confession is this: I have bipolar. Two and a half years ago, at the age of 29,
I was hospitalised while in the throes of what is known as a manic episode. It
was my first, and will hopefully be my last.
For those of you who are not
familiar with the term, a “manic episode” is when someone suffering with
bipolar disorder experiences a manic ‘high’, so to speak. I was never one of
those teenagers who experimented with mind-altering substances, so I can make
no comparison, but it is essentially a malfunctioning of the human mind.
Quiz: Could you have bipolar disorder?
no mistake, you are often unlikely to succeed in convincing someone who is
behaving manically that they require medical attention. How can something that
feels so incredible be bad for you? The sense of optimism and euphoria is
overwhelming. The world suddenly reveals itself as a magnificent, kaleidoscopic
tapestry, each thread undeniably connected to every other. Patterns and
significances begin to emerge in places where before there was no meaning.
you were not deeply spiritual before, the universe now feels as if it is
speaking to you directly. In fact, it is not uncommon for those experiencing a
manic episode to show symptoms of a messianic complex. I myself began to
believe that, on some level, I had mystical powers, that I was untouchable. I
would happily wander the streets at night, invite strangers into my home,
feeling no threat to my person.
this process, your creative mind is unleashed. You feel plugged in. There is
that same sense of abandon that one had as a child and has missed ever since.
It is liberating to say the least. But ultimately, you are like Icarus flying
towards the sun on precarious wings of wax and feathers. It cannot last
body has been surviving too long on little sustenance and a few hours of sleep
a night. You are simply too human. Eventually you come tumbling down to earth
and hit solid ground. It takes you back to its bosom and you enter the darker
phase of your depression.
you lie, and listen to the sounds of others outside living their lives, and you
weep. And you weep. And then you weep some more. You long for your euphoria.
You long to feel connected to your fellow human. You long to feel connected to
a higher power. But there is only a void.
Friends and family may try to enter the void,
to pull you out of your despair, but it is a fleeting comfort. You take your
medication daily because the good doctor tells you it will help. You wonder why
it does not feel like it is helping. After time, you emerge. This is the stage
where you begin again.
Read: My life with bipolar disorder
You begin again
try to converse with others. You try to feed yourself, to brush your teeth, to
clean your hair. Now and again, you attempt social gatherings, still feeling
unsettled, uncertain, insecure. Some days, you manage. Some days, you excuse
yourself and return to your solitude. You are haunted by what others may think
of you, if they know about your diagnosis, if they will treat you differently
now that you have been labelled. But little by little you manage, and it gets
easier, gradually but easier nonetheless.
next challenge you face is that you seldom feel alive. You are talking to
someone, but you do not feel engaged. You are saddened by the death of a
character in a novel you are reading and yet you have no tears. You cannot
remember the last time you laughed spontaneously. You are surviving, but are
you living? You cannot say for certain. Will it always be this way?
would like to say that it will not always be this way. Of course, the mood
stabiliser that I take every morning and every evening ensures that I do not
experience extreme highs or lows. Over time, however, I am catching myself
crying in a movie or laughing out loud at a YouTube video. I am no longer
self-conscious when I talk to others. Instead, I feel deeply interested in what
they have to say. I find myself enjoying music more. I have discovered love
again. I may not be the person I used to be, but the person I am is no longer
Read: Some conditions misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder
A few things that
I admit there can be no singular approach to navigating this tricky terrain. We
are each of us so unique that there can be no uniform prescription on how to
live your life. But on the subject of living with bipolar, here are simply a
few things that have helped me along the way:
While I was suffering
with severe depression for six months, I read an old book by Thomas Moore
called Care of the Soul. Some people
visit churches and pray in their hours of need; my temple was my city’s main
library. There I would sit for hours with something I had found on a shelf and
this was one such gem. Through it I learnt not to be ashamed of depression, not
to feel weak or lacking. Rather, I came to accept my depression as part of a
natural process of self-discovery. It would take its course, and when the time
came, I would be ready to start my life afresh.
Your Loved Ones and Don’t Fret the Rest
It is never easy to
experience a psychotic episode. One of the first things you will learn is to
distinguish between those who will be your loyal companions forever and those who
There are two reasons why I think you may lose many people in your life
if this happens. One, we are not comfortable as a society dealing with that
which is not considered the ‘norm’. While so many people today take
anti-depressants or anti-anxiety tablets, we are not open about mental illness.
We do not celebrate those who struggle with mental illness and live with it
daily as we do those who beat cancer. So, simply put, former friends may be
overwhelmed by your condition.
Secondly, a manic episode alters your behaviour
and your moods. Even if people have known you for years, what they think they
know of you is suddenly challenged and they do not know how to separate the
person from the mental illness. Nonetheless, if you are as lucky as I was, you
will have a handful of people who visit you in hospital, who never lose sight
of who you are. Cling to them, and forgive the rest for their shortcomings.
Comfort in Routine
When I was at my most
depressed, the things that I had once taken for granted suddenly became
insurmountable tasks. The simple act of preparing a meal, or making my bed
seemed all too much for me. Today, I take great pride in the fact that I am
able to wake up every morning, feed my cats, make my bed, have a cup of coffee
and get my day started. While mundane chores of daily living may seem tedious
at times, take delight in the fact that you are fit and able. These small tasks
may not seem like much but they help to add stability to our lives. So take an
evening yoga class and try not to miss it. Rise early so you can walk the dog.
It is by performing these little, seemingly insignificant tasks that I have
found the confidence to tackle larger projects in life.
Read: Yoga may help those with bipolar disorder
a Healthy Body
When I had my manic
episode, I was working late most evenings, relying on energy drinks and junk
food during the day to sustain me. I had also allowed for an undue amount of
stress and anxiety in my life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle now is not
something I do because it seems like a good idea. It is an imperative if I do
not wish to be hospitalised again.
This means that I drink in moderation, and
when I do drink it is the occasional glass of light wine or a light beer
(making sure that it is alcohol light and not simply low in calories). Except
for the odd cheat or indulgence, I steer clear of unhealthy take-outs. I also
watch my caffeine intake daily, allowing myself two cups of coffee in the
morning while drinking black rooibos the rest of the day.
Finally, of perhaps
the greatest importance, is that I ensure I get eight hours of sleep a night. A
lack of sleep is not only one of the symptoms of a manic episode but can also
play a role in the onset of one.
Accepting of Yourself
It is inevitable that a psychotic
break will change you. I used to be the kind of person who was extremely vocal.
I had opinions on everything and I wasn’t afraid to share them. As I began to
branch out after my depression, I was still rather withdrawn and shied away
from entering any heated debates (which was very uncharacteristic of who I used
to be). At first, I worried that people might find me boring, that I no longer
had anything to contribute to a roomful of people, that I had lost my spark.
Over time, my confidence has come back. I now say something if I feel the need
to contribute. But I am also quite content to sit back and let others take the
helm. Some family members have lamented this, remarking that I am not myself
anymore. That is true. I am different now. And that’s okay. Along the way, I
have also gained a sense of peace in the world that I did not have before.
Whatever shape it takes, accept your growth. Accept who you have become. To my
mind, there is no greater happiness than this.
After a life-long love
affair with ink and paper, Jocelyn is finding the words to bring to light the
things that are close to her heart. Residing in Port Elizabeth, South Africa,
she spends her free-time mastering the art of pasta making and advocating the
adoption of stray animals. To read more, you can visit her blog, Humble Pie or follow
her on Twitter. This blog first appeared
on the website These Walking Blues.
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