A day in our shoes: Understanding What It Feels Like

Ms Willow Bipolar

For someone looking in from the outside, I can only imagine how confusing it must be to understand someone who has Bipolar.

If you have a friend or family member living with bipolar disorder, this person may be afraid to share how they really feel. This then can make it hard to know how the illness really affects us. During these emotional highs– known as mania– I may become full of energy and overly excited about everything and anything! Mania can be mild, moderate, or severe. Sometimes, all you see is a fun, optimistic, and bubbly person— the life of the party. But other times, you may notice erratic and strange behaviour with their joyful mood.

I become more talkative, to the point where others can’t get a word in. I also speak fast, or come off as impulsive and easily distracted. I tend to be quite repetitive, telling you the same story a million times! While this may be confusing for you, this can be a great time for people living with bipolar disorder. The mania part is awesome. The world seems full of colour! Every morning I will wake up ready to go, even if I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I’m all over the place, dominating every conversation. Switching topics so quickly that it’s hard for others to keep up.

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Just like I can experience an extreme high, the extreme low could kick in at any time. I can be laughing and having a great time one day. And then the next day, I disconnect from the family and isolate for no apparent reason. I have little to say, I become extremely sad, or lose motivation, which can be a difficult time for everyone. When I’m in a depressive episode, I want to be left alone– but then get lonely and think everyone is avoiding me! I don’t want to go anywhere, see anyone, or do anything. It’s like no matter what I do, I’m doing something wrong. So, the easiest way to feel better is to hide-

Seeing everyone carrying on, living their happy little lives is an annoying reminder of my bipolar disorder and how I’ll never have that kind of stability. No matter what it is— work, hanging out with friends, exercise— I don’t enjoy things because the smallest details annoy me. If friends invite me out, I imagine waiting for the bus, being crammed against people, crowded bars, and all the other negative things. I think of every possible downside of something, which leaves me dreading the idea of doing anything. I analyse every possible worst-case scenario. I turn into this grumpy, overly obsessive lady! During these episodes when I think about the future, I don’t like what I see. I can only see more troubles, endless work to keep well, and an endless string of letdowns and failed relationships.

But there is also a place in between– the middle– between the mania and the depressions there is a small breathing space, I get to catch my breath back, and build up enough energy to roll out the punches the average day gives me! It never lasts for long, so I make the most of it and enjoy it whilst it lasts… I’m not freaking out over small problems, I enjoy the little things, and I’m not loathing the future. I feel normal(my kind of normal!)and it’s how I see myself. I’m not some lunatic running around or some long face lazy slug! I honestly wish I could stay in this mindset all the time, but I know that won’t happen. I’ve accepted that my moods will change on their own.

The key to understanding this illness is it’s unpredictable– not the person suffering it, but the illness. I am not unpredictable but my illness is. Take it one day at a time with your loved one. Have patience. Healing and understanding the illness doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s completely normal to worry about your loved one during their mania and depressive episodes. You may be worried about them making reckless or irresponsible decisions, and harming themselves during an emotional low. Avoid insensitive or negative comments like “snap out of it,” or “get a grip.”

Let them know you’re there to help in any way you can. But the most important thing of all is DON’T GIVE UP ON US… We need your guiding light to keep going, keep believing in us. Quote from my mum when I became really ill 8 years ago:
“All the time I had hope, I said it for you and thought it for you even when I knew you had none. I fought to feel it for you, knowing that if I doubted even one single moment you would slip away and the second chance we had with you would be lost.”
Love Ms Bipolar x


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