I have always been a rather sensitive kid.
I was an introvert who loved diving into the world of books to live through the alternate realities of fictional characters. I strove to live deeply through a wide variety of experiences. But a few years back, my emotional landscape became more turbulent and volatile.
Suddenly, it was all just too much.
Bipolar disorder is often flippantly written off as a series of mood swings caused by poor emotional control. Should an individual display changes in mood, or the weather proves to be erratic, they are labelled ‘bipolar’.
While this representation holds some truth – that this illness is characterised by fluctuating mood states – it fails to capture the complexities of this condition.
It is more than just passing mood swings.
This chronic illness affects your daily life and perception of reality itself.
Ups And Downs
There would be days where I was soaring. My mind was set free in a world of infinite possibilities, and I craved new opportunities with a hunger that was at times, overwhelming. I was haunted by racing thoughts through day and night, leaving me sleepless but still painfully energised.
I was pressed to speak, to keep speaking, and my face was twitching, hands shaking from the internal agitation.
To be honest – at times, this felt amazing. I felt like a productive and capable member of society worthy of life, overlooking just how flawed this mindset was. However, even this phase of hyperactivity became too much.
The turmoil in my chest became suffocating and my racing heart was bewildering. I could barely focus on anything or any thought at all.
I remember thinking, during a particularly severe manic episode, that this was all just too much. It was time to soar into the unknown.
In fact, I literally believed I could fly. The metal railing bit into my skin as my mind struggled to comprehend the situation.
I barely held myself from taking the jump, as I became distracted by my dog demanding more food (thank goodness for his greediness).
And then there were days where nothing was felt at all. Emptiness weighed down upon me, and I could not bring myself to do anything. If I tried, tears began to flow. But even crying held no relief, and the only impression left on me was of waste and nothingness.
I almost felt relieved once I was diagnosed. Finally, an explanation for this madness!
Bipolar disorder is characterised by alternating mood states of manic and depressive episodes.
Symptoms of a manic episode include: unusually high or irritable mood for at least a week, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, pressured speech, racing thoughts, increased activity to make grand and unattainable plans, and reckless behaviour.
Conversely, symptoms of a depressive episode include persistently sad, anxious or empty moods, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, loss of interest in hobbies or activities, decreased energy or restlessness, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, thoughts of suicide, sleep and appetite changes. It can also manifest itself in bodily aches or pains.
To be diagnosed, an individual must have at least one manic or hypomanic episode, alongside a depressive one.
One can even experience both mood states concurrently, which is called a ‘mixed state’. This illness is more common than you may think, and approximately 1 in 100 Singaporeans suffer from this chronic illness.
What Happens Next
Being diagnosed is the state of a very long journey of learning how to manage the illness. Medication is an option and a personal decision that varies from each individual.
For me, it involved a sustained period of experimenting with the dosage and types of medicines, ranging from anti-depressants, mood stabilisers to anti-psychotics.
Adjusting to the new medicines was difficult; resulting in symptoms such as nausea, headaches, giddiness and just all-round awfulness. But I chose it because the alternative was unbearable.
Exercise is known to be a natural anti-depressant although I was initially sceptical and wrote it off as a waste of time (it’s not! Give it a try). I had to monitor my moods, sleep and diet while keeping to a regular routine.
Even now, this remains a difficult and frustrating process.
I had a relapse last year, as I entered a mixed state and had to be warded. My life was put on hold, and I was frustrated, angry, and too tired to try to be better again.
It’s taken some time, but now, with some new medication changes, alongside further adjustments to my daily lifestyle, I am cautiously optimistic that things are getting better, one step at a time.
Hey, You There!
If you are struggling with any mental issues – remember: it is not your fault. Mental illnesses are often caused by an odd mixture of hormonal changes, genetics and environmental factors.
Consider reaching out to others to find a support system that works for you, such as Samaritans of Singapore. If you are anxious about meeting people in person, there are many established online websites that offer a listening ear.
There is some truth to be found in cliches – that you never know how much someone is struggling. Even the most cheerful or successful of individuals may be nursing a festering, aching wound within.
So take care of your loved ones, listen to their concerns without judgement, and always strive to be kind. After all, we’re just trying to make our way through this bewildering universe.