What does a manic episode look like? Part 1. | Bipolar disorder

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

XO Wendy

P.S.  Part 2 coming soon.  A different perspective.

 

 

It’s ok to not be ok | Taking off the mask of mental illness

I’m back! I’m sorry that I have been vacant since last year.  Living with mental illness can be like that sometimes.  It’s been a struggle this past several months. Coupled with time in between where I have felt fine.  Sort of a day by day, week by week adventure, lol.  But today I am good and have been thinking for several days that I needed to do my part in removing the stigma of mental illness.  Hi I’m Wendy, and I have Bipolar II disorder :).  Please take note that I said “have” and not “am”.  Bipolar does not define me!

As someone who has lived with Bipolar for the better part of 25 years I would say that I have gotten REALLY good at wearing the “mask”.  You know the one..I’m always happy not a care in the world.  Most people would never ever know the thoughts and feelings that I fight most every day.  Not even my closest family members.  Because you see, those of us who suffer with mental illness, and I’m talking about ALL mental illnesses not just Bipolar, get really good at putting on a mask, to cover up what we are dealing with.  We do it to avoid being labeled.  We do it to try to convince ourselves that we don’t have a brain that doesn’t  function properly.  We do it so that we don’t make those around us uncomfortable.

But the truth is, it’s time to make people around us uncomfortable!  Heck we’ve been uncomfortable in our own skin for much of our lives.   It’s the only way for others to learn how to GET comfortable.  And I’ll tell you what, this is one of the scariest posts I’ve ever written.  The other one you can find here.  It’s HARD to take off this mask.  But it’s time.  Really it’s past time.

Those of us who live with mental illness, need to be heard.  Need to be healed.  Need to be loved and treated like anyone else with a disease.  After all, mental illness IS a disease.  A disease of the brain.  We should be talking about our brains and how to find a cure and how to treat something that affects around 45 million people every day.  That’s roughly 1 in 5 people!  Look around you.  That’s a lot of masks.  Not to mention all their friends and family who are involved.  And yet, we are still afraid to talk about it, and to really reach out and help those who are going through their own personal darkness, sometimes every day of their life.

I can only speak from my personal experience but compared to some, I feel lucky (if you can believe that).  I feel like I have had the support, for the most part, that I have needed to try and get on top of this.  But there have definitely been, and still are those in my life that just can’t understand.  And I get it, it’s hard to live with someone that you don’t know who they’re gonna be from day to day.  Are you going to get the “appears to be normal” person?  Or the depressed person that struggles to get out of bed,  that can’t seem to tackle the easiest of tasks.  Or are you going to get the chatty, goal driven, “I have a new idea and it’s gonna be AWESOME” person who is making and crossing things off their list as fast as they can go?  Are you going to get the mask?  It can be exhausting I’m sure.  Try being us, haha!

For me, most days living with Bipolar are fairly normal (if there is such a thing, haha). I mean there are definitely things that I need to do EVERY day if I want to stay on that line between depression and mania.   I touched on that somewhat in this post.  But for the most part if I am diligent at taking my medication and doing these 5 things, then I tend to manage pretty well.

However, the thing that is really tricky about mental illness, is that it can be constantly changing with things in the environment, hormones in our bodies changing (hello! Pre and post menstrual, pregnancy, Post partum , pre and post menopause,  etc. etc.). Of course I can only speak for women when it comes to hormone changes, but I know men go through their own set of hormone changes.  Mental illness is also affected by the type of food we eat, how much exercise we get, and the list goes on.  All of it affects the delicate balance maintained with medication or other ways that we have found to manage our personal illness.

I guess what I’m really trying to say in this very short synopsis, is that it is OK to not be OK with yourself, your brain, your situation.  Whether it is you that are suffering or your family and friends, don’t shut the door!  Don’t be afraid to talk about it.  And for friends and family, don’t be afraid to hang out with us.  Don’t gossip about us behind our backs and talk about how sad and awful it is. Don’t be afraid to talk to us about our illness, we need the support. We just want to be acknowledged and loved and supported and treated like anyone else with a life threatening disease.  Yes, I did just say life threatening.  According to NAMI over 42,000 American lives were lost due to suicide last year alone. Of course not all of those were due to mental illness but we can assume that a great number of them are.

So next time you are thinking about your friend or family member that suffers from mental illness, let them know.  Tell them that it is ok with you that they have a defective brain, lol.  Tell them that you want to do whatever you can to help.  That’s really all we want.  Deep down we just want to take off the mask and be seen for who we really are.  Defects and all!

BTW, mental health awareness month is coming up in May!  Maybe you could do something like donate to find a cure. 🙂 .  If so you can do that Here

Oh and if you think someone that you know and love may have a mental illness, please support them in finding the help they so desperately need!

p.s.  I am so incredibly thankful for the love and support that I receive from family and friends.  You know who you are, and I love you all!

 

 

 

Living with Bi Polar

It’s been over a year since I was admitted to the hospital, in a full on Manic Episode mode. Several days later, I was diagnosed for the second time with Bipolar Disorder. I say for the second time, because I had been diagnosed 10 years earlier, in a similar, but less severe state of manic episode.

It’s been over a year since I was admitted to the hospital, in a full on Manic Episode mode. Several days later, I was diagnosed for the second time with Bipolar Disorder. I say for the second time, because I had been diagnosed 10 years earlier, in a similar, but less severe state of manic episode. However, when all was said and done, I couldn’t accept the diagnosis. I told myself and everyone else that it was a stress related reaction. And I convinced my doctor to believe that theory. She knew my history… it was stress, or depression, or just overdoing it, (or maybe she just wanted to believe that theory too). I didn’t want to admit that I was broken. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t normal (whatever that is). And so I lived with this silent monster in my life for all those years, on the wrong medication. A medication that would finally take me to the brink, with my second and more severe manic episode, which would then lead to a second diagnosis and to me finally admitting that yes, I am Bipolar.  And yes, I do have a mental illness.

It’s taken over a year (plus 10 years) for me to be able to talk about this openly. But I know that there are so many people that suffer silently. So many people that may not even know that BiPolar Disorder is what they have. Or like me, maybe they are just lying to themselves about the reality of it in their life. Nobody wants to be broken. Nobody wants to admit that they need medication to make them “normal”. But the reality is that we need to start talking about it. We need to share our experiences with mental illness, so that we can help each other and our loved ones understand these horrible disorders. And that there is hope. There is a path to wholeness again. We must not be afraid to take it. The Lord said…I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:26

It’s taken over a year (plus 10 years) to find the right medications, and it’s still a work in progress because our bodies are ever changing.  But I feel so blessed to have found a Dr. who from the get-go, understood what a hard diagnosis this is to accept, and wouldn’t let me NOT accept it.  A doctor who has helped me work through it,  and listened to me and really knows about mental illness and how to treat it.  I feel like that was divine intervention and I’ll have to share the story about how I found him, sometime, but not today.  Today I just wanted to say, this is where I am in my life right now.  This is why I have not been as active on social media over the past several months.  But it’s time!  It’s time for me to put myself out there… even though it’s scary and I risk having to undergo the judgement of imperfect people.  But this is not for those people.  This is for the people like myself, who suffer in silence. The people who feel broken or not “normal”.  This is for them and their loved ones.  Hopefully we can help each other.  Give each other a voice.  Russell M. Nelson said in the 2015 October conference in his address “A Plea to my sisters“, “… we need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith and who are courageous…. women who teach fearlessly.”

It’s been over a year, and today I am speaking from my heart and mind, full of faith, hoping that the breadth of my influence can help others who are going through what I have been through or a similar mental illness.  I will try to post a couple times a month to talk about this disorder and how I am learning to live with it.  I even have videos of myself (that my husband took as a documentary of that time), that I could possibly share at some point.  I watched them before I sat down to write this and I cried, because some days… many days, I still feel broken.  But I’ve realized, it’s ok to feel broken.