What It’s Like to Have Bipolar Disorder: A Personal Journey

what it's like to have bipolar disorder

I am one of millions living with bipolar disorder. It’s not something I hide, but it’s also not something I’ve gone out of my way to discuss until now. The longer I cope with the day to day struggle of mood swings, the more apparent it is that people lack compassion when it comes to mood disorders. If you have a loved one who is struggling with manic and depressive episodes, you can help. Let me tell you what it’s like to have bipolar disorder so you can find the best ways to provide that help.

Managing the mania 

I’m currently stable on medication, but when I was unmedicated and undiagnosed, I experienced the most incredible highs and lows. Those manic highs would see me racing around the house: I’d clean – and reclean – any and every surface, cook extravagant meals every night for family and friends, bake, craft and binge-watch Netflix. But I’d never, ever sleep. I stayed up for days on end enduring these episodes.
have bipolar disorder manic episode
At my worst, I was awake for 8 days in a row – and I mean without a drop of sleep. I was invincible! Or so I thought. I would shop online for jewelry and clothes I didn’t need without realizing it. A few days later, packages would arrive and I’d have no clue what was in them. I already owned a ton of rings, but there I was in my manic state adding more to my collection. My closet was overflowing, but I’d continue to buy, buy, buy – and with zero regard for the concept of a budget.

Facing the inevitable lows 

After the highs came the inevitable lows. And when they came, I would crash hard. All I wanted to do was curl in the fetal position in bed and sleep, so that’s all I did. I didn’t bathe or eat, household chores went by the wayside and forget about cooking and crafting. The bare minimum to keep my cat alive was all I could manage. My poor husband had to fend for himself after his 12 hour days at work. I rarely left the bedroom unless it was to spend mindless hours on the computer. 

Once we realized how serious the problem was, my husband and I realized it was critical that I needed expert medical advice. I saw my doctor and was put on Seroquel. When that drug stopped working, my doctor prescribed Abilify. It’s been an excellent treatment as I learn to better manage my symptoms.

have bipolar disorder depressive episode

Unfortunately, the side effects have been harsh, and I’ve paid quite the price. I am not a vain woman, but I’ve put on 20lbs in the 6 months since I started the new medication, and it’s 20lbs I can’t afford to carry on my 5’2″ frame. I have no ability to exercise and lose the weight, especially now that I’m wearing an Aircast that helps me manage other painful conditions. Those things combined with the other medications I take that each have their own side effects create challenges each and every day. 

Enduring the side effects 

I’ve also experienced some unpleasant side effects from my bipolar medication, including severe brain zaps and shadows on the sides of my vision. These were enough to send me back to my psychiatrist to discuss making another medication change. Those changes feel like a constant dance that you tango when you have a mental illness.


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