My Mental Health Journey: Discovering bipolar disorder

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in November 2013, after a manic episode turned psychotic and I spent a week on the psych ward. I was 24 years old. Before the first crisis, I guessed that something was not normal about my brain. I sought the counsel of friends who had already experienced mental health crises themselves prior to 2013, but I was too embarrassed to act on my suppositions for myself. There was (and still is) a lot of bad energy floating through our culture about people noticing their own mental health symptoms. Even though I thought certain aspects of my mental experiences fit the descriptions of bipolar disorder very well, I talked myself out of making mental health a priority, thinking that a doctor would assume I am an attention-hungry hypochondriac for seeking out a diagnosis. Then, my life turned to chaos as delusional thinking and hallucinations ripped my brain to shreds. I am managing my bipolar disorder well, but it certainly has been a wild ride.

Mania - UP

Before it gets scary, mania can feel fantastic. The deal usually includes being hyper-responsive to stimulus and noticing patterns even when there aren't any, but in return are feelings of confidence, determination, and extroversion. The beginning stages sometimes trick people into thinking I am doing quite well because I am in such a happy mood. But this halcyon period of hypomania can give way to full-blown mania, which is much less of a party drug. During my manic episodes, the overproduction of certain neurotransmitters in my brain creates elaborate stories for me to follow as my symptoms escalate. During full-blown mania, I harbor delusions of having divine supernatural powers and I become convinced that people in my life have secrets that I need to figure out somehow. These are the periods where I break off from reality completely and get escorted to the hospital in handcuffs.

Psychosis - OUT

Now we're at the psychosis stage, which turns me into something that doesn’t feel like a person. My dopamine-soaked brain makes things appear altered; once I snap into psychosis, it’s like watching a dream become a movie. It’s hard for me to even tell if I am awake when I’m delusional and hallucinating, and the scariest, most intense parts of my psychotic episodes leave me with a goopy sense of reality. During psychosis, I’ve even felt that my memorable dreams are coming to life. Imagine going through an entire day where every second you felt uncanny deja vu, and you can imagine the terror of spending a month in psychosis.

Depression - DOWN

I like to talk about the psychosis part of my mental illness because it is more exciting than the other aspects of bipolar disorder. Depression is a big piece of it as well. There are some similarities between bipolar and unipolar depression, but also many important differences. For me, depression follows immediately after manic episodes. My depressive episodes appear to be a direct response to the flood of chemicals that mania rains down on me. The extreme emotional ups, the hyper-responsivity to stimulus, the bizarre grandeur, all of it goes away and my brain gets a neurotransmitter hangover during which it wants to sleep 20 hours of the day. 

It’s similar to unipolar depression in feeling: nothing offers satisfaction, goals seem impossible, and managing daily life looks like pointless folly. Unipolar depression also involves serotonin, but that kind of brain doesn’t produce enough to begin with, whereas bipolar brains binge and starve on it. Unipolar depression is probably caused by different neurological processes than bipolar depression. In fact, many drugs for unipolar depression are dangerous for people with bipolar because they stimulate serotonin production, which is the express train to bipolar mania. I do wonder if unipolar depression shares the semi-delusional qualities of bipolar depression; I believe it does, but we are less likely to call hopelessness a delusion during depression. All the same, any depression warps one’s sense of reality. Bipolar depression and unipolar depression might just be different recipes for the same illness.

Healthy brain, happy spirit

I feel that exploring my spirituality and focusing on conscious personal growth have helped me manage my mental health. With this Storytime Psychic Alliance, I hope to create space for people to discuss mental health, brain-body maintenance, and healing the mind. Psychic exploration requires healthy soil for the spirit/soul/mind to grow, after all.