I have been putting off writing this post. It’s not easy to write about something that is so personal and risk being judged or labeled because of the stigma surrounding mental illness that still exists. However, I feel so compelled to share and educate people on what those with mental illness really struggle with, Bipolar in particular. Then maybe we can remove that stigma together. So today I am going to share these deeply personal experiences in the hopes that it can help someone who thinks they might have Bipolar or maybe friends and family who may be seeking answers.
It’s important to understand that this illness manifests itself in many different ways for different people. I can only speak from my own experience and it’s super important that if you or someone you know, think you might be experiencing some of the symptoms that I am going to share, that you seek the advice and counsel of a trained Psychiatrist or Psychologist to be properly diagnosed.
What I am going to share is the way that a manic episode manifests in me. The easiest way that I know how to describe what happens for me is to give you bullet points. So Here are 5 ways that a manic episode starts to show for me.
*One thing that is important to mention about Bipolar and mania is that sometimes the one experiencing it can’t see it when it’s happening, but someone close to you can. So having support from loved ones during times like these is especially important. Although, it can also be frustrating and draining for those witnessing it and trying to help. Don’t give up on us.
So here we go:
- Creativity spike or over excitement. One of the first signs for me that a manic episode is coming on is that I start to feel kind of a pressure build up of creative ideas. I will start feeling really bold and strong like I can accomplish anything. Which really isn’t that strange because a lot of people are list makers and goal setters and go getters. But what this looks like for me is list making and goal setting on steroids, lol. It’s like I just keep adding more and more to the list and I just feel super powered. And I start attacking each item on my list and I just can’t let it go until it gets accomplished. I get really exuberant about everything so I talk louder and faster and more excited than usual. Normally I’m a pretty quiet and reserved person. So this is pretty out of character for me.
- Can function on very little sleep. I feel like the energizer bunny. I am so on fire that I can’t shut my mind down at night and I start to lose sleep. This isn’t just a few hours, this is like pulling all-nighters for several days in a row. It’s very frustrating because I know I NEED to sleep, but I just can’t shut my brain off.
In one of my recent episodes, when I was through it, I had a huge bruise on my chest from where I kept poking my self. In my manic mind, I felt like there was a button that I could push that I could just turn it all off. So I just kept poking my self trying to shut all the thoughts off. I know it sounds crazy but remember this is a disease or disorder. So if we think of it like a disease, it would be similar to a diabetic having insulin shock. It’s very serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
3. Rapid weight loss. This is caused by a lack of eating normally because I think I have to get so much done I don’t stop to eat. I actually forget and I am not even hungry. Normally, I am very aware of when and what I eat and how much water I’m drinking. I’ve learned to be very careful about this over the years. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how the brain and the gut are connected. There is so much that happens in the gut that can change the way the brain functions. So it makes sense that cutting off the nutritional supply that your brain is used to would cause significant changes in your body.
4. Everything resonates. So this symptom is where it really goes off the rails. I start to see signs in everything. I believe the technical term for it is grandiose or delusional thinking. So for example I might see a billboard and say something like “Oh, I get it now, that’s what this all means.” Or “Oh my goodness this is so big, it all makes sense now.” I start to say things that make complete sense to me in my head, but when they come out of my mouth it’s making no sense at all. At one point I start to think that people can or should be able to read my mind. So I’ll just look at them like I’m telling them something and expect them to understand. This is when it’s getting really scary and on the verge of the episode. Usually once it’s to this point, a manic episode can not be avoided. So the idea is to recognize the early signs above, or someone close to you recognizes what’s happening and points it out so you can bring yourself back down. Usually you can’t do that on your own, you need the help of someone else making sure that you are getting enough sleep and that you are eating and staying hydrated, etc.
5. Senses overload. So for me personally, this is when I’m in full blown manic mode. It’s like all 5 of my senses are extra sensitive. I hear everything louder. Everything around me seems amplified. From the voices of people around me to the natural noises of traffic and hustle and bustle. And then I feel like everything is interconnected like I mention in number 4. I feel like I can see things more clearly. I feel things more fully. And my talking becomes very chatty. I have to talk about everything I’m seeing, hearing and feeling. So it can be very annoying to someone around me. I just can’t shut up, lol. I joke about it, but it’s a very scary place to be. In fact the other thing that happens at this point is that I get the worst headache. My head is pounding so hard that I think I’m gonna die. It’s just like massive overload of all the senses.
The way that I always try to explain to someone what it’s like, is to compare the body to a computer. When you keep opening window after window and giving your computer more jobs to do, it finally just freezes up and won’t do anything. The only way to fix it is to do a reboot. It’s kind of the same way with me. Once I get to that point, my body just shuts down and has to be rebooted. I imagine it’s like a short circuit in the brain. My brain is just saying “enough is enough” I have to shut this baby down.
Usually at this point I am pretty much out of it. I can’t function at all. It really is like my body just goes into freeze mode and is waiting to be rebooted. It’s super scary because I literally have no control over my body at this point. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have only gotten this far 3 times in my life where I have had to be hospitalized. But looking back now I can see many times in my life where I was in the manic zone but then managed to work myself out of it, usually by sleeping it off.
So wow! Yes, that is what a manic episode is like for someone who is experiencing it. There are many more symptoms that manifest for other people such as uncontrolled spending, excessive drinking, or drug abuse, extreme rage, etc. But the 5 symptoms described above is how it works on me. And like I said in the beginning, I can only speak from personal experience. This is why I mention so much that it feels like being “broken”. It literally is like the brain is broken.
I know this can be extremely hard for a loved one to hear and witness. But just know that it is even harder for the person who is going through it. I hope this has been insightful and helpful for those who have Bipolar or those with friends or family. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to get the proper help and diagnosis.
I want to leave this on positive note though, because there is help and a lot of good things that can come from this. I have been so blessed to have had great support in my life and have been able to get the help that I’ve needed. If you have found this helpful or insightful, please like and share. And if you want to know more, I am happy to share my experiences. I believe we are all here to help each other on our journeys through life.
P.S. Part 2 coming soon. A different perspective.
Update: In this post I talked about how my husband was going to be posting about Bipolar from his perspective or rather what a manic episode looks like to someone who may be experiencing it with their spouse, child, or loved one. Turns out, it was much harder for him than he originally thought it would be. It’s extremely hard for family and friends to understand what is happening with you and to see you that way It isn’t exactly a walk in the park for. So I let him off the hook. I think from this post you can learn a lot about what it’s like. The one conclusion that we did come to is that you really have to learn to trust each other. The person having a manic episode, usually feels like they are just fine, while the loved one can see it more clearly. So it’s important to trust your loved one and get help if you can, whether that is through your Dr. or working out a plan beforehand with your spouse of how you’ll handle it.