I have been showing signs of bipolar disorder since I was a young child. Not just your usual juvenile energy, but hypomanic levels. My mother has said that “manic” is a great word to describe my personality as a kid. I didn’t just talk to people, I yell-talked at total strangers. I had no boundaries whatsoever. I made risky decisions. I was extremely hyper and said very random, odd things frequently.
My energy and productivity levels shifted as I aged. They turned into extreme focus in school. I went through a long period of being taken out of 4th grade gym and music classes for (what I didn’t know was) IQ testing. The results showed that I was at a 7th grade math level and 9th grade reading level, and had what was considered a “gifted” IQ for my age. In middle school, my energy shifted to musical expression. I really got into singing. I had taken piano lessons for a few years, but I progressed into organ lessons and vocal lessons. I would go through bursts of high energy and creativity and periods of fatigue and feeling totally uninspired and unmotivated (the lyme disease I was suffering with did not help, especially with the fatigue).
In 7th and 8th grade, I started really struggling with depression. Activities that I had usually enjoyed gave me no pleasure. I tried new ones and they made me more miserable. I started to hate being around people, but I did my best to feign affability and interest. I would sob for hours at night for no reason, and feel what can best be described simply as pain, that was unwarranted. It is normal to feel heartbreak after losing a friend or ending a relationship. It is normal to feel hated if you have just been greatly insulted by someone whose opinion you care about. It is normal to feel guilty when you have done something wrong. Feeling these feelings and more with no rational cause is not normal, and I dealt with this every day. I didn’t know where the feelings were coming from, but I didn’t feel very supported by my family, so I took out my frustrations on my parents, causing lots of damage to my familial relationships.
This continued into high school. I made several suicide attempts, which my parents did not know how to deal with. At 16, I was forced into counseling, and was diagnosed by my psychologist as depressed. Medicine was not administered, as my shrink and parents did not like the possibility of suicidal side effects as many anti-depressants have been shown to have on adolescents. I continued talk therapy for about a year and a half. This was probably my most “normal” period. I was usually just a little higher or lower (more often lower) than what is considered normal or neutral, except for a few short bursts of hypomania and longer bouts depression (not that I knew what hypomania was at that point).
At 17, I started college. I was no longer in talk therapy. Things were not looking up. My first semester, I was depressed, except for one short hypomanic episode, during which I made TONS of Christmas decorations, all day and all night, and completely covered my dorm room walls with them, watched several Christmas movies every day, and otherwise just went Christmas-crazy for weeks. Christmas seems to be a hypomania trigger for me. I get too excited. Other than that period, I was depressed. When I returned for the second semester, I was extremely miserable. My social anxiety was so bad that I had to drop two stressful classes because just walking to them, I would start having terrible chest pain, sweating, feeling extremely dizzy, and having trouble breathing. I was terrified of those situations. I hated every part of my life, and just thinking about my classes made me more miserable, so I neglected some of my coursework.
Eventually, I realized that I needed more help and became willing to actually go get that help. I was first unofficially diagnosed bipolar II by a school psychologist, which was then confirmed by a consulting psychiatrist, and then by the nurse practitioner specializing in psychopharmacology (totally licensed and extremely competent, don’t judge by the NP title) who currently treats me. I was started on Lamictal and Cymbalta and have been on them for some time. They have worked wonders for me. I still do not achieve normal. I never expect to. I am always on one side of the spectrum, and I have had some particularly low lows and high highs, but I have not experienced my full-blown, crushing depression, which has been an amazing difference for me. I am now functioning quite well in college, and feeling positive about the direction my life has taken. Each day still presents its own challenges, but I get through them with greater ease and independence than I did before.