In September 2017 I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. Since then it’s been a roller coaster, and I was recently re-diagnosed with Bipolar 1, the more severe form of bipolar. The hardest part of dealing with bipolar is being a mum. I have no choice but to get out of bed every day and get on with my life no matter how I feel. I have high functioning bipolar, and it’s bloody hard.
What does high-functioning bipolar mean?
High-functioning bipolar means that I can function somewhat normally although I have this mental illness. My high-functioning bipolar disorder isn’t because I have everything sorted and managed, it is my reality because I have no other option, it’s my survival mechanism. I have to keep going because I have children to raise, a husband to be there for and a job to do to pay the bills. When I’m manic, people think I’m just in a really good mood. When I’m depressed, I put on a façade; I cancel things, I do what I need to do to get through the day and if I can, I put work aside and catch up on it later (which often leads to overwhelm because I get behind). I struggle with my bipolar but:
I’m right there taking the kids to school.
I’m right there at committee meetings.
I’m right there at soccer games.
I’m right there in the aisle doing the groceries.
I’m right there turning out articles for one of my clients.
I’m right there doing the same thing everyone else does, and you would never know.
You would never know
Just because I look like I can function in everyday life doesn’t lessen the severity of my chronic mental illness or mean I don’t have one, it just means I’m working ten times as hard to get through my day and by the end of the day, I’m exhausted. People who don’t know me wouldn’t even realise that I have Bipolar, they’d just see me doing what everyone else does. But, in fact, I’m a woman trying oh so hard to be the best mother and wife I can be while the not so good stuff happens behind the scenes and in my mind.
Depression is not just sadness, it’s the days filled with tears and hopelessness, where I could be rocking in the corner hoping the kids don’t see me. The days feeling physically sick with anxiety, most of the time for no reason. Not being able to get off the couch to make dinner or clean the house, not motivated to do anything actually, just numb. Feeling scared, feeling paranoid about what others are thinking or saying about me, feeling worthless, anxious and guilty. Feeling overly irritable and snapping for no reason. Hating myself and wanting to run away, so my family no longer has to suffer. I’m a woman who has experienced the darkest emotion of self-harm ideation and thoughts of fleeing, and I never want to go back there, it scares me. When feeling this way I want to pluck my brain out of my head and throw it away. I wake up each day wondering how I’m going to feel, most of the time I never know.
Then there’s the mania. The times I’m super amazingly happy and want to conquer the world because I feel like I can do absolutely anything, I’m superwoman! What have I done during mania that I’ve come to regret afterwards? I’ve bought a business, I’ve bought a brand new car, and I’ve taken on two huge clients that I couldn’t service. I’ve driven recklessly and made other decisions I’ve come to regret. After days of being on a manic high, I inevitably crash into the depths of depression and so the cycle happens over again, sometimes with good days in between, if I’m lucky.
I have to keep a diary every day so that I can show it to my psychiatrist, and she can determine if my meds are right or not, she can see a pattern. I’m still deep into that process, slowly increasing my medication dosage, wondering if a good day means it’s the meds working or if it’s just my mind giving me a break. It’s a long process. My psychologist said that it could take up to three years to get to the point of properly managing bipolar. And managing it isn’t just about medication, it’s a whole lot of things including therapy and lifestyle. I’m still not at the one year mark.
Having high-functioning bipolar is lonely
Going through the motions of every day can be lonely, very lonely because it looks like I’ve got my shit shorted when really, I don’t. When something is all in your head, and it’s so hard to articulate what’s going on up there, and you feel like there’s no one to talk to or understand, Bipolar is a very solitary existence. I often feel as though some people don’t believe the struggle I face, that I’m making it up because I appear so normal. I often wonder if it would be different if I had something physically and obviously wrong with me, would people understand or care more? There is still so much stigma when it comes to this brain disorder – I’m not just sad, I’m not just depressed, I have a chronic mental illness that affects my daily life and I’ll have it for life.
A message to other mums
I know there have to be other mums struggling with this like me, whether it be bipolar, anxiety or depression or all of these things. I want you to know that I’m right here in this with you. It’s not about sucking it up because that’s what they used to do, that’s the stigma, and the stigma doesn’t help one ounce because mental illness is real.
I just want you to know that you are doing an absolutely amazing job. We have to give ourselves some credit and although I haven’t really been able to for a long time, I’m going to give myself some credit now; credit to myself that with this debilitating illness I’ve been able to have children, raise them, look after a household, manage finances, employ myself and be a wife to the absolute best of my abilities, not perfect by any stretch, but I’ve done what I can.
And, give yourself a break. It’s exhausting enough trying to get through a day battling our minds and emotions in addition to all the other stuff. Look after yourself once in a while and don’t feel guilty for it. You have to look after yourself first before you can be there for the rest of your family.
If you are reading this and you don’t have a mental illness, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to take a journey through my life. I urge you though, to check in with your friends, make sure they’re coping, particularly if you know they have a mental illness. Just the simple act of a quick text message to ask if they are ok or to tell them you are thinking of them if you know they’ve been having a tough time makes all the difference.
If you are not coping, please call Lifeline 13 11 14 (Australia)
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