okay again. So I’d get on with my day, as though all the screaming and shouting and biting and wanting to die had never happened. That was another person and one who felt like a stranger to me, until of course, they’d come knocking at my door again.
And they always did. I always knew that whenever I was happy, I was going to soon be feeling sad. Which meant that I soon started to fear feeling happy at all. Because the happier I was, the sadder I was going to feel the next day, or the next week, whenever the other side would eventually come.
This meant that holding down a steady job was a triumph. One I somehow succeeded in for 15 years, all whilst hiding my battle. I turned up when I could barely speak at times, out of some sense of duty to everyone else who relied on me. Even when the day was like walking on a bed of nails…for eight hours. Even when everyone couldn’t understand why the girl who talks 90 miles a minute was now suddenly stone-cold silent, avoiding eye contact, and shuffling off to the bathroom every chance she got. Even when it was obvious, I still couldn’t say it. I still didn’t have the words.
Relationships were the worst though. Because there’s only so much hiding you can do when you’re being intimate with someone. Although, God knows I tried my hardest. Most people seemed to think I was picky. Or young and promiscuous. There I was, in and out of relationships as though I were dancing through a revolving door. Men came in easy with my hyperpositive flirtatious demeanour, but as soon as I felt an episode coming on, I’d bail quicker than a cheeseburger and fries takes to arrive at a drive-thru. I wasn’t about to let anyone see the other side to me and face being rejected for having an evil twin I couldn’t shake.
It took until I was 20 to find someone who did see me—completely. I tried for months to shake him off, save us both from what I knew would be a disaster, but his persistence was so strong, that eventually I just relented, let him in, and showed him a side of myself who had previously only been reserved for my bedroom floor. And when he didn’t run away, when he just held me, I think I almost went into a state of shock.
We battled it out for two-and-a-half really hard years. Through times when I was my worst self. When I was angry and violent and sad and screaming and then all of a sudden, the kindest, happiest, most loving person in the world. I still look back now, 10 years on and think how this guy, this poor guy, deserves a medal for what I put him through.
I’ll always be grateful though, because he changed me. He changed the way that I dealt with my disorder. I learnt to be open and honest about it. And the more that I did, the more people revealed to me that they too were struggling with similar things. Depression, anxiety, apathy, mood swings. I stopped feeling as lonely, as broken, as useless and not having to hide anymore, I actually started to level out a little. I became pretty functional. But, it’s still an ongoing battle.
Six years ago I quit work, went traveling, moved abroad, and now I work for myself. Which is great, in the fact that I no longer have to force myself to get up when I simply can’t, or paint a smile onto the world, when all I really want to do is cry. But it’s difficult when I might have an amazing book concept, or retreat idea and just as I start to implement it…I have an episode and can’t function. My brain simply shuts down completely and I lose all motivation to do what had me in rapture the day before. It’s so frustrating. Especially when I can’t always tell when it’s coming or for how long it’s going to be sticking around.
After finally being diagnosed, I’ve come to accept my disorder, but living with the ramifications of its existence is still difficult. Building a career is like swimming against the tide—swept in, only to be pushed out again. My social life is governed by how highly functioning I feel on any given day, regardless of the promises made. And my relationships, having to endure the brunt of my mood swings, that see me go from loving to cold in the space of an hour, need to be strong. Which, as shown via my bedroom ghoster, can be hard to find.
So, what’s it like living with bipolar? It’s a lot actually. But, I’m muddling through, one episode at a time.