After the exploration of 10 upsides of Bipolar Disorder, I realised that I needed to examine the downsides too. However, this was not a dreary project as my main focus was to provide steps, hopes, and inspirations for the bipolar journey.
1) Depression: A lowness, a sadness, a lack of life crept in and I had to remind myself that this was not my fault. I cried out in depths of despair to dig a bit deeper, to hang on a bit longer and to just feel an ounce of life within me. After a week of raw pain, I felt an inner joy returning like the rising sun and my world became more external again. The late Carrie Fisher believed that soldiers of bipolar should have been issued with medals of bravery.
2) Mania: I chased my random thoughts around: “Go there, do this,” they said. I impulsively gave away my precious belongings and my mind was filled with sexual images. At times, my days consisted of a 10-mile walk; 10 activities; 10 pages of diary entries and more. Other times, I experienced a mixed mood of depression, racing thoughts and ‘voices’. I was treated at a psychiatric hospital with medication and I connected with my world through mindfulness. I have recovered so well and I am now living a very meaningful and fulfilled life.
3) The inner critic: So I looked back on my day… and I brooded and ruminated and began to really hate myself. When I found myself feeling attracted towards a friend, I imagined a finger pointing at me saying: “How dare you think that?” I turned my attention to my inner observer, and in my mind I visualised myself looking at life from the side of a river. I stopped criticising and judging. If the inner critic ever attempted to interrupt my stream of consciousness, I went back to the side of the river. Let it be, let it be, let those thoughts flow on.
4) Emptiness: My life with bipolar made me no stranger to emptiness. A hollow darkness that didn’t care about a lot of my familiar stuff: material possessions, achievements, friends and companions. But there was hope because in the silence of my flat, emptiness wanted to connect with my inner strength. I turned to meditation – a space of deep mind, deep experiences, and a sense of wholeness. As I opened my eyes, I began to relax; I saw a bigger world; I became more confident and I was invited to feel securely loved.
5) Addiction: My active imagination contributed towards addiction so I needed to be most vigilant. For instance, I got distracted on the internet and my mind became scrambled and lost. However, I found the power to step on the brakes early on or if I slipped or fell, I was still able to stop to prevent the behaviour from going any further. Shifting my consciousness to a red rose rather than to the object of addiction was helpful. Later, I began to view addictions like black dogs as opposed to T-Rexes.
6) Poor self-image: Too much giving left me vulnerable to depression, e.g., charity work at school or helping my friends and others in any way I could. I was living through the eyes of others. I forgot about myself and I broke down. Slowly, I began to nurture my self-image through positive mantras, believing in a faith of love, and acknowledging my pain. Now, I see my life differently: I see my rich inner beauty and I give light to others. I have progressed from learning to love myself to actually loving myself.
7) Hypomania: ‘Elation and over-activity’ is common in our society and it was problematic for my life with bipolar too. With a friend, my eyes bounced to the right with one idea and bounced to the left with another, thereby not maintaining eye contact and not connecting. Over-activity took the form of editing my blog late at night which in turn disturbed my sleep and left me with a headache and a feeling of unrest. It was best to slow down, turn off the internet, and focus on my breath.
8) Relationship difficulties: A disagreement, an uncomfortable silence, or a raw tension tipped me over the edge towards insomnia, anxiety, and extreme moods. I had to accept the reality of interpersonal frustrations and to smile like the Buddha. Moreover, I acknowledged my vital need for touch: sometimes I needed a ‘high five’ or a friendly pat on my shoulder; other times I needed a hand to hold or a gentle kiss. In an intimate relationship, I began to say, “I feel safe”. I am now ready for the real thing.
9) Low mood: Before I was diagnosed, I often withdrew from social situations. Now, I am better able to detect a problem through journal writing, mindfulness, and honest conversations with friends. I examined my patterns of negative thinking such as a never-ending cycle to ruminate. I did what could be done and let go of what could not be done. A good response is not to escape low mood but to get through it with help from those who want to be with you. A simple cup of tea and chat or a walk can also help.
10) Dysphoria: This is a state of intense unease and agitation which can occur in different moods of bipolar. With regards the healthy balanced mood, I realised that the barometer of normality was influenced by my extreme moods. I often saw balanced mood as abnormal, totally boring and unexciting, so there was a struggle here between my inner and outer life. I was overly dependent on antidepressants instead of facing the normal fluctuations of affect. I needed to honour my feelings; witness my experience; and live in the present.