Exploring the Ups and Downs of Bipolar Disorder: A Journey of Understanding and Empowerment by One Courageous Young Man

Every now and then I come across something truly meaningful and useful that I think will help others. Today a friend of mine shared these words with me by a close relative of hers. Like many of you , I know and love someone with bipolar disorder. I am hoping by sharing his story (which I have permission to do so), it will help you too.

_________’s Story … it may be yours

A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, previously referred to as manic depression. Never in my life would I have expected to be diagnosed with bipolar, yet at the same time it made so much sense to me and helped me to better understand myself, my past and my current emotions/actions on a deeper level.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that approximately 4.4 % of US adults have bipolar disorder. and 1% of Canadians meet the criteria for bipolar disorder. Knowing these stats may be helpful for some who feel alone.

Growing up I felt like there was a stigma around bipolar disorder, at least for me personally there was. I was no stranger to friends and family who struggled with depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental illnesses. However, if you had asked the juvenile me to picture a person with bipolar disorder, I probably would have pictured a crazy person. A literal maniac, someone who would need to be permanently hospitalized or sheltered from society.

I consider myself to be a fairly high functioning individual. I am blessed to have attended an excellent high school and university, played sports in my youth. I have great career, lots of friends and a beautiful family.

Thus given my biased lack of understanding for the disorder and positive perception of myself, I never expected to be diagnosed with bipolar.

What is bipolar disorder? Here is what the Mood Disorders Society of Canada has to say about the symptoms.

Knowing I had some of these symptoms and have been diagnosed with bipolar, I thought I would share what a week in my life may look like, understanding full well yours may be different.

Here is a week in my life with bipolar disorder. I don’t pretend to know what it is like for everyone else who experiences bipolar, but here is what it is like for me.

Hypomania: One week I feel on top of the world. I am energized, extroverted, and may be overconfident. My creative juices are flowing. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. I may feel like I could go all day without eating or I feel I can work all night without sleep.

During this time, I am Mr. Social and in a networking mode. Lots of my friends come to mind and I feel the need to reach out to reconnect, call or catch up with them. I find myself multi-tasking and may be more prone to be distracted. Perhaps it feels like I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That being said after getting distracted, I get back on task quickly and tend to be very productive. I find myself setting lots of ambitious goals in this energized state. I am more optimistic and decisive. I am less sensitive to spending money and may be more open to making purchases and investments. I find myself extra assertive and unfiltered in my communications. I may be more prone to agitation or being argumentative.

Depression: The following week I seem to crash from my high energy state into a state of depression. I feel lethargic. It’s tougher to get out of bed in the morning and I am more tired and calm throughout the day.

My confidence is gone and some imposter syndrome may begin to creep in. I am more timid and soft spoken. I withdraw from others and seek to be alone. It feels like I can only concentrate on one task at a time, yet I find myself getting lost within my own thoughts. I find myself thinking about the past and my mistakes. Life feels like it is moving in slow motion for me while everyone else is on double speed. I may feel socially awkward. I am introverted and tend to overthink things. I may be overly apologetic and am hypersensitive to the emotions of those around me. I worry about money/budget and find myself being ultra conservative when it comes to spending or investing.

The cycle repeats.

I am hoping some of you may relate to my experiences . Knowing each of us is unique, it is best to seek medical and psychological intervention when getting any diagnosis.

Coping skills are vital , so I’d like to share some that work for me.

  1. Sleep: 7-8 hours is the sweet spot for me. If I am not getting proper rest , all my other coping mechanisms seem to be in vain. Sometimes this means taking melatonin to help my mind relax and go to sleep. What works for you is between you and your health care professional.
  2. Medication /Psychiatric treatment: Meeting with a Psychiatrist on a regular basis to assess my mental/emotional health is important. Having them monitor my specific needs for medication as needed.
  3. Exercise:Exercise helps me relieve some of my excess energy when i am in a hypomanic state and to feel more accomplished . When i am in a depressed state it balances me out.
  4. Journaling: Putting my thoughts to paper helps me become more aware and mangae my well being.. Hypomania can be a great time to set goals for me. A minor depression can be a great time for reflection and cultivating humility.
  5. Counselling/ Psychology: Being open with my family members about my emotions and checking in with a professional counsellor can also be very helpful.
  6. Music: Wholesome positive music such as classical music can help me when i am depressed or calm me down when i am hypomanic.Positive music without words can also hel me when i need to study or work.
  7. Diet:I tend to be more balanced when i eat healthy. For example, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats , whole grains, nuts. legumes, fish. poultry. eggs and lots of water. many mental health professionals advise avoiding caffeine, sugar and junk food. It’s worthy asking your health care professional what is best for you.
  8. Outdoors:I find that I feel better when i get outdoors. Some fresh air , sunshine and blue sky seem to do wonders for my mental health and mood. The ocean and outdoor swimming are also a favourite of mine.
  9. Planning/goal setting: Planning and goal setting help me reel in my energy when i feel hypomanic. Executing on plans/goals even in the little things helps me to feel accomplished and stay motivated when i am depresssed.
  10. Routine/ Schedule. A regular routine is also very helpful for me. For example, waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, eating meals and exercising around the same time, consistent work hours, etc. a tidy/organized home and work environment also help me focus and be happy.
  11. Meditation / Prayer meditation and prayer help calm me and sleep better, especially when I am focused on gratitude and positivity.
  12. Recreation: A little recreation on a regular basis helps me to relax, enjoy life and be more happy.

I hope you find coping skills that work for you. It is my hope that someone is helped by my words and for those of you who don’t have a mental health disorder , that you will gain a clearer perspective while developing empathy and understanding.for others with a mental illness. At the end of the day, I am grateful for the experiences I have had with depression and bipolar. I am glad God made me the way I am and would not have things any other way. These experiences have been tough at times, but have also been interesting and have helped me have much more empathy and compassion for others.

As a psychologist I am privileged to listen to the story of others and this story is one that I believe could definitely help others, so I am thankful to ____ for allowing me to share.

For those of you in Calgary here are some resources that may assist you:

Mood Disorders Program

The organization for Bipolar Affective Disorder

Resources for those 18 plus in Calgary Mental Health resources and supports

If your safety or that of others is at stake please call 911 or go to your nearest urgent care centre or emergency room.

Call Distress Centre Calgary at 403-266-HELP (4357)