I have connected with so many women and men from different walks of life and Erika’s story is one that I want to share with you all. Erika is a mother, wife, daughter, friend, blogger, kind woman who just happens to have bipolar disorder.
Hopefully, after reading her story you will think differently about mental illness.
Can you explain to me what bipolar is in your own words?
I have bipolar disorder type 2, and it is a mood disorder that can cause you to go through periods of depression and hypomania. I think everyone pretty much knows what depression is, so I’ll add a few things about hypomania. Hypomania is a mood state where you often experience an elevated mood (think the “on top of the world” feeling), among other things, but sometimes it can present as being extremely irritable.
When were you first diagnosed?
I was diagnosed when I was 31, several months after having our daughter. My primary care doctor brought up the possibility of having bipolar disorder a couple years before my daughter was born when she was trying to help me get a handle on my depression, but the psychiatrist I saw at my first appointment was dismissive of it. (Don’t trust anyone who makes a diagnosis and hands over a prescription in the span of ten minutes!)
What are some of your symptoms of being bipolar?
Depression: I’m completely withdrawn, sad, have feelings of worthlessness, lack of energy. Hypomania: If it’s the good hypomania, then I’m in a great mood, am extremely outgoing and upbeat (which is so the opposite of my typical shy, introverted self), rarely sleep, and I tend to be rather impulsive when it comes to spending money. With the bad hypomania, my mind is still moving at rapid speed and I’m not sleeping, but I’m extremely irritable and am much more anxious than usual.
What sort of treatments have you tried in the past and what worked for you and what didn’t?
Prior to finding out about having bipolar disorder, my doctor tried me on several antidepressants. At one point I was taking three antidepressants (one of them was to help me sleep at night, which didn’t happen). After being diagnosed, I was put on a mood stabilizer, which helped a lot after getting the dosage worked out. I still have those periods of depressed or elevated moods, but they’re less severe and less frequent. I also started therapy shortly after finding out about bipolar disorder, which was incredibly helpful.
Are there any positives to having bipolar?
Hypomania really brings out my creative side. Sometimes stories will pour from my fingertips at lightning speed, or I’ll throw myself into making something — jewelry, crafts, etc. Or I’ll become swept up in learning something new. I have taught myself coding, created websites, and got the ball rolling on a bricks-and-mortar business while hypomanic. Frankly, my current blog wouldn’t exist if not for bipolar disorder. Had I not been going through a hypomanic period, it’s doubtful that I would have bought my iPad — which was a total impulse purchase — so I’d have never started attempting to draw. No drawing means no poorly doodled blog posts!
What are the negative effects you’ve experienced in your own life due to your disorder?
Depression is an absolute bitch. Having that voice in the back of your mind — or the forefront, depending on how bad things are — telling you that you’re worthless and shouldn’t be alive isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. Whatever I’m focused on at the time gets pushed to the side when my mood plummets. For example, that time I got a business rolling while hypomanic, within months I hit a depression and felt done — I had no motivation to continue with it whatsoever — so I ended up selling the business after all of that hard work. It has contributed to some bad financial decisions. It definitely puts a strain on personal relationships, too, since I usually go in isolation mode to keep people from seeing me struggle.
Are people commonly open about being bipolar?
Considering that I don’t know anyone in real life who has admitted to having bipolar disorder, I’d have to say “no.”
Why do you think people hide being bipolar?
There is so much stigma surrounding bipolar disorder, and most people are just completely off-base with what they think bipolar disorder is. (No, I don’t go from one extreme mood to another multiple times throughout the course of a day.) It also doesn’t help that almost anytime an atrocity is committed, bipolar disorder is blamed, regardless of whether the person was ever diagnosed. Knowing that many people think those with bipolar disorders are monsters on some level definitely keeps folks in the bipolar closet.
What would you say to someone who just got diagnosed?
Get thee to therapy. (Channeling my inner Hamlet totally works for this interview, right?) Also, tune out the negative noise surrounding bipolar disorder if you can. You aren’t a bad person, you aren’t incapable of being in a relationship or of being a good parent, you aren’t worthless, and you definitely aren’t defined by your mental illness. Also be aware that bipolar disorder is a spectrum disorder — some of your symptoms might not be the same as or as severe as someone else’s, so don’t get bogged down in that.
What would you say to that person’s friends and loved ones?
Learn what you can about bipolar disorder (especially the type they have) and be supportive! Know that your loved one will have stretches of good days and stretches of bad days. Ask what you can do to help during the bad stretches, give them room if they need it, and be understanding when they can’t fulfill social obligations. Whatever patience and understanding that you’d extend to a loved one with a physical disability or illness should be extended to someone with a mental illness.
Has your family been supportive of your disorder and struggles? What have they done or not done?
Only a few family members/friends know (unless they read this blog post, which is unlikely since they’re not blog readers). It’s not something I’ve been forthcoming with. I’ve heard too much negative talk about mental illness from most family members to consider confiding in most of them. My husband does know and is super supportive. He knows when something is off without me saying a word and does whatever he can to support me and pick up my slack, for lack of better words.