Yesterday I had one of my more disturbing episodes. This particular kind is always depressive which is a blessing really as if they were manic I just may act on the feelings that I have to fight very hard to suppress. They are unique and my former psychiatrist who has known many hundreds of bipolar people over the years has never seen them in anybody else. He would often tell me of the “unusual picture” that I presented.
I have often tried to describe these episodes and always fail. Bipolar Disorder is notoriously hard to describe to anybody who has never had the experience. People will often say that they understand because of the family member or friend that they know with a diagnosis but, to put it bluntly, they are clueless.
In case you don’t know Bipolar Disorder is an illness characterised by the distortion of moods. People with the disorder move from low to high moods. In some people this is a slow process, in others it happens seldom and in yet others the mood swings happen with a greater frequency. I have ultradian cycles. Put simply an ultradian cycle is one that occurs more than once in a 24 hour period. Infradian cycles are ones that occur over a period of days.
Often people mistake the word moods for emotions. Mood is about feeling happy or sad and bipolar mood is about having those moods to the extreme. Emotions are felt by us all though, for those who have bipolar disorder, when we have periods of illness or instability those moods can be exaggerated. Bipolar Disorder is a lens that magnifies and distorts.
The kind of rare and unusual mood swing that I had yesterday has happened to me more often than I’d like in the past and, even though they happen less often now, they don’t get any easier to cope with. When I first described them to my psychiatrist he thought that I could be describing epilepsy, namely complex partial temporal lobe seizures. Over a period of time backed up with a normal EEG it became obvious that the only link to epilepsy was that it appears to be on the same spectrum as bipolar disorder.
The episodes happen in this way: I have a very sudden drop in mood. On a scale of 1 – 10 where 1 is the lowest possible mood and 10 is the highest I drop to 1. Unlike a cycle of moods where I move from high to low with rapidity these mood drops happen when I’m in the “normal” range which is from 4 – 6. There is no warning, no indicators that anything is about to happen and they are always a shock. I am violently plunged into a depression and I am immediately beset with the urge to commit suicide. These are not suicidal thoughts but a real desire to die. I fight the urge very strongly and, as you can tell, so far I have succeeded. It worries me greatly that one day I may lose the battle and will have been conned out of my life by a conniving and underhand illness.
It takes me a few minutes or longer to understand what is happening because as well as the violent drop in mood a storm happens in my head. It’s a storm of feelings, an onslaught of despair and fear combined with an absolute and utter dread of the future. I want to self harm (and often do) and cannot envisage living the rest of my life having these episodes. It is a period of madness and mayhem over which I have no control. During the episode my forehead becomes very hot. It is as if my brain is generating heat.
As the episode progresses I can text and ring people. I ring the two people who have Lasting Power of Attorney and let them know what is happening. This is really important as they need to know what is happening just in case all goes wrong and they have to make decisions about treatment including sectioning. I can be quite honest and open with them and neither of them blanch at words like suicide. They respond pretty quickly with sound advice and comforting words.
After about an hour all begins to quieten down and I’m left exhausted. Sleeping for 12 hours after one of these episodes is not unusual. The next day I’m tired and quieter but I can go out and do things as long as I don’t have to be too sociable with people. I tread carefully and sleep a lot over the next few days.
These are episodes that I have come to terms with. They’re an experience that I can’t stop and it is literally a case of having to learn to live with them because the only other option is dying because of them. They’re an extremity in an illness of extremities but, as with all other aspects of the illness, I learn from them and have to move on until the next time.
We can choose how we respond to our experiences and I choose to learn and try to arm myself against them. It isn’t always possible but if I give up trying then I give up living and I’m not ready to do that yet.