Questions About Bipolar My Friends Always Wanted To Ask

This article first appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website.

I have been very open about my diagnosis and journey to recovery and acceptance. I started my blog to chronicle the ups and downs that I experience during my journey. Recently my friends were open enough to ask me questions they have always wanted to know about living with bipolar II disorder. I answer these questions below: 

How was your mood before being diagnosed? 

I was always a sad person before being diagnosed. I spent my entire university life living in fear and perpetual sadness. I always felt like I was not good enough. If someone talked to me, I thought they did it because they felt sorry for me. I never felt worthy of attention or friendship. Even when I smiled, I secretly dreamt of death all the time. I didn’t see why I needed to stay alive or if anyone would miss me when I was gone. What I did not know then is that I was constantly in a state of severe depression. 

How did diagnosis make you feel and how has it changed things for you? 

The diagnosis changed my life. For the first time I was told that I was not a naturally sad person. I finally heard that I was capable of happiness. With therapy and medication, the suicidal thoughts slowly went away. I began to have the ability to go out in social spaces without thinking that everyone hated me.

How about your love life? What happens to your mood when faced with challenges in your relationship?

This year I wrote about Dating with Depression. It is important for me to be honest about my illness. Before I enter a relationship, I tell my possible significant other that I live with bipolar II disorder. I tell them what it means for me to be living with the illness and how that can translate in our relationship. Some might disagree that disclosure must come after a few dates, but for me that hasn’t worked. People have refused to be with me because of the fear that having bipolar means I will become excessively violent.

I still get insecure when in a relationship. I tend to be more sensitive and emotional than the average person, so I am always afraid that people will think I am crazy. I always have to remind myself that some words are merely teasing and not a statement of who I am.

Do friends, family and colleagues truly understand what you are going through?

I would love to say yes, but the answer is no. No one can truly understand what another is going through. However they are supportive. They do not call me moody and unpredictable. They now understand that when I’m down, I’m possibly going through an episode. They know that I can be very hard on myself and thus always encourage me to look at all I have accomplished.

If there is one positive thing about having bipolar, what would it be?

When I was younger I didn’t care how I looked. In my mind I was always going to be fat and undesirable and so making any effort to take care of myself would be futile. However after my diagnosis I realised that I have to take care of myself for myself and not for others. Proper nutrition is important for a healthy nervous system. Exercise helps relax my muscles when I am very tense due to long periods of stress.

Can a person distinguish between when it’s their personality and when it’s their mental illness when faced with challenges?

When I went on medication, I had to relearn who I was. I had to learn to distinguish whether the sadness I felt was due to the bipolar or due to my sensitive nature. I am not at the stage where I can convincingly say that I know when it is me or my illness. There are times when I feel an overwhelming need to cry, but nothing in my environment has made me sad. There are other times when someone does something hurtful and I get extremely offended, possibly more than usual. I’m still working hard at learning my emotions and my triggers.