[This is comprised of my experiences, not one story is exactly the same, my story is not an absolute]
In 2019, I found myself in partial hospitalization. After a journey of cognitive tests and questions meant to summarize “my story”, I was narrowed down to a diagnosis I hadn’t heard before: Bipolar II. Of course Bipolar slipped off tongues easily; I only just started to learn what it really meant. My mom and I’d discussed the possibility that I was Bipolar, but it didn’t fully fit me. One eyebrow raised and head tilted to the side, “What’s that?”
Honestly, I won the psychiatrist lottery, this doctor was one of the brightest I’ve ever encountered; I nodded along while he drew diagrams and explained. By the end of the conversation, I had to agree. I had Bipolar II. My shoulders dropped away from my ears and I sighed, finally the proper treatment could begin.
Let me try to explain. First, there’s the misconception. A large population seem to think Bipolar means acting out the chorus of Hot N Cold by Katy Perry (excuse my outdated reference). Essentially, a sharp and constant shift between positive and negative. I see where they’re coming from, I really do, but the gaps in knowledge create crucial differences in understanding. If we make the mistake of taking every word at face value we end up missing the nuances that come with it.
Bipolar I is what most people think of when they hear the word, so I’ll start there. Bipolar I is less about feelings (but they’re still an important factor) and more about energy. Not so much yes and no, as slow and GOOOOO. Bipolar I is most often characterized by Mania. Mania is not being able to sleep, loss of impulse control, delusions of grandeur, and sometimes even hallucinations. This can also mean spending all your money, traveling across the country on a whim, putting yourself in unsafe situations. Etc etc etc. It’s not just feeling hyper. It’s an irrational, intense loss of control.
I’ve never experienced full blown mania, that’s one of the big differences between the two. People with Bipolar II experience hypomania. It’s more of a “dulled down” mania. It’s still hard to sleep, you try to do do do everything, you get sudden interest and hyper fixate until you realize you’ve read 20 books in a month and made at least 5 youtube videos about it and spent all your money buying more books when you already have hundreds unread and a library card. Okay, that may be a little specific, but I think it makes the point. It’s not always positive. Sometimes it’s throwing shit and screaming at the smallest slight- even the sound of someone’s breath could be the trigger.
In general however, it feels good when I’m hypomanic. I finally feel like I can do something. That’s because the biggest characterization of Bipolar II is incredibly low lows. After you read all those books and do “all the things”. Suddenly you’re frozen. I don’t just mean I’m sad. It’s being curled up on the couch all day either sleeping or staring eyes glazed over at the ceiling. It’s not showering for weeks or doing laundry until a rank odor emits from you making family and coworkers gag. It’s tripping over shit when you walk to the bathroom because there isn’t an empty space on the floor, your room has become a sty of trash, and dishes, and moldy food, and laundry. And occasionally it’s passive suicidal ideation: What’s the point? Why bother?
Some people mistake Bipolar II for the lesser version of Bipolar I. I wouldn’t say one is more or less than the other, they’re just different. I flunked out of college. I quit going to school. I got fired from my job. I self harmed. I don’t function “properly”. I once read that people with Bipolar II spend an average of 37 weeks out of the year, depressed. I can’t back up that statistic, but it sounds right.
A year and a half has passed since that doctor said those words. I’ve done a lot of work: testing out different meds, learning how to do therapy, finding a therapist I love, experiencing group therapy, discovering that other people are like me, going to partial hospitalization again. It’s still a continuous process. I’m not cured (there isn’t a cure). But, I only scream when I’m hypomanic, I know the signs and have a safety plan, I’ve educated my loved ones so they can help me through it and know what’s happening, and I’ve drastically dulled my reactions to anger.
It’s painful when I see people stereotype Bipolar people. So often someone will have conflicting thoughts and laugh “haha I’m so Bipolar!” I don’t know that I believe in Mental Health Awareness month, I think we need something different. (But that’s a different article for another day.) However, today I thought it was important to push those thoughts aside and share a small fragment of my experience. I thank you for giving me the time and your openness to gain some knowledge.
[There’s also Rapid Cycling Bipolar, but I don’t know enough about that to speak on it]