So, hello there! I’m bipolar and I live in Paris. Hence the original name. I’d like to remain anonymous because there is a stigma attached to my illness and I don’t want this writing to affect my job prospects in the future. So if you know my name or previous online persona, please don’t use them in the comments. If you do, I reserve the right to edit them into oblivion.
As this blog will be non-linear, I thought it might be helpful to trace a timeline here.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder in September 2014, when I was 42. Bipolar 2 is supposed to be the mild(er) version of the illness, without mania or delusions, but I’m convinced there are grey areas between bipolar 1 and 2. These are, after all, simply labels. Perhaps it would be more helpful to think of it as a spectrum.
For three years I took antipsychotic medication: first Zyprexa (olanzapine) for a few months (it made me too sad), then Xeroquel (quetiapine) at a steadily increasing dose for two years. I was stabilised – in remission if you will – although I still experienced muted highs and lows throughout. Unfortunately, I felt as though every other emotion was also dulled, I put on weight and often felt lethargic. Plus I really missed those highs. I spoke repeatedly about this to my psychiatrist, who wasn’t receptive to the idea of reducing my dose or changing my medication.
So in May 2017, I resolved to try out life without meds – without informing my psychiatrist – which, with hindsight, was rather unwise. Ditching treatment is common behaviour in bipolar disorder sufferers and my therapist insists that I shouldn’t self-flagellate and blame myself for everything that followed. Wise words, but it’s easier said than done.
Going cold turkey triggered unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms but also a (very pleasant) hypomanic episode which lasted for a couple of months. It coincided with me starting this blog. Unsurprising, as when I’m “up” the creative juices tend to flow. A psychologist I consulted warned me that some form of medication would nevertheless be advisable as flying so high for so long, untreated, would fry my neurons and take a toll on my body. I lined up an appointment to see a new psychiatrist to discuss my options.
Unfortunately, things deteriorated very suddenly and I wound up in hospital at the end of August. The specialist’s recommended course of action was to get me onto lithium, in addition to a smaller dose of Xeroquel, and I wasn’t really in a position to put up much of a fight, whatever my misgivings. I spent a month in hospital, a further month off work and then life resumed its “normal” course.
I didn’t feel able to write for a while after that episode, hence the gap in this blog’s timeline.
Today I’m still taking my meds, despite hating the idea that in order to turn down the volume on my illness, the trade-off can having to put with living in a permanent state of inertia and apathy. On the bright side, the fog does seem to have been lifting lately.
I decided to write this blog for a few reasons, most of which are purely selfish.
As therapy, because a psychologist told me that writing can be hugely beneficial as it links up the emotional and rational brain and helps join the dots. It certainly helps me with perspective and allows me to express those things I can’t speak out loud.
Because I love to write, even though I hadn’t done so in years. I used to blog, elsewhere on the internet, and I even wrote a couple of books.
I also hold out the hope that I might connect with some like-minded people with comparable experiences out there on the internet.
Last but not least, I’d like to document my personal experience of bipolar disorder because I don’t identify with well-known, televised examples like Carrie Mathison (Homeland) or Ian Gallagher (Shameless US). These characters both suffer from severe bipolar 1 disorder, which no doubt makes for dramatic plotlines and higher ratings. But if these extremes are all we ever see or hear about, misconceptions about this illness will persist. No-one will know how broad a spectrum of symptoms people with bipolar disorder may actually suffer from.
The image of me with four arms, crazy eyes, minor injuries and smiling through gritted teeth was drawn by my daughter, as a Mother’s Day present. It depicted me on quite a pronounced manic high. She drew first by hand, then with a graphics tablet. She is a rock star.