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Bell Let’s Talk 2019: My Journey with Bipolar Disorder I
By Ayenia Quintanilla
Every year since Bell Canada launched its first successful Mental Health campaign, conversations have been popping up all over social media on the topic of mental health. For all intents and purposes, I chose this platform to open-up in a very public way about my own struggles with mental health. I do this with the hopes of minimizing stigma for other people who have had similar experiences.
To begin, I was formally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2016 following extremely stressful events in my life. Nevertheless, I could trace my first onset of the illness to 2009, which not surprisingly, also happened after some extreme stress I was undergoing. While I remain mostly in remission (no symptoms) between episodes, recently, I have been managing symptoms which, once again, came to a height after having unsuccessfully attempted to manage other less noxious stress in my life.
Evidently, there is a pattern in my case which shows that my symptoms usually tend to manifest during extreme stress. Having said that, the symptoms usually range anywhere from hypomanic (pressured speech, restlessness, high levels of energy, emotional sensitivity) to manic (psychosis, paranoia, extreme emotional reactions, insomnia, etc.). More often than not, my Bipolar symptoms give off the impression that I am intoxicated even when I am not (as a rule, I try not to drink when I know I am either hypomanic or manic).
Because the restlessness can become boredom quite quickly, an awful symptom usually sets in: impulsivity. Impulsivity is the one symptom I personally find the hardest to manage. In this state, one can do things quite easily without pausing to think about the consequences of such actions. It is an awful thing to find yourself creating havoc, then coming back to your senses, and struggle to fix all the damage in a panic. I call it BP Damage Control. Such an example would be making big purchases that do not reflect my budget. Another example is staying up late when I haven’t slept in three days, and that was not a euphemism—Sleeping patterns can range from 0-3 hours of sleep a night for months on end.
A common misconception about Bipolar Mania is that those who are struggling with it rather remain high on that mania. This is wrong. The mania is just a polar extreme to depression, people struggling with mania are not “extremely happy”, they’re compensating for a void they’re scared of confronting: depression. Most people with Bipolar Disorder cycle into mania usually following a period of severe depression. As such, a lot of the impulsive behaviour is an extreme opposite reaction to depressive symptoms such as anhedonia (lack of pleasure) and suicidal ideation (that is, the idea of wanting to end one’s own life, without the actual intent, necessarily).
Often, people struggling with Bipolar I (Bipolar I features symptoms of psychosis, Bipolar II does not) are open about their symptoms related to depressive an anxious state of mind but will often attempt to hide their experiences with psychosis because of the shame and stigma associated with it. The truth is that there are some symptoms which seem more acceptable to discuss, whereas other symptoms associated with loss of control are not, such as: dissociation and psychosis.
I wrote this article to demonstrate that anyone can suffer from mental health. This issue affects all of us. Psychosis affects some of us directly, but indirectly, there are many people who suffer as a result of caregiving for someone who struggles with reality. As such, we need to open up more conversations throughout the entire year about the difficult, and lesser known symptoms that cause so much damage and harm to the people who spend many waking hours trying to manage them.