The musing below is something that might eventually get edited for the creative/nonfiction book about living with bipolar. I feel I always take a chance writing about being bipolar in this blog –I don’t want to be considered a lesser being just because the jilted fairy godmother showed up at my christening and said, “Just for not inviting me, this little girl is going to have MOODS!”
Thank you for reading.
When I first got my diagnosis in 2012, I was devastated in a way I hadn’t been when I was earlier diagnosed with simple depression.
There’s a certain degree of difference between being diagnosed with depression and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the former, the disorder can be separated from one’s personality easily. People talk about being followed by the “black dog” when they’re depressed. The “black dog” is described as outside, not inside oneself.
In the case of bipolar disorder, however, both the ups and downs are exaggerated by the disorder. People tend to view their positive moments as their genuine self, even saying “I am genuinely happy right now.” If one’s highs are held suspect, the natural reaction seems to be “Who am I? Who would I be without this lifelong disease?”
I estimate my bipolar became active when I was in high school, if not sooner. My mother described me as “an exhausting child”, and I wonder if that was my bipolar ratcheting up back then. My bipolar has had plenty of time to affect my personality:
People describe me as extroverted, outgoing, and a bit eccentric. However, the things I love to do most are more introverted — writing, puttering around in my grow room, and having one-on-one conversations with people. I think the “bigger than life” me — the one who teaches classes, the one who participated in theatre in high school — came from my feelings and experiences while hypomanic. I’m pretty sure my hand and facial gestures come from there as well.
I say what’s on my mind, even when most people would stay quiet. If I don’t, I feel a pressure — figuratively, not literally — in my brain demanding to let the thought out. Is this why we call it “venting”?
I’ve developed an internal censor and some tact over the years, because when I first came back to the Midwest after five years teaching in New York state, I scared my students. (For the Americans in this readership, think “Consumer Economics by Gordon Ramsey”. Isn’t it “Dave Ramsay”? Not when I taught it.) I still deal with that pressure, and that mindset that if we would just drag things out in the open, we’ll all feel better.
I get crushes because beauty strikes me like a stab to the heart. Richard finds my crushes amusing because he trusts me not to pursue anything past friendship. He’s right to trust me. I used to tell people I had crushes on them and that I didn’t want to do anything about it. (Yes, they were flattered. Yes, they thought I was strange. No, they never had a crush on me back.) Some of my poetry is an attempt to relieve the pressure. I’m pretty sure that crushes are not hypomania themselves, but a high I learned from hypomania. When I become hypomanic they become extremely painful rather than amusing.
Depression has not really shaped my personality, because as it is for other people, depression is not me. Depression descends upon me and separates me from all I love with a black shroud. But I’m sure my unleashed imagination, my curiosity, my optimism, my straightforwardness, and my occasional flamboyance (and bold choice in lipstick) were gifts — yes, gifts from hypomania.