People tell me that I’m somewhat of an open person, easy to interpret, but I have a lot of things that I keep inside—one of the more difficult things being that I have bipolar disorder. You see this term used colloquially on social media, and to be honest, I don’t have a problem with it. Most people have the general gist or stereotype of what it means “to be bipolar”: mood swings, changing your mind frequently. These stereotypes are partially rooted in truth.
My truth is that I have stages of hypomania where I’ll have sudden boosts of energy and don’t get as much sleep (around 3 hours) over the course of a few days. While it’s nice having bursts of energy and feeling like I’m on top of the world, this short period has a lot of regrets and downfalls. I’ll post more on social media without thinking about the consequences, and I’ll also make decisions that I can never take back. During this period, it’s so easy to hurt myself and others by doing things that I normally wouldn’t do. For example, during hypomania, I experience being hypersexual. I normally never think about sex, and to be honest, have no sex drive; but during this period, I’ll have lots of sex. This clearly leads to regrettable decisions that hurt both me and my body, as well as the other person who has no idea what’s actually going on in my head. The best way to describe it is like wearing this temporary robot suit that overrides what I normally do and believe in. But it’s also important to recognize that I take full responsibility for my actions; otherwise, I would have no control over the memory, the moment, and the consequence.
High school was worse. Hypomanic episodes consisted of mixing up reality with dreams. Some days, it was extremely hard for me to differentiate if I was awake or if the event in the dream happened in real life. I would see the wind blowing the grass but not feeling alive, like my vision was some sort of distortion. I would imagine fights with my mom that never happened, leading to actual fights and a strain on our relationship. I had irrational thoughts, such as thinking I could get into Yale even though I never applied (and honestly was nowhere near their requirements) or thinking I could become YouTube famous and quit school forever. These are the false beliefs and hallucinations that made me feel trapped in a mind, body, and life that weren’t mine.
Today, I don’t experience severe episodes of hypomania where I confuse dreams with reality; today, I’m more aware of the signs and how to combat these protruding thoughts before they fruit into action. When I know that I’m wearing rose colored glasses, I’ll purposely put on dark shaded ones. It helps me balance the rosy image of being unstoppable and prevents me from making decisions that otherwise wouldn’t align with my beliefs and character.
The worst part of hypomania is the crash, the fall. After hypomania, I’ll fall into depressive episodes. During this period, I wish I could take a break from life and detach myself from everything and everyone. This is the period where I’ll fall off the grid, isolate myself, self-loathe, feel worthless, and just want to stare at a window or corner in a room the entire day. It’s a feeling where I’m no longer grateful to be alive because I’ll wish I was never born to begin with. But because I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since high school, I know that this, too, shall pass. So I hold on, some days better than others, and wait it out, knowing that I’ll be okay on the other side.
Another truth is that I don’t always experience hypomania and depression consecutively. I’ll have short and long periods where I’ll be “normal”, and when something triggers me, that’s when I’ll experience these shifts. You can sort of make out these shifts when I do something very out of character. People observing on the outside might assume I’m on drugs. But really, it’s the thoughts racing and banging in my head, forcing me to act on some of them. I struggle to find myself in the decisions I’ve made. Sometimes I won’t own up to them and hide in shame and guilt. But I’ve learned that instead of running away from myself, I need to ask myself “Why?” and accept the situation and let go. If apologies need to be made, they will be made. If compassion needs to heal the haunted memories, they will heal. And everything is going to be okay.
There are ways I cope with bipolar disorder. I build habits and structures that will help ease the fall and the periods of hypomania and depression. When I’m hypomanic, I’ll ask myself if this decision or idea is something I truly want or something that is ephemeral. When I’m depressed, instead of defaulting to loneliness and isolation, I’ll reach out to trusted friends and family. I also took up counseling recently and it has helped rationalize my thoughts.
People around me, my friends, peers, professors, and strangers, whether they know it or not, are a huge help too. Getting a simple text from a friend saying they’re thinking of me normally would be appreciated at the moment and shortly forgotten later. But during depressive episodes, these texts are what bring me back to life. They remind me that I am noticed and a force in this world whether I want to be or not. Seeing and experiencing both simple and complex acts of humanity and humility are what remind me that I’m okay and that everything is okay or will be okay.
The word “okay” is nothing extraordinary or exceptional, but to me, it’s the best word out there—it’s the state of mind that I strive to be in. Okay is neutral. It’s neither exceptional nor horrible. It’s okay.
I know when I was a kid, I thought if you were bipolar, you were crazy. I wouldn’t consider myself to be crazy, rather hurt but with the ability to place a band-aid on given the strength from myself and others. Being hurt is not easy, but showing compassion to myself and others by creating awareness and community is a step toward making everything okay.