The American Psychiatric Association describes Bipolar Disorder as “… brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. People with bipolar disorders have extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic, hypomanic or depressive.”
A friend of mine suffering from Bipolar Disorder describes it like this, “If Depression is a dark tunnel, Bipolar Disorder is a rollercoaster which takes you deep inside this tunnel and out of it, over and over again.” As a bystander, it was always an enigma as to what she might be going through. Each Day was a different experience in itself.
Her diagnosis came as a surprise. It was during a low phase in her life when her father, who was a Psychiatrist by profession, broke the news to her. It was almost like it broke her. Her father was as helpless looking at his daughter’s condition as she was in her depression.
• Formerly known as manic depression, it is a condition that affects moods, which can swing from depression to mania
• Symptoms range from overwhelming feelings of worthlessness to feeling very happy and having lots of ambitious plans and ideas
• Each extreme episode can last several weeks
• Treatment includes mood stabilisers which are to be taken every day on a long-term basis, combined with talking therapy and lifestyle changes
The medicines prescribed for a condition like this are called mood stabilizers. When you’re ecstatic, they lower your mood and when you’re deep in depression, they lift you up. The latter sounds like a good idea, making you feel better when you’re in a state of depression, but when you’re ecstatic why would you want to suppress ?
Well, it’s because if you don’t take your medicines when you’re happy, they don’t work when you’re sad. Sounds complicated right? Imagine dealing with this every single day and convincing yourself that that medication is important for you. And that’s not even the main problem. You wake up every morning not knowing how you’re going to feel. You only wish for the mania to last but all good things come to an end and so do your happy days. One day you’re on cloud nine – all smiles, extremely productive and enthusiastic and the very next day, the light seems to fade away, you lose your will to get out of bed and who once seemed like an extremely positive person turns into negative and introverted shunning everything.
I saw my friend during her highs and I saw her during her lows. It was almost like she was a different person in a matter of weeks. As well-wishers, we always encouraged her to take her medicines but a certain question of hers always intrigued me – “If I need medicines to be normal then is it truly my normal?”
Bipolar Disorder is not when your mood changes each day, it occurs in phases i.e. a gradual process where each stage seems to be stable for a while before shifting. The two extreme phases i.e. mania and depression could last several weeks or a few months before the shift happens and when it does, you get absorbed in it. Doctors do say that between the two extremes, comes a time which can be stated to be emotionally balanced but one cannot seem to decide when that happens. By the end of the day, you are left in an emotional turmoil, indeterminate and confused.
Problems like these made me appreciate what it feels like to be mentally healthy and appreciate my mental health more. When we feel low, we might ignore it for a really long time but there comes a point where it is okay to accept that there may be something wrong and seek help. Trust me, running away from something like this is not the better option.
It is difficult to comprehend what people having Bipolar disorder go through. That is why it is important to listen to their experiences. Let us look at one such young woman diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and how she is spreading awareness about her condition through art.
Missy Douglas and Bipolar Disorder
Missy Douglas was first diagnosed as bipolar aged 19 when she was studying art history at the University of Cambridge. She said it finally joined the dots as to why she often felt withdrawn and melancholic, or precocious and arrogant.
Fed up with keeping her mental health a secret,she spent a year creating a painting each day to express her feelings. Controversially, she decided not to take her medication during this time, in the hope that paintings demonstrating her highs and lows would raise awareness of her condition. The following are some of the paintings from her collection.
Day 236. “I was burying feelings and my emotions were all over the place. Very turbulent.”
Day 242. “I was at the height of mania here, but there was a massive wave of white depression heading towards me.”
Day 314 – Mania. “I was buzzing and everything was technicolor and beautiful. I was flying and felt invincible.”
Day 359 – Christmas Day 2013. “I was feeling very depressed yet I completely compartmentalised and concealed it. The twinkly forced jollity hid the sadness.”
Day 5. “I was really anxious, angry and feeling trapped.”
In 2009 Doughlas left the UK and established her own fine art studio and art school in Brussels. Two years later she headed to New York and now spends her time immersed in the creative scenes of Long Island, Queens and further afield in Seattle.
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