MY BIPOLAR EXPERIENCE

Reflections and thoughts on living with bipolar type 2.

DISCLAIMER


Before I start, I want to make sure anyone reading this understands that this is MY bipolar experience. Mental illnesses tend to affect everyone differently, so my experience may not reflect yours. The idea behind this section is to give visitors some idea of what I go through with my bipolar type 2 disorder. If any of this information is helpful to you, that is wonderful but be sure to work with your doctors and other professionals before you act on anything you read on this page or anywhere else on the site.


CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING


There will be talk of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide on this page.


WHEN IT BEGAN...


It's honestly hard to say when my experiences with mental illness first began, but there is evidence it was from a very young age. I have report cards dating as far back as grade 3, when I was 8 years old, that essentially describe me experiencing intense anxiety in everything but those two words. I was seen as a high-energy and intense child at first, and because I was also "gifted" I don't think the full aspect of my issues became clear to myself, my parents, or any teachers until I was a teenager. 


My teen years were a nightmare I would sooner forget, to be honest. The hardest part was I was just starting to seek mental health treatment, but still very much resistant to the idea of having to take any medication. Even when I would agree to take a medication, I usually wouldn't commit to using it as much as I should. Naturally the results were unpleasant.
 

I had my first experiences with self-harm and suicidal thinking in my teen years. I attempted suicide a few times, but the most serious one came quite close to actually killing me when I was about 15 years old. I had taken an overdose of Lithium, but thankfully came to regret the decision in time to make myself vomit much of it up before my family was able to get me to a hospital. 


It wasn't until I got hooked up to IVs and set up in the ICU that I realized just how close I came to death. I had to drink barium mix, which tasted beyond description and made me throw up any remaining Lithium in my stomach. I had a tube shoved through my nose down and down my throat to pump my stomach. I could feel it every time I swallowed anything, including my own saliva. The insertion was not necessarily painful, but it’s one of those awful experiences you never want to repeat.
 

Watching how scared my family was and seeing just how easy it would have been to throw it all away like that was a real turning point for me. I was much more committed to treatment from then on and I have not attempted suicide again. Suicidal thoughts may still occur, but it can sometimes help to think of the pain on the faces of my mom and dad as they had to worry about losing their only son. When I really start to feel overwhelmed by suicidal thinking, I almost immediately inform a friend or loved one.


Dredging up these experiences to is very difficult emotionally for me, but I think it is important that more people share their stories like mine because people with mental illness really do lack consistent and proper representation. I plan to represent myself and my experiences with this site, and this page is dedicated specifically to my personal path through life as I have lived with bipolar type 2 and its symptoms.
 

MY SYMPTOMS INCLUDE...


DEPRESSION


Depression is different than anxiety, but it can be no less constant and they both tend to overlap. My anxiety fuels my depression and vice versa. I tend to describe depression as thinking the worst of everything and everybody, and especially yourself. In my experience, I not only lose most of my motivation to do anything, I can’t even enjoy basic things I love like video games that have little or no physical or emotional investment when I am in a truly deep depression. It becomes very hard to get out of bed, much less feed and clothe myself during times like this.


It can also be hard to even tell when I am depressed because I may FEEL functional and okay, but my actual behaviour is erratic and/or potentially harmful. During times like this I must rely on my loved ones to let me know when I seem like I am not doing as well as I am admitting since I usually try to be open about that sort of thing.


ANXIETY


Anxiety haunts me in many forms like most people. I would summarize it as your mind and body starting to feel out of your control. When I experience anxiety, it usually begins with racing, obsessive thoughts about things that have been worrying or stressing me out. As it gets worse, my heart rate increases, and my breathing gets more intense.


Anxiety tends to be the prompt for PANIC ATTACKS, which is when I feel the physical and emotional symptoms and anxiety ramped up to 11. Panic attacks are commonly mistaken for heart attacks, just like on The Sopranos, so it was important for me to learn the ways to distinguish the two. If you suffer from panic attacks, it is definitely worth looking into the difference yourself.


I have learned many ways to help sooth these symptoms that I plan to describe somewhere on this site eventually but the most important one for me is slowing down and controlling my breathing. What I do is I draw deep breathes in through my nose very slowly, then exhale them out through my mouth as slowly as I inhaled until my lungs are pretty much empty. Then I repeat the process until I start to feel more regulated. This is a very common technique and I forget where I first picked it up.


OCD (OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER)


Obsessive compulsive disorder can manifest very subtly, but in my case the effects are noticeable even to the outside observer. My biggest OCD behaviours are constantly washing my hands (which is greatly exacerbated by my interest in technology and collectibles) and checking and rechecking doors and locks to make sure they are properly shut.
 

The hand-washing can be as extreme as you have heard. While they do not bleed when I’m washing them, during the winter they dry out very easily and begin to crack and bleed. I like to joke those are my Killer Croc hands, like the Batman villain. 


My OCD both prompts anxiety and gets worse in and of itself when I am anxious for other reasons. When I am triggered for any reason my obsessive-compulsive behaviours tend to go off the charts which prompts even more anxiety. It’s a real vicious cycle.


Clinical OCD sucks and while a lot of people seem to think they have it, unless your compulsive behaviours are causing you actual distress and harm or disrupting your life somehow I would say you do not have clinical OCD. I am not a doctor, but one did tell me once that everyone is OCD to some extent, which is how we do things like brush our teeth and shower regularly. It sincerely bothers me as someone who has been occasionally crippled and harmed by my OCD that people throw the term around without truly understanding what it means and how it is applied in a medical context.


 I’ll get off my soap box for now.


SELF-HARM, SUICIDAL IMPULSES OR BEHAVIOUR


When I sink into a profoundly deep depression, I tend to start to have suicidal thoughts and urges and the longer the depressive period goes on, the worst it gets. Ever since that experience when I was 15 it has been almost a walk in the park to avoid acting on it, but self harm is still sometimes a problem.


I used to be a cutter when I was a teenager and for me it has always about feeling something other than what I was currently feeling, which was usually nothing or more anxiety than I could manage at the time. These days I don’t really do that anymore, but there have been a couple of truly dark occasions where I cut myself in recent years. However, those were the exception and not the rule.


I’m also prone to hitting myself and objects when I am truly worked up, although I work very hard to not doing either and have made vast improvements on that front. In this case it’s both about hurting myself to experience something other than what I am currently feeling and also because I find my body flooded with manic energy I have trouble controlling. 


The real issue with this is anyone I know who witnesses me at a time like this has every right to be afraid because from their perspective I could just as easily hurt them. This is why it has always been my top priority when it comes to my mental health to control those urges and be aware of what prompts them so I can better avoid and cope with them.
 

HYPOMANIC EPISODES


My hypomanic episodes are basically where I feel invincible and like I can do anything. This sounds great but there are two things to consider about feeling like that:
 

1) You tend to make a lot of impulsive and shitty decisions when you feel impervious to or unconcerned with consequences.


2) The inevitable crash back down to depression and/or anxiety is usually incredibly harsh.


This is primarily what my medication helps control. A lot of people, myself included, tend to enjoy their hypomanic periods because they feel more “real” and less “muted” but the simple reality is dizzying highs and lows like that are not healthy, at least not for me. Managing these periods is very important to me and anyone close to me.


SLEEP DEPRIVATION OR SLEEPING TOO MUCH


Pretty much every one of these symptoms can affect my sleep patterns in one way or another. If I am depressed, I tend to sleep too much. If I am anxious, hypomanic, or suicidal I may not be able to sleep at all some nights. The lack of sleep then perpetuates the cycle. Most nights I rely on my prescribed medications to actually be able to fall asleep for a good night's rest.
 

MY TREATMENT EXPERIENCE


It can be a long and frustrating road to find the right treatment for you, and more often than not there will be no one solution, but rather many working together to manage your symptoms and better control them. I have tried many different medications and even had a few different diagnoses over the years before it was determined formally that I am bipolar type 2 and I am now registered disabled as a result, even though I am usually capable of working full-time without issue.


Every person is different, so your reaction to one medication could be completely different than mine. Because of this I avoid recommending any specific medications. It is important to give any new medications you try the proper amount of time to take effect, but it is also important to advocate for yourself if you feel strongly your current medication is not for you. 


I currently take Cipralex (also known as Lexapro) and Quetiapine (AKA  Seroquel) daily and I find they keep me regulated and feeling more like myself, however others I know who have tried these drugs have had less success with them.  I also have a prescription for Clonazepam (AKA Klonopin) for times when I am extremely triggered and need to calm down. It took many years of trial and error to find the meds that work for me, but if you are patient, the benefits will speak for themselves. Do not allow stigma to keep you from exploring medication as an option for you if you are coping with mental illness.


I have been through many programs at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada's mental health support system) and each one has offered new insights and ways of coping. The most recent was a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy group, followed by a long term Dialectical Behavioural Therapy study I participated in. I even got paid for that one! I give both CBT and DBT my highest recommendation for anyone who is eligible for a program like that and is struggling with anxiety and depression. The focus is on identifying your triggers and the situations that tend to prompt them, as well as ways to either reassess them or change your circumstances to get a new perspective or sensation. 


CAMH is absolutely the place to go in Canada if you are struggling with mental health problems, but waiting lists are long so if you have been thinking of going you should go for it! You just might find the help you need, but you will have to be patient. I would recommend establishing a strong social support network as you seek help because managing appointments on top of your mental well being can be exhausting and difficult.
 

Yoga and meditation both have been very helpful, but it’s been hard to commit to them due to my current illness and nigh-constant anxiety. I plan to write a lot about both as I explore them.


This section will be updated occasionally with any pertinent insights an info I think people may be interest to read up. 


That's it for now. Thanks for allowing me to share my scars,

Bipolar Andrew

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