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.
Two weeks ago, I was sitting in front of my computer in my home office cranking out a poster design for a movie set, when I noticed my leg was extremely itchy. I reached down and scratched it, then felt the itch move up to my hip and then my torso. Soon my entire body tingled uncomfortably, but I couldn’t stop to figure out what was wrong. I had urgent deadlines to meet, and I was already overwhelmed with more work than I could handle. I ignored it. I didn’t have time to take care of myself or even think about my needs.
I have bipolar disorder. I also have a career. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s important to take care of myself, but I also need to work. Should I practice self-care and stigma-busting by disclosing my mental illness to my coworkers and, most importantly, my employer? Or should I play it safe and keep my diagnosis hidden? I’ve been struggling with this question for fourteen years, ever since I started working as a freelancer in the film industry. I’m still not sure I have an answer.
Being depressed feels like being trapped under a heavy wool blanket. I can’t breathe, I can’t see, I can’t move. The immense weight of the world around me is almost unbearably oppressive. I get lost in my own mind as fearful, anxious thoughts overtake my brain. My muscles and bones ache, and I feel stiff and immobilized. I just can’t seem to move my body enough to get myself off the sofa or out of the house.
When I’m manic, blindingly bright electrical impulses fire rapidly through my head. Things that normally feel good are intensified tenfold. Food tastes incredible, music sounds melodious and meaningful, and colors appear more vivid. Like the rush of dopamine that comes with the high of a powerful drug, it’s pretty amazing. Sounds great, right? The problem is, ideas dart around in my mind so rapidly that even in the middle of a pleasurable experience, I can’t simply enjoy it, because I’m focused on chasing the next one.
In both scenarios, my body gets lost in the whirlwind created by my bipolar mind.
I just turned 45!
I have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, I’m happy that I’m healthy (both physically and mentally), stable (bipolar disorder-wise), and I have a wonderful life. I have a fantastic, sensitive, caring boyfriend who I just celebrated my 5-year anniversary with in December. My mom is alive, healthy, and lives nearby (we’re even getting coffee tomorrow). I have amazing friends who are supportive. And I not only have a career I love, but I’m also writing a memoir that I think I’ll be very proud of once it gets published (or even if it doesn’t, because just writing it is meaningful to me).
But of course, 45 is also a scary sounding age to me. I’m getting older.
We’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season right now, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt a little too jolly during this time of year. I’m jubilant, extra outgoing, and full of buzzing excited energy. I adore the spicy smells of mulled cider, glittering string lights and cozy inviting fireplaces. People are friendlier and more generous with sincere sentiment as they wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah. The world comes alive with a positive energy that’s infectious. ‘Tis the season, so they say. Everything is brighter and shinier during the holidays, and this overstimulation can be a dangerous thing for someone with bipolar disorder.