Bipolarity: Through Fire and Void

“Anyone who fights with monsters should make sure that he does not in the process become a monster himself. And when you look for a long time into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”  – Friedrich Nietzsche

We did not smoke until our lungs turned into a metastasized mass of cancer and tar. Or ski down the slopes of some mountain and break our bones. Neither did we do drugs until our neurons died like flies around a honey-covered Tesla coil. We never chose to be sculptures of glass in a societal dishwasher filled with cast-iron people. We should all have reconsidered being born with this affliction before it was too late. Our only fault was to feel too much.

Imagine that one morning, out of the blue, your phone rings. The person on the other end tells you that a family member has died in a car crash during the night. What would you feel? We experience those same exact chemical reactions and subsequent feelings in our brain for no external reason whatsoever. And they hurt. Oh, they hurt. They are as real as anything can ever be. Still, you must get up and work, do your chores, live. Else you cannot afford to eat or buy the medication you need. If you do not eat, you starve, which is not fun. But if you do not get your medication, you will experience another similar phone call the following day and the day after that for all you know. The high levels of stress hormones erode your brain and destroy the very essence of what is you. This is your reality from now on until the day you die. There is no cure; all you can hope for is to alleviate the symptoms, numb your feelings with drugs coming with a myriad of side effects. Some will give you diabetes. Some cause anxiety. Others will kill your sex drive or force you to take regular blood tests not to be poisoned. Most will make you feel stupid, lethargic, nauseous, or shaky. A few could kill you.

You could meet one of us afflicted, shake our hand, and you would not know that you were talking to a dying human in a lot of pain. This disease cannot be seen on the outside nor the inside through X-rays, blood tests, or by MRI scanning. Yet, it shortens your life expectancy by as much as two decades. However, it does not matter for up towards one-third of the afflicted, which will kill themselves before that day comes. Another half will attempt suicide but be unsuccessful. The majority are unemployed because of their disease, and only two out of ten are functional enough to have a full-time job. You might never have children. The disease you would not wish upon your worst enemy, let alone an innocent child is inheritable. Not that your socioeconomic situation would allow for having a family anyway. I am ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I have wished my disease instead had been something physical, even cancer. Again, I am ashamed for thinking this, but at least it would be something of substance to point at when asked why you hurt.

An analogy for bipolar disorder that describes both depression and mania is driving a car with an on-off switch instead of a pedal, enabling incremental acceleration. Instead, we either go nowhere or forward at an ever-increasing speed until we cannot steer anymore and inevitably crash. Another analogy, which describes mixed states, is attempting to drive a car by simultaneously pushing down the accelerator and brake to the metal. You feel you have to do something, anything, while the dread of depression still lingers and makes action impossible. A state of great agitation and anxiety ensues. The feeling could be described as exploding with terror. Not a fun state of being in its own right while also increasing the risk of suicide even more.

Then comes the day when the phone calls of death seize. Instead, you might feel an anxious electric feeling throughout your body and brain. Like a werewolf knowing the full moon is approaching, fearing for what will come. How much will it hurt to turn, how many sheep will she maim or kill this time? Or, god forbid, a loved one. Your brain will go into overdrive without any means for slowing down. You will grind your teeth out of anxiety until your yaws hurt and your head pounds. Creative ideas and solutions manifest and pop like bubbles in a boiling kettle, too fast for you to salvage. You are surging with energy now, and you feel self-confidence for the first time in longer than you can remember. Maybe you will amount to something after all? You have no time to lose; act on those genius ideas now. NOW! It is about here you “invest” your money in ventures surely going to change the world, or at least be profitable in the future. You will not. They will not.

You are a demigod now, and as such, you should be worshipped. You want it all, sex, drugs, adventure, danger. This is when people around you get scared and tell you to calm down. To be considerate, realistic. When at last a few rays of light breaks through the clouds, they do not want you to have it? Fuck those mortals denying you that what you want and deserve. You do not pity them, and you are so much more than they can ever comprehend. Your brain is ten times faster than theirs. You can destroy them in an argument. You can outwork anyone, outthink anyone. Burn the ships and raze the bridges. There is no turning back. No retreat.

Fade into black.

Like a balloon losing its inert gasses through small perforations in its walls, you will lose your zest through those small perforations in yourself, called reality. You will sink to the floor where you become a deflated mess of a human being. An empty shell without any life within it. No dreams, no hopes, no interests, no pleasure. Only tiredness and dread. Your loved ones will not understand what is wrong with you. Why can you not just pick yourself up by your bootstraps? They do that when they feel down, and so can you. Why do you have to be so cynical, lazy, irresponsible?

JUST STOP!

And you want to but can not. You have tried time and time again but failed. After emptiness and fear, failure is the feeling you know best. As a child, you had dreams about the future. Now you have become the impersonation of failure when society wants you to run on broken legs. And if you do, how will they ever heal? If you do not, you will fall too far behind ever to catch up. You are treading water in a cold and dark ocean surrounded by a sky of the same dark blue hue melting into each other on the horizon. You are cold and exhausted without any land in sight. If you stop treading, you will sink under the surface and drown in the dark depths of desperation.

You isolate yourself from the frightening world. The few bridges you did not burn are overgrowing with weeds and slowly consumed by rust. The sails of the ships shredded by the wind, their hulls murky and frail. You may want to die, but you cannot kill yourself. It would bring pain upon those sacred few that loved you at your darkest. Those precious few that can love Dr. Jekyll despite having met with Mr. Hyde. You learn not to trust your feelings, for time and time again; they have led you astray. You must be stoic, and you must bear your pain calm like a stone in a maelstrom. You ponder if you should hide the chaos within or share it with your loved ones so that it might dissipate faster. In the end, you hide it as deep and as long as you can. You try building a life on a firm foundation of unyielding despair.

There is little sympathy to be found with this disease. Not that it is anyone’s problem but your own. They had even less to do with your demise than yourself. However, If you choose to hide the reason why you act as you do, people will be afraid of you. And if you tell them the reason, you will forever lose your right to feel emotions. In their eyes, if you are happy, it is the disease. If you are sad, it is the disease, and if you are angry, it is the disease. Your feeling will from here on never again be legitimate in the eyes of others. Or yours.

Then there is the second-guessing. After a while, you learn not to trust your feelings and instincts. You would be dead now if you did. Every decision has to be permeated by logic, sometimes far from what you feel is right. Never trusting yourself makes you question your sanity even in situations where there is no reason for it. Life is a slippery slope to walk after you have sowed the seed of ambivalence. Not before long, the cognitive dissonance makes you nauseous. Soon it eats you alive, and the indecisiveness makes you stagnant. You are a destroyed cog in the machinery of social interactions, spinning in an attempt to make a difference. In reality, it is worse than obsolete; it’s a burden rendering the device ineffective. It knows it should be removed.

The saying goes, mind over matter, but the mind is matter, and you are your mind. The only solution to the problem is chemical. In the end, those small molecules might be what saves your life. And when they do not work, there are usually two things that can be done, increase the dose or change the compound. Both of those methods will, for a while, make you feel worse than before. Every time you conclude that there is no way you will or would want to survive in this state for much longer, you hope you will be able to cope. Until this day, you have persisted. One day, you might not. And the worst thing is that you long for it. In the end, when that day comes, you will, at last, find rest.

Thank you for understanding.