Worth Living Ambassador Cat Davis
Hello. My name is Cat, and I am a 20-year-old diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Reading and writing became my solace during the darkest times in my life: the times when my journal seemed to be my only friend, the times when my jaw forgot how to make sounds, and my mind failed to form relationships with others. I decided to post my journals on a personal blog, both as a way of releasing my emotions and as a way to continue the mental illness conversation. Through writing out my experiences, I hope to provide hope—even the teeniest tiniest amount, even to only one person—because one cannot survive without hope. Hope is the genesis of recovery. Hope inspires hope. Thank you.
Who Am I If I’m Not Manic
Before sharing my story, I want to make sure everyone is on the same page. So let’s talk a bit about this mysterious illness called “bipolar disorder.”
A person with bipolar disorder fluctuates between two extreme mood states: depression and mania.
I assume most of you know what depression is: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, you know, the stuff you see on antidepressant commercials. I do not mean to write off the severity of depression; it is a debilitating disorder that affects about 7% of the US population, including me. I just mean to say that I believe more people know what depression is than what mania is. I sure did before my bipolar diagnosis.
Mania is a whole different monster. Mania involves grandiose thinking, feelings of euphoria, racing thoughts, high energy, impulsivity, irritability, and other inappropriate social behaviors. A manic episode may feel like the most exhilarating time of a patient’s life, or it may feel like the scariest. I think of my episodes as either “good mania” or “bad mania.”
Bipolar 1 disorder differs from bipolar 2 in that the patient experiences at least one manic episode that results in hospitalization. A person with bipolar 2 instead experiences “hypomanic episodes” (hypo- meaning less, as in less severe) without hospitalization. I am bipolar 1.
Okay, now that we’re all together, on to the main act.
I experienced both manic and depressive symptoms for six years before being diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder at the ripe age of 20.
But before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I was diagnosed with unipolar depression.
Because my mania was considered my normal. By everyone. My mania was me. No disorder. No craziness. Just me.
When I didn’t sleep or eat for days, I was me. Because sleeping and eating got in the way of more important tasks, like studying and partying.
When I spent hundreds of dollars on an impulsive shopping spree, I was me.
When my mind buzzed with one million thoughts per hour without pause, I was me. I started up so many projects, too many projects, truly believing I would accomplish all of them, but never did.
When I laughed and yelled and leapt and ran and couldn’t shut up and couldn’t calm down, I was me.
The symptoms I describe above characterize my “good mania.” The mania that was me.
I was perfectly fine being manic.
Until I discovered my “bad mania.”
Bad mania involves screaming and crying and panic attacking and sitting in a bathtub for hours and refusing to get out until someone drags me out out by my wrists and ankles. And begging God to kill me. And trying to kill me.
I sat across from a therapist, and another therapist, and a psychiatrist, who all decided that my bad mania was not mania at all but a symptom of “Major Depressive Disorder.”
They put me on an antidepressant. On this antidepressant, my brain switched between mania and depression faster than ever before, up and down and up and down and up and down. When a bipolar person experiences abnormally fast changes in mood, the professionals call it “rapid cycling.” I call it crazy. The antidepressants made me crazy.
But I hid my crazy well. Too well. I only showed my good mania. The professionals thought I was getting better.
Until I couldn’t hide my crazy any longer, and I wound up in a psychiatric hospital.
And then I wound up in another psychiatric hospital.
And then I was diagnosed with bipolar 1.
And then I found out my mania isn’t my normal.
And then everyone found out my mania isn’t my normal.
And then I found myself engulfed in a total and complete identity crisis. If my mania isn’t my normal, what is?
After I was diagnosed with bipolar, I impatiently waited six months to become “stable.” I didn’t believe in stable. I didn’t believe drugs could make me stable, especially not after my horrific experience on antidepressants.
I woke up one morning.
And I wrote down in my journal that I felt stable.
And I continued writing “stable” in my journal every day for three weeks.
And then I believed in stable.
Stability shone light on who I am if I’m not manic.
Here is a generalized list of my personality traits when I am stable, when I am really me, and not manic me:
I have high self-esteem. I take care of myself by sleeping 9-10 hours most nights, eating healthy (most of the time), and exercising regularly. I listen to what my body needs. I do not race through life at full speed until I collapse.
I am an extrovert. I enjoy partying as a way to meet new friends and mingle with old ones. I allow myself time to be around others without overstaying my welcome.
But I am also an intellectual. I enjoy learning, and thus I enjoy studying (as much as a college student can realistically enjoy studying, of course). My mind knows how to focus on one thought at a time.
I am spontaneous. I love planning random weekend trips with my friends. I love buying presents for others, just because the gifts remind me of them. If I need a bubble bath instead of another long night in the library, I take a bubble bath. I am spontaneous, but I am not impulsive. My spontaneity makes sense. It is for a purpose. My manic impulsivity does not make sense. There is no purpose.
I am creative. I come up with ideas faster than I can write them down. I dream big. But I distinguish between goals I can or cannot accomplish at the given time. Writing a memoir became my big dream six months ago, right after I was discharged from my second psychiatric facility. That’s a prime example of the difference between manic me and stable me: I’ve followed through with my idea to write about my disorder. Manic me would have given up months ago.
I am passionate. I love speaking about anything and everything that fascinates me. I love arguing, but when I’m stable, I keep my head cool. When I’m manic, I explode.
Bipolar is all about extremes. Thus my bipolar exacerbates many of my personality traits. It turns my high self-esteem into grandiosity. It turns my spontaneity into impulsivity. But it is not who I am in and of itself. I am sometimes manic me. I am sometimes depressed me. But my realest, truest self is stable me.
Please visit my personal blog at www.highrisk1.wordpress.com/