The Art of Opening Up (and of lying)

They say it’s an act, as if opening up is purely an action and nothing else. They say ‘just’ open up, as if it’s easy in the first place, like ‘just’ starting the car, or ‘just’ cleaning the kitchen.

It’s not an act.

It’s an art.

Acting would be the way I lie to everyone around me. Are you okay, they ask. How’s the eating going, they request. You’re looking better, they say. I smile, I nod. I’m fine. I’m okay. I’ve been exhausted but I’m fine.

I’m not fine. Exhausted is my euphemism for depressed. It means getting out of bed has gotten hard again. It means I’m eating, but probably twice a day, probably binging because my body is freaking out that I’ve started starving it again and has to store as many calories as possible just in case, just to be safe, just to be sure I don’t kill myself. C’mon body, really? Killing myself is the goal here? Exhausted means that the suicidal thoughts are back. It means staying up late to avoid sleep, but sleeping in because I don’t want to face another day. It means my washing has piled up, the dishes have piled up, the assignments are piling up. It means my perfectionism and obsessions have kicked up a notch, and the act of actively resisting these is enough to exhaust me by itself, never mind all this other bullshit that I have to deal with at the same time.

Opening up is an art, but so is lying. I’ve gotten good at one, and I’m still awful at the other – no prizes for guessing which is which.

I used to do shut down immediately when people asked about my mental health. And when I say used, what I mean is that from when my mental health started crumbling when I was 11, until I was 16, I didn’t share a single word of what was happening inside my fucked up mind – with anybody. So realistically, I’ve come a long way. I can say the words “anorexic”, “depressed”, “anxious”, “bulimic”, “bullied”, “abused”, “traumatised” and “struggling” without panic immediately bubbling to the surface. I still suck at it, and I still have to write down word for word what I’m going to say to my therapist(s), I still lie to my friends and I definitely still lie to my family, but I think it’s gotten better.

Like any art, opening up involves progress, and I think I’ve made a fair bit.

Being Diagnosed as Bipolar

The first time I asked myself if I might be bipolar, I was sixteen. I remember the day vividly. I was being driven home from the gym by my mum, and I was in tears. Normally my dad does the driving. I asked why she had picked me up. Apparently, I had broken yet another relationship. My dad “didn’t know what to do with me anymore”. He didn’t want to speak with me. My cycling anger, despair, depression and ‘craziness’ (undiagnosed mania) was destroying my relationship with family and friends. My moods were cycling between extended periods of depression with suicidal ideation, extreme irritability, and ecstasy. My concerns of bipolar disorder were dismissed, because – and this is despite a family history of bipolar – my “mania” didn’t seem to last long enough, or occur often enough, or have a large enough impact on / impairment of my functioning.

This week, I was diagnosed with bipolar II, the “less severe” form of bipolar. I asked my psychiatrist if that meant my rapid cycling moods were down to bipolar alone, or if part of the unstable mood was also borderline personality traits. His answer was both surprising and comforting.

He said, too much of psychiatry is about boxes. Too often do we mistake symptoms as only being able to fit in one box. You can have manic episodes, and you can have mood swings as a result of emotional dysregulation. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both.

And I instantly felt understood. I felt like all my anxieties around experiencing mania (and not disclosing it because I thought it was just a “BPD thing”) were finally addressed. I felt like I finally had answers. I finally have reasons. 

Interestingly, I was also thinking about the interplay between my history of eating disorders and bipolar.

I didn’t experience my first manic episode until after my weight was (just) restored from anorexia. So what if there’s a connection between the two? What if Ana and bipolar are besties? I’ve always had the impression that BPD and my eating disorder are pretty intertwined – they both involve an inability to regulate difficult emotions, suppression of those emotions, and a maladaptive coping mechanism I’ve chosen in place of whatever normal / non-disordered people do to cope with stress or express feelings or whatever it is non-disordered people do exactly… How do they deal with feelings? Are feelings even an issue per-say when you don’t live with an eating disorder or BPD or another emotional dysregulation disorder? What even are feelings? If my eating disorder and BPD are linked by my inability to regulate emotions, how does mania fit into that? And would starving myself again prevent the mania from coming back?

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent. I feel like there’s a connection between my eating disorder and the way my manic episodes developed over time – as I have continued to gain weight, they have gotten worse. Something to explore I guess. It’s been a rough day, and I’m too emotionally exhausted to consider the impact of another epiphany right now.

Ha, yet another reason to lose weight again… That was a cruel and sarcastic anecdote, but not an unprecedented suggestion, right? I also found out that same psychiatrist described me as “mildly obese” in his notes, which has made me incredibly suicidal. That was definitely not surprising, nor comforting. In fact, I’m more shattered by those two words than I am by this new, life-altering diagnosis to add to my list of neuroses.

Just a quick update on that list, in case you’re haven’t been keeping up – I suffer from bulimia (and had a long stint with anorexia during 2011-2017), borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and what I previously thought was chronic depression has now been confirmed as bipolar depression. And I self harm a bit too. And think about killing myself. It’s a mixed bag in here. I should apologise for such an all-over post but this is what my mind does in distress – I’m all over the place, sarcasm and savagery here there and everywhere.

So yeah, cool, here I am, Rosie Bogs, blogging away, whose day of crumbling sanity was interrupted by a slightly life changing diagnosis. I mean, it confirmed my worst fears, but so did being confronted by anorexia, and I learned to accept that in time. I’m more scared about how being medicated long-term could fuck me up more. It’s fine. Probably preferable to psychosis, which I’m at risk for given my family history of bipolar.

*shrugs, salutes, signs off*

Over and out amigos. Applaud yourself if you made it to the end. No, it doesn’t count if you read only the first and last lines – sorry.

Until next time, unless I’m dead.

Your bipolar blogger (eek!), Rosie Bogs.