Last week, something frightening happened to me. I was talking to a friend about Downton Abbey—a TV show we both love—when I couldn’t remember one of the main character’s names. I pictured him clearly, and I could describe everything about his experiences on the show. He’s my favorite character, but I just couldn’t recall his name to save my life. I racked my brain, but I was stuck. The harder I tried to focus, the blanker my mind became. Before you say to yourself “Oh, I’ve done that, it’s not so scary,” consider this: I usually have a perfect memory for things like movie titles, and actor and character names. This was way out of the ordinary for me. I don’t know about you, but because I live with bipolar disorder, any potential disruption in my thought patterns worries me. It could be an indication of an impending episode, and that’s not something I take lightly.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has been used for everything from psychological assessment to career guidance. My mom is a psychotherapist who has access to the full Myers-Briggs personality test. When I was in high school, I begged her to let me take it. I was dying to find out who I was, and how I fit into the world. The instructions said to answer without analyzing or thinking too much, so I excitedly responded to each question based on my gut instinct of who I knew myself to be—at least at that point in my life. Once the score was tallied, I was designated ENFJ—short for extrovert, intuitive, feeling judging. I came out not just as an extrovert, but on the extreme end of the scale between I (introvert) and E. Of course, it made sense on paper. I had a lot of friends. I was a happy, fun-loving person who adored attention. I was one of those people who could walk up to strangers at a party and introduce myself. And—no joke—my first word wasn’t “mama” or “dada,” it was “hi.” The more time I spent around others, the more invigorated I felt. My personality test solidified my self-confidence.
I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. My life has changed so dramatically, it’s been hard to see a way out. Are we ever going to get back to the way things used to be? If so, when? Will things change forever? If so, what will this new world look like? Will it be better or worse than before? Sometimes, the idea that society could ever get back to normal seems like a pipe dream.
I have bipolar disorder. Even before the coronavirus, I struggled with negative, intrusive thoughts and all-or-nothing thinking. I’ve been a victim of my own black and white view of the world. The words “always” and “never” have been firmly cemented in my vocabulary for a long time.
Zippers are my enemies. I know that may sound strange but hear me out. I have bipolar disorder, and I tend to be impatient.
Picture this: you’re heading outside on a chilly winter evening, throwing on your coat as you grab your keys. You’re meeting up with friends, but you’re running late. Your coat has a zipper running all the way up the front of it. You’re in a hurry and you don’t have time to waste. Now, try to slow down and zip up your coat slowly and carefully. Something as simple and mundane as bundling up in a warm jacket before entering the frigid air outside should be easy. It should be quick. But it’s not. Zippers—of all things—actually require some patience. The place at the bottom where the two sides connect (actually called the retainer box, if you’re interested) has to fit together just right. Perfectly, in fact. And if your coat has any folds in it, the zipper can easily get stuck. If your coat is old, it can run right off the track. If you’re not careful, slow and above all, patient, it’s actually pretty easy to break a zipper. This has happened to me more than once. And not just with outerwear. I’ve broken purse zippers trying to hurry myself out of line after buying something at a store. I’ve botched up gym bags at the end of a workout because I couldn’t wait to get home and shower. Zipping something up isn’t rocket science, but because I often rush through things, it feels like it is.
I wrote an article several months ago about stopping hypomania by recognizing my thoughts and actions, one of which was excessive online shopping. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses, and probably the hardest one for me to keep in check. It’s a constant battle. I’m constantly bombarded with online ads, emails (no matter how many I unsubscribe to), and coupons luring me to “Buy! Buy! Buy!”
Online shopping can be dangerous for someone with bipolar disorder like myself. Why? Because by nature, my illness causes me to constantly seek stimulation and emotional highs. Because I have bipolar disorder, my brain is more vulnerable to dopamine rushes than people who don’t live with this illness. I’m lucky in a way, lots of people who live with bipolar disorder also struggle with drug, gambling or alcohol addiction as a means to achieving a highly sought after high. I don’t have any of these addictions, but I really feel empathy for those who do. I get it. I chase highs too, but mine are mostly achieved by purchasing stuff.
Check out my online store on Redbubble.
I’m one of those creative people with bipolar disorder. Some experts believe bipolar disorder is often accompanied by an artistic temperament. From actors to musicians, painters to poets, there’s no shortage of artists who live with this mental illness.
I’m a graphic artist by trade. I primarily design graphics on my computer, and I also work with typography, both of which can be very rigid, methodical processes. For me, graphic design is a way to relax and calm my mind. It’s akin to enjoying a coloring book or cleaning for some people. But I don’t often use my visual as a way to express my thoughts or feelings. Although art can be calming and satisfying, you probably won’t see me in a manic state slamming swashes of intense color onto a canvas.
I’m also a writer. Taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is the key to unlocking my internal world and understanding my surroundings. Writing helps me get in touch with my thoughts, calms the chaos in my head, and enables me to live mindfully. While my visual art isn’t really informed by my mental state, my writing very much is. I’d even say the entire reason I write is to express my feelings and make sense of them. I write to help untangle the chaos in my head. Writing helps me stay in touch with my inner thoughts.
I’ve always wondered if I have reverse seasonal affective disorder. Although spring and summer bring more light with longer days, I don’t struggle with the same hypomania many people with bipolar disorder experience during those seasons. I usually find myself less motivated to go out and socialize in the warmer months. Maybe it’s because I live in the south. I’ve always hated the heat and humidity that accompany summertime here. I just want to stay inside in the air conditioning until it’s over.
It’s summertime! This is usually the time of year everyone goes on vacation. I love to travel. The reason I work and earn money at all is so I can go new places and experience different cultures and vistas. Unfortunately, because I have bipolar disorder, I have to be careful when I go on vacation, because travel can trigger my mania.