Let me start out by saying that right now, in this moment, I’m fine. I really am. If I wasn’t, there would be no way I could write this without melting into a puddle of emotion wracked goo.
Awhile ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about what it was like being bi-polar. I want to write something more serious, because I’ve come to realize that while people around me generally know what manic depression is, they don’t really understand it.
I don’t blame them…because honestly, sometimes I don’t understand it.
As I explain what its like for me on a “bad day”, keep in mind that I hate asking for help. I hate appearing weak. Most of all….I hate needing help.
Here it goes:
I am very good at hiding what’s beneath the surface. Some days it takes a lot of energy, and, as I grow older, I find it harder and harder not to let cracks show.
One of the problems is that many times I have no idea that anything is wrong. I might be feeling like I’m having an off day. Sometimes I get hints in interacting with other people. I’ll see an expression on their face that says, “That was an odd thing for David to say…”. Of course only my close friends will say anything.
Physically, the most frequent clue I get that my “mood is starting to skew” is something I call “electric skin”…parasthesia….exposed skin (usually my forearms) starts to tingle. Mentally, emotionally my thoughts are jumbled and I have problems concentrating.
If I focus, I can sometimes get things back in order…or near enough that no one can tell.
But inside, I’m hyper-sensitive, hyper-aware….and just plain hyper.
Things continue to slide. Sitting at my desk, I look at my emails, at my notes, at my screen and none of it makes sense. I know what the words mean, I know what the tasks are…but I can’t put it together. I can’t decide what needs to be done.
My nerves start to fray…..I hunker down and try to force myself to perform….try to act like there’s nothing wrong….which just makes things worse.
Its like my brain becomes a spiderweb of steel cables, stretched tight…almost to the point of breaking.
Every input, every syllable, every noise, every task, every phone call, every thought….every little thing I perceive is like a hammer blow to the spider web, sending reverberations throughout the entire network, until I want to scream.
Outwardly, to most people, everything seems fine. You could be having a conversation with me and not realize that inside I’m desperately trying to keep things together. I’ll hear what you’re saying, and I’ll respond appropriately (sometimes), but really, I’m reviewing everything I’m saying 15 times, analyzing what you’re saying….words, body language, syntax, facial expression, relative humidity, wind direction, magnetic flux lines, trying to figure out what it is you’re really saying.
At this point, the more astute will notice that I will try putting off new tasks, and defer questions which I would normally be able to answer. I’ll start writing notes to myself.
People who know me well, at this time, someone might ask me if I’m okay.
Most of the time, it’ll be “Yeah, I’m just caught up in this task.”, when really, the best way to describe what’s going on inside my head would be to show you a video of a rave, you know the ones…where the camera is at knee level and being jerked around….yeah….that’s my brain when I’m manic.
If I manage to tell you that I’m not okay, you might ask, “What can I do to help?”
I would love you for asking that, and might even cry (although I probably wouldn’t, because even after admitting that I’m not okay…there’s no way in hell I’m going to tell you how bad it is)….lots of times I wouldn’t know what to ask for.
If you talk to me, I probably won’t make much sense. It might sound like I’m making sense…but I’m not….I’m just saying words and phrases that sound good and are based on the visual cues you give me.
Its not that I don’t want help….its just, I don’t know what to ask for, I don’t know how to ask for it, because, when I’m in the throes of a manic episode I’m not thinking clearly enough to be able to comprehend what I need, or how to ask for it.
But now, as I write this…I’m okay. So I can give you some clues:
First, if I catch it early enough, I’ve found the trick is to decrease stimulation. I will turn my phone off, turn my lights off and tune the world out. If I’m at work I will pick one task and focus on it.
I’ve found that many times 10 to 30 minutes in that mode and I will be back on an even keel…..still in the middle of a storm…but things will be under control.
Of course, that’s not always the case, and is largely dependent on my noticing that I’m slipping early enough to catch it.
When things are bad, here are some random things that will help me:
1) Don’t treat me as if I’m BROKEN
2) Don’t take anything I say personally…
3) Tell me that things will be fine
4) Don’t look at me funny if I start to cry
5) Don’t ask me what started all this, what happened, or why am I this way
6) If you try to talk to me, or make me laugh and I ask you “Please don’t”…don’t be offended…just go away. I’m at a point where I can’t articulate and I’m busy trying to keep my mind from jumping off a cliff
7) Don’t minimize or trivialize what I’m going through. “We ALL have bad days!” (yes, someone actually said that to me)
8) When its over, its over. Its okay to ask if I’m okay, but please don’t make an issue out of it. I’ll be trying to move past it and will be hoping very hard that everyone else will too.
One of the most important things is to realize that these aspects of my personality, that the fall out from them (the irritability, the absent-mindedness, the forgetfulness), are all aspects of my disease, and not character flaws.
I don’t speak for everyone whose bi-polar…..this is purely my own experience.