I sat down with someone close to me and asked what it’s like to have Bipolar Disorder Type 1.
There’s a documentary I love by Stephen Fry called ‘The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive’; in it he asks the following hypothetical question: If there was a button that would make your bipolarity go away forever, would you press it?
“I can’t say Yes or No to that question because I don’t know what aspects of my personality are shaped by my condition or to what to extent those traits are shaped by being bipolar. I know what my experiences of mania and severe depression are like, and if saying that relinquishing my bipolar condition would mean the end of delusional, dangerous manic states followed by deep dives into despair, I would obviously press the button. But if that meant I’d also be giving up the high level of energetic, creative motivation, I’d say no. I just don’t know how much of my character and libido are correlated with being bipolar, and given that there is an option to be on or off mood stabilizing medication, I suppose I’d stay the way I am. But I might give a different answer to that question during a period of dibilatating depression”.
At what age were you diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder? How did you feel when you got the diagnosis?
“I was in my early twenties, and I didn’t feel much of anything because by that time I had already been manic, which for me included not being able to sleep at all. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from cycling through an endless stream of jibber-jabber nonsense and it felt as though I was truly losing my mind. So I knew I had something seriously wrong with me. Once it was labeled, at least I knew what was wrong with me. At that time it was a relief because I wanted help”.
From what I’ve read, some people with Bipolar Disorder feel medication, (mood stabilizers in particular), impair creativity and cognition. What are your thoughts on taking mood stabilizers?
“It depends on the dose, and what stabilizer. It definitely can feel like it’s having an inhibiting or a dampening effect on your mood and imagination. But I’ve been pretty high-voltage and creative during periods when I was on a stabilizer: maybe they weren’t working. I think there’s a broader range of mood and psychic states than just the two extremes. Sometimes when I’ve been medicated I’m hovering pretty close to mania, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’ve also been on stabilizers where I’ve spent long stretches in a near totally enveloping depression. That’s awful and during those times I usually imagine things would be better if I were off any mood-stabilizers, but that’s just a feeling”.
Do you feel understood by the people around you?
“I feel well understood by my immediate family but nobody can really understand unless they’re bipolar as well, or have experienced similar mood swings. Understanding the texture and quality of any other individual’s inner life is impossible, I think. But that goes for everybody. My loved ones, particularly my family, who have been very close to me my whole life, know what to do to help me and they recognize what I go through, so I’d say yes. People in general, most of them, don’t know”.
What does a good day look like for you?
“That depends on what emotional and psychological state I’m in. If I’m in fairly good spirits, a good day would include a lot of reading and creative production, some socializing in which I feel comfortable with who I am, adequate alone time, good meals and all around satisfaction. That’s an ideal. A good day when I’m depressed is getting out of bed and leaving the house, going for a walk. The median is having the time and space for a strong dose of intellectual activity and creative expression.