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.

Chronic Depression, My Old Friend

When I was younger, before all the bad shit happened (read: anorexia followed by years of intense bullying which only reaffirmed that if I was just thinner, things would be better) I thought depression was purely episodic. I thought it only occurred during grief after a death, that it was a really intense sadness that hung around for a couple weeks and then disappeared.

Seven years later, and I’m still depressed. Because depression can be chronic too.

Earlier this year, I think I experienced my first manic episode. Not irritability or hypomania, true mania. I was buzzing. I couldn’t sleep and didn’t need to, I was planning and fantasising wildly, I spent two weeks pay in five days (as a normally frugal person who spends half of every pay on therapy), I was over-committing to everything: I was go go go, fast fast fast. Talking and thinking faster and louder. I’ve never been formally diagnosed as bipolar, and although I recognise patterns of mania in myself, I definitely identify more with borderline personality disorder. I’m also not a psychiatrist, no matter how often I read the DSM, and like to believe I mostly know what I’m talking about. Something to know about me: I try to keep my intelligence kinda hidden because it’s gotten me into trouble before, and at the risk of sounding like a total dick, I am pretty fucking smart, and pretty fucking confident I know a decent amount about mental health.

Anyway, prior to that weird little manic week, for the first time in those seven years, I actually felt content. I can’t use the H-adjective, because that word alone always seems to trigger another wave of numbness for whatever reason, but it was like my mind just wanted to tease me with the possibility of a depression free life. I was satisfied with work, with my savings, with a few tentative plans for the future. I felt at ease, not anxious, not stressed, not fearful. I wasn’t overly focused on my eating disorder, and I was actually sticking to meal plan. I had come up with a vague sort of self-soothing routine which involved touching leaves on every tree I passed on my walk to the park, and stopping to meditate and practice yoga before returning home. It was a very mindful couple of days.

Then the mania hit.

Then the anxiety peaked.

And now the sadness has returned.

For some reason, I’m welcoming it back into my life. It’s an old friend, safe and familiar. Even when I am a danger to myself, at least it’s familiar. But this happiness thing? That’s foreign territory. And I don’t like it. I don’t like the mania, I don’t like the anxiety, and I definitely don’t like the BPD emotion surges.

Depression is my friend. It keeps me from feeling all of my feelings, in the same way my eating disorder helps me avoid things that need avoiding. Depression also keeps me from having nice things, like recovery. It keeps the metaphorical marble rolling down the same metaphorical ruts, the same neural pathways strengthening, the same core beliefs coursing through my mind every moment of every day – I’m worthless. I’m undeserving of life and love. I let everybody down. Killing myself will release the burden I put on other people. I’m fat, and ugly, and stupid, and useless. I’m never going to get better. I never make any progress.

I cling to these thoughts because I don’t know any different. I’ve never found lasting comfort in any of the suggested places. Yes I’ve tried yoga, and mindfulness, and art therapy, and writing, and regular therapy, and inpatient treatment, and day treatment, and medications. They don’t work for me.

Intuitively, I know that none of these beliefs are the truth – just as I know that according to my BMI I am not overweight. But even when my BMI fell to 14 and I was on the verge of involuntary hospital admission I thought I was fat. So why should a stranger telling me to smile lift my mood? Why should someone saying I look upset, make me any less upset?

Chronic depression, in fact, any depression, is not just sadness that passes. It’s sadness that stays. That fills my entire being with darkness and despair. It whispers harsh words in my ear, and ways to escape. It twists every object in my house into something I could use to hurt myself. I become dangerous. I become bitter. I hate my depression. I hate everything it’s done to me. But for some reason, I cherish it too.