Guest Post: My Life with Bipolar 1
It was in the summer of 2017 that my life changed. I went from being this happy, hopeful mom who had no idea what was about to hit her. In that moment, I was enjoying each day with my 2-month-old son and was, somewhat reluctantly, preparing to go back to work as a high school Spanish teacher.
Out of nowhere, with no warning or apparent reason, I started having symptoms of postpartum depression. I began having intrusive thoughts and fears that I wouldn’t dare say out loud, especially not to another person. I was being tormented by my own mind, but couldn’t ask for help for fear of losing my husband and son. Though looking back now, I can obviously say that I shouldn’t have been worried about such things, but in that moment, my fears were real.
I shortly asked for help from family and eventually saw a doctor and counselor who began treating me with postpartum depression and anxiety. It made sense; I had just had a baby. However, this diagnosis was not correct. Over a year and a half later, I was finally diagnosed correctly. I have bipolar disorder, bipolar 1 to be specific.
I’m currently going on almost 2 years of dealing with a mental illness, and the doctors still have not found the right medication for me. I’ve taken medications that make me sick, medications that come with severe risks, and medications that simply don’t work, and here I am in 2019 still trying to find a solution. The issue with bipolar disorder and medication is that there are so many options which practically makes it a guessing game as to which one will work for each person. I’m currently on number seven, but I’m not giving up hope.
Instead I’m focusing on better educating myself and others about life with bipolar, what it is and what it isn’t. The stereotype most people think of when they hear “bipolar” is someone who goes from being happy to sad or angry within minutes or who will react suddenly and change on the spot. That simply is not accurate. Most people with bipolar go through cycles of mania (or hypomania for bipolar 2), depression, and stability, though not all are lucky enough to cycle through stability. These cycles, or episodes, can last anywhere from days to years, but it’s not the minute-by-minute change people make it out to be. I, personally, am considered a rapid cycler, someone who has four or more manic or depressive episodes a year. My norm at this point in life is to experience 2-3 weeks of mania and then 2-3 weeks of depression, though it’s not always that predictable.
So what is the difference between bipolar 1 and 2? This is something I’m still working out myself. You see, for a while, I was convinced I had bipolar 2, but I was recently diagnosed with bipolar 1, which was a huge shock to me! Bipolar is similar to Autism in the fact that it’s a spectrum. Some people are classified as having bipolar 1, some bipolar 2, and some not otherwise specified (NOS). The main difference between 1 and 2 though is the mania. People with bipolar 2 experience a more mild form of mania called hypomania, whereas people with bipolar 1 experience a more severe form of true mania. What made my bipolar 1 diagnosis so shocking to me is that I don’t exemplify some of the typical bipolar 1 symptoms, such as euphoria, excessive spending, or common types of risky behavior. What I’ve come to learn though is I experience dysphoric mania, a type of mania that is mixed with depression, also called a mixed episode. When I am in a state such as this, I experience great depression and irritability alongside extreme energy and urgency to do things, often attempting to solve the problems I am experiencing. This is a particularly dangerous episode to have because it’s a combination of both the mania and depression.
The interesting thing about bipolar is that, when in depression, it makes it seem like I will never get out of it. The same goes for when I am manic; I feel like I could never be depressed again. Like many others with bipolar, I question my diagnosis and often feel like nothing is wrong with me. The seriousness of this is that many with bipolar stop taking their medication and eventually spiral back down to a dangerous place. I, myself, have done this.
What has helped me the most, apart from medication, has been regularly attending weekly counseling and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills classes. Working with my counselor has helped me tremendously to understand what is going on inside of me, how to regulate my feelings, and how to interact better with others. In my opinion, seeing a counselor or therapist is of utmost importance for anyone dealing with a mental illness.
Even though I am still living with bipolar and continue to cycle from one episode to another, I am continuing to fight for a better life and for better mental health awareness for others as well. Even on the worst days, I try to remind myself that there will be good that comes from this illness. I will not let it be in vain; I will not let it win. My story will be used to bring hope and comfort to all who hear it, so that no one will go through this alone.
Bio: Sarah Ramírez, also known as The Mindful Minimalist on her social platforms, is a work-at-home-mom and blogger/YouTuber. She shares about her journey with minimalism, gentle parenting, healthy eating, and mental health.
If you’d like to see more of Sarah’s work, check out her blog and social media platforms here: