It’s probably fairly normal that people who’ve been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness will question the accuracy of that finding. I’ve gone back and forth with the bipolar thing … it makes sense because there’s a bit of a family history, but how could I not have known until now? It seems so common for everyone to have something, so I couldn’t help wondering if maybe I’d been mislabeled.
There are two types of bipolar disorder, bipolar I and bipolar II. Apparently those in the mental health field aren’t terribly creative when naming disorders. The difference, as I understand it, is that bipolar I is the one that most people think of when they hear “bipolar” … people who are bipolar I have the big mood swings and they tend to cycle through them more quickly. Bipolar II people have less pronounced mood changes, with a tendency to have more and longer lasting periods of depression (yay). The way I think of it is that bipolar I has mood spikes while bipolar II has mood waves.
Both types have their ups and downs (see what I did there? I can be awfully clever at times). But if I had to choose which one to have, I suppose I’d pick bipolar II. Which is convenient because that’s what I have. I hate that the depression lasts longer with my version, but I don’t have to worry about the psychosis that can be part of bipolar I.
I know that I’m currently a bit hypomanic, and I like it. If they could come up with an anti-depressant that made me feel like this all the time, I’d be the first one in line to get it. But along with being more talkative, having more energy and being more creative, there’s also a little voice that likes to remind me that this isn’t going to last forever. It’s kind of Flowers For Algernon-ish and a bit of a buzzkill.
I remember the first time I was aware of this feeling, and it wasn’t more than ten years ago. I was visiting friends who lived a little further up the California coast, and I felt like I was on speed … but without all the teeth-grinding and imaginary bugs. I chalked it up to being on the beach with good friends on a beautiful day. But I always kept a little hope that one day I’d wake up feeling like that again.
Although the day on the beach was the first time I remember feeling a physical change, there were other clues that didn’t seem to mean anything until I put them in a bipolar context. The biggest one has to be money, I shopped and spent as if I could afford to shop and spend the way I was shopping and spending. Part of why I spent so much is probably also a clue — I had big plans and many projects. If I found something that held my interest for a few days, I’d go out and buy everything associated with it because it was going to be my favorite thing forever. Some lasted longer than others, but they all came with a sizable price tag. For example:
- I always wanted to play an instrument, but never learned. Then I got a catalog listing the adult education programs in my area, and one of them was “Learn The Harmonica.” I took the class and learned a basic blues rift, and then I had to have more harmonicas. How many harmonicas can be played at the same time? One. How many harmonicas can I play? None. How many harmonicas do I have? About two dozen.
- I accompanied a friend to check out a boxing gym near our work, and we both signed up for a year. I actually wasn’t too bad, so I had to have all manner of boxing paraphernalia. Do I still box? No. How long did it last? More than a year. Did I need the heavy bag, speed bag, medicine ball, practice mitts, etc.? No. No I did not.
- I had a garage full of tools for when I was going to become a wood-worker. I built a few “not awful” bookshelves and a storage bench before I got distracted and moved on to …
- Being a wood carver, which was also pretty expensive. I have numerous sets of chisels, more sharpening stones than anyone would ever need and Kevlar gloves to help me not cut a finger off. What did I carve? A monkey and a pig. How’s my carving been lately? I’d have to go with non-existent.
- I bought a new video camera and learned that it had an option for shooting stop-motion animation. And as a fan of Robot Chicken and Tim Burton, I couldn’t wait to make a movie. Of course, that meant going out and buying piles of action figures with articulated joints to star in my films. Am I still doing animation? No. So I got rid of all the dolls? Pffft! Of course not!
- There are more, but I’m sure you get the idea …
At the time, I thought I just got bored easily or had so many things I wanted to do, I couldn’t stick with one for very long. I thought I might have had adult ADD, but it never occurred to me that my inability to stick with anything for an extended time might be a symptom of bipolar disorder. While I’m somewhat appalled at how much I spent, I loved feeling so creative that I couldn’t decide what to do. I kept most of the accouterments and accessories from my short-lived hobbies, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day I’ll haul them out of storage and put them to good use again.