I’m choking. I sit here choking while I write this. I don’t want to be writing. I don’t want to be doing anything and I want to be doing everything. I know I’m in the middle of a mixed episode because this is what it does to me. I choke while my demons scream at me and I can’t fight, I can’t flee, so I freeze. I can feel the now familiar strain in my throat that will not move. It’s like trying to push a bus uphill, getting angrier and angrier that you aren’t moving upward and you’re not moving downward. This is my least favorite phase of this horrible disease. Writing this now is forcing me to watch myself choke with no one around who can actually see me to help. I’m impossible to understand.
There are three main phases to bipolar type II. They can come in no particular order, each of them can be triggered by external circumstances or they can shift with no warning. Depression
A mixed episode (technically a form of hypomania)
It isn’t as simple as this, however, hypomanic episodes can turn into eating disorders and anxiety disorders quickly. The racing mind can turn into obsessive compulsive disorder. The instability of each phase will inevitably look drastically different than the simplified Diagnostic Manual definition and any experienced psychiatrist knows this. Bipolar II is hard to diagnose for these reasons. People will only go into a doctor when something is wrong, but no one ever shows up, undiagnosed, and says, “I’m just so happy, doc. I mean, everything is perfect in my life!” If you don’t know what you’re looking for, if you don’t do a screen for bipolar II (and many general practitioners don’t) you would be dismissed as a well adjusted individual with a healthy body and a positive outlook on life. So, people only see the doctor when they’re depressed, anxious, compulsive, etc. which concludes them to treat them for those disorders which will not actually treat bipolar II and, in some cases, the medication used for the wrong treatment can even cause hypomanic or mixed episodes. Not. Good.
I’m having a mild mixed episode today. I always choke during a mixed episode. I’m always stuck with my demons during a mixed episode, up and down, angry, bored, lonely, and completely dysphoric.
As I walk my dog, Abby, past a Lutheran church a few people bounce out of the church, happily walking to their cars and call out to me in friendly greetings, telling me that they like my dog, that she is beautiful. Abby is a mutt of some sort, perhaps a border collie/greyhound mix. She’s about 45 pounds, black and sleek with long slender legs, little white socks, and a blazing white chest. A friend of mine has always said she looks like she’s wearing black spandex. At thirteen years old, her face is going quite grey, but she has the energy of most dogs half her age. I smile a thank you to the church-goers even though I wish they weren’t speaking to me at all. Abby trots on. They all look so happy walking out of that church and I briefly think about coming back and going inside. I was raised Catholic. I’m no longer Catholic. I’m not even a Christian and haven’t been for a very long time. I suppose I’d consider myself agnostic. And just look how happy and stable I am, I chuckle lightly to myself. I don’t believe that heaven or hell exist as some sort of places other than earth. I believe whoever, long ago, came up with the concept of heaven and hell was most definitely bipolar. It can be absolute heaven and it can be the worst sort of hell. All of it exists only in your mind, which sometimes becomes the scariest place imaginable and sometimes the most beautiful creation in all of the universe.
I would do almost anything to stay in a state of hypomania all of the time as I think anyone would if they could experience it. It’s the happiest you ever been. You’re charming, attractive, energetic, smart, fit, and you see the universe as a giant connected web of beauty as though everything on the planet is in perfect order. You can accept horror and death because you can see the magic, the science, and the beauty that is the entire universe.
For me, hypomania is beautiful. I see signs from the universe everywhere that steer me into perfect, serendipitous, connected experiences. I may even be psychic at times. I can work out twice a day, forming my body into whatever beautiful shape I want. I dance for hours in my living room, feeling each muscle in my body work to move in exciting glory. I sleep for four to five hours and wake up perfectly refreshed and deliriously happy. I can learn anything, I can do anything, my life is exciting and I can make it more exciting. I plan trips, I meet new friends, I have a perfect social life, a perfect job. Everything is exactly where it is supposed to me and I am completely, down to my very being, happy.
For a very long time, until my diagnosis, I thought that this was how happy was supposed to look. This was what happy people experienced when they were aligned with who they truly are. I thought at times that maybe I was near enlightenment. My first episode of bipolar II that I can remember distinctly was depression, so when I finally reached a happy form of hypomania, I thought I had finally, for good, overcome depression.
The beginning of 2017, however, marked the year of the diagnoses as the worst sort of hell descended upon my brain, a great, rolling earthquake of fury, destruction, pain, and death. I had been prescribed a type of SSRI which would hopefully combat my ever growing depression which had deadened my soul to an unrecognizable smattering of grey. I later discovered this drug that was prescribed was known for triggering mania in people with bipolar disorder. And it triggered it in me. At first I was happy, a new wave of life came over me and I saw rainbows again! Then, I could not stop moving. My body jittered beyond my control dancing and cackling. My feet and hands were no longer mine. I got scared. That’s when the earthquake roared with apocalyptic force, the aftershocks aimed right at Andy. There was rage, self-harm, and the thoughts of death were constant. I saw death everywhere. Along the side of the road, in the news, on Facebook, in the hearts of family and friends- we were all going to die. I looked into Abby’s eyes and I was obsessed that one day, when the spark of life was going to leave them, I would be incapable of continuing on because somehow her life was also mine. I could not keep death from happening and that caused me the most extraordinary amount of pain. The rage, the pain, the self-harm, the earthquake that was destroying the life in front of me was a mixed episode, a kind of hell about which I still have nightmares.
This is the story that led up to, “How My Dear Friend Saved My Life.”