My Experience with Bipolar 2 Disorder
by See Change Ambassador, Cathy Shah
Having suffered with symptoms of bipolar 2 disorder for over fifteen years, my hope in making this piece for See Change is to give people some understanding of how it feels in the different phases of this complex mental health illness. From the deep despair of the manic depressive stage to the idealistic highs of the hypomania, I will shine some light on the experience of going through these polar opposite states.
I will also compare these extreme states to the feeling of relief, balance and wellbeing that comes with being in recovery and the different ways, from my own experience, in which you can apply to your own life to help you attain this.
My main intention in sharing these experiences are to give hope that no matter how long you are suffering with symptoms or how many times you have tried to recover, I am proof that not only is it possible to get your symptoms under control, and at a manageable level, but you can learn to live side by side with this challenging mental health illness, and with a bit of patience, trust and commitment to yourself, you can also have a thriving life and make your dreams come true 🙂
During the depressive phases of my bipolar disorder I felt like my whole self had completely shut down. It literally felt like my heart area had turned to stone and I felt I was invisible and my true self was hidden behind a barrier. For me depression wasn’t about being sad and blue all the time, in fact sadness would have been a welcome emotion compared to the endless empty void I felt inside.
I couldn’t feel anything or connect to anyone anymore. For me this feeling was terrifying as I am a very heart centred sensitive person so being stuck in this state felt very scary and confusing. I was full of mental anguish and turmoil as a result.
When I was in this state it felt endless and I couldn’t imagine how I could ever feel better so I was full of despair. As a result I suffered on and off with periods of suicidal ideation. This in itself is an extremely difficult place to be in.
I didn’t feel like myself, I couldn’t enjoy anything or feel enthusiastic or happy about anything. I felt like a walking dead person just going through the motions of life and trying to get from one day to the next and do what I needed to do to survive. So basically having depression from bipolar 2 disorder causes you to go into survival mode.
As well as all the mental anguish, the physical symptoms I had during this phase were pretty awful too.
I felt like there was something physically stuck inside my chest, it felt thick, black and hard and It was immoveable, heavy and dark. It was a terrifying feeling and caused a vicious cycle of anxiety when I couldn’t stop focusing on this feeling.
The anxiety from all these feelings combined was constant and so there was an overbearing sense of doom all of the time.
On top of that I felt like a burden which caused me to isolate and cut myself off from family and friends as I felt like I was doing the right thing by not causing them worry or stress. I pretended to be much better than I was on many occasions as a result of the shame I felt about being so depressed. It was like a vicious cycle as the more isolated and disconnected I became the more depressed I became.
I felt extremely stuck in life and didn’t think any of my goals or dreams were attainable. In fact when I looked into the future it basically just didn’t exist. I felt like I had no future at all.
Existentially I felt abandoned by God or the Universe and that I didn’t deserve love or to get better or that I was being punished by God and that’s why I couldn’t get better even though I had read about a lot of people recovering, I didn’t believe it was a possibility for me..
I know now that these beliefs are not true and are part of the symptoms of depression.
The one thing I’d like to make clear is that When I was depressed in this way I was trying everything to get better. I wanted nothing more than to get better . I wasn’t choosing to be this way or to stay this way. So it is not a choice when you are feeling this depressed . I was following my wellness plan but as I have learned it takes patience and a willingness to try different things and to never give up on the road to recovery.
The other side of the illness which I have also experienced on many occasions is Hypomania. It is a less severe form of the high mood that can come with Bipolar Disorder. Even though this state felt like a welcome break from the depths of despair in my depression it brought with it a new set of challenges that threatened to destroy any sense of wellbeing or balance in my life.
When I had hypomania I felt like I had a lot of energy all of the time. This included an abundance of mental energy. There were always new creative ideas flashing in my mind and I would act impulsively on these ideas as there was a sense of urgency with them all. As a result I was always starting new courses, projects, jobs, home improvements, books, businesses . However the overwhelm from not planning ahead and taking on way too much would mean these ideas would always come crashing down before they even got a chance to succeed.
Living like this was exhausting. I would regularly suffer from burn out in the middle of the day and have to rest and do nothing only for the same manic cycle to start again the next day. I also had an unhealthy tendency to impulse spend when I felt like this and as a result after a few years found myself in a lot of debt but not much to show for any of it.
I would say during my hypomania stage I would consistently make unwise life decisions as I wasn’t thinking ahead and just acting out of a false sense and belief that anything was possible. A part of these delusional beliefs were that I had magic powers, that I wasn’t human I was actually a real fairy and that all my ideas would magically manifest quickly. So it was basically the polar opposite of the existential beliefs I had when I was depressed. Some may argue there is no harm in believing these things, however as they were not based on actual reality they caused havoc and chaos in my life. My sleeping patterns were greatly affected and I suffered from regular insomnia and vivid chaotic dreams. I also overtime felt like a failure as everything I tried to create in my life had no longevity so I couldn’t focus on anything long enough to make it a reality even though I had so many ideas all the time. This was frustrating and disheartening and would exacerbate my depression when my mood would eventually drop.
My Long Road To Recovery:
I’d like to finish this piece with a brief overview of how my road to recovery went, what lifestyle changes I have made to support my ongoing wellness and also how that feels now in terms of my mood and life compared to the two extreme states of depression and mania.
For myself, it took a few years to finally find the right mixture of treatments in order for long term balance and wellness to be restored. I don’t want to tell you this to dishearten you but rather as a message to never give up and that if you keep putting the effort in with your recovery, gradually things can and will improve! I had to try a variety of medications and doses to find the right balance for me. I finally found an excellent therapist who I made a connection with and this has helped me immensely. All of this coupled with lifestyle changes in terms of exercise, diet connection and enjoyment and I can truly say I am well on my road of recovery.
I would like to reiterate to anybody who may be struggling or feeling hopeless reading this. I went through many periods over a number of years feeling this way and convinced that nothing would ever improve. However I never gave up and now I have a really good quality of life, I have paid off my debt and am able to save, I have met my soulmate and have a lovely secure home , a beautiful dog. I am repairing my relationship with my daughter, I have different channels of creative work I absolutely love and also free time for my passions and hobbies.
All in all I would say I am thriving in life. So please never give up on yourself. With commitment, patience and trust, you too can go from a place of surviving to thriving.
My mood most days now is completely manageable. I don’t get too high or too low, however I can feel joy again, I can feel sadness again. I have normal emotional reactions in my day to day life. I feel alive again but much more at peace and balanced. I take small manageable steps on my goals each day from a realistic point of view. I know my limits and work my best within them. I have let go of the black and white thinking and beliefs that came with my illness and have learned to live life in the grey area. Some days I struggle more than others but I have amazing coping strategies I can apply that actually work for me now.
Instead of being on a ship in stormy sea getting blown on the waves of life I am now sailing my own ship into calmer and calmer waters each day and when I look to the horizon it is peaceful and still.
Thank you for taking the time to read my piece on what it is like to experience symptoms of Bipolar 2 Disorder. Wishing you all strength, courage and faith on your own journeys too.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following