“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No! I don’t!”
“Yes! You do!”
This was my exchange with the therapist who first diagnosed me with having bipolar disorder. You know Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials? That’s who she reminded me of even down to her appearance. Except she didn’t dress in white. I’m talking about physical appearance. In fact, I’ll call her “Flo”, as I really don’t want to mention anyone by name without his/her consent.
So, anyway, there we were in Flo’s office (the “yellow room” she called it) with me completely denying I have bipolar disorder. I don’t jump up and down on chairs a la Tom Cruise! I don’t demolish walls in my home in the middle of the night to remodel. I don’t stay awake for days on end and do wild and crazy things! Shoot, 10:00pm is a late night for me, so obviously I couldn’t have bipolar disorder. I just needed help with the hellish depression I’d been in for months. Since leaving my home state of California, in fact, and a job and friends I loved.
Au contraire. Flo went down a checklist and I sat there across from her, nodding my head most of the time, shaking it once in a while, but it soon became apparent she knew what I was about. Relief? Fear? I wasn’t sure what I felt, but I did realize I would be getting an answer to a question I’d long held: Why did I have these “energy swings” and what do they mean?
Turns out there is not just one type of bipolar disorder, but two. Lesson one for me. In fact, since then I’ve learned there are many who believe there’s a bipolar spectrum. Bipolar I is what we typically think of as bipolar disorder. The wild and crazy highs intermixed with periods of depression. Bipolar II is more subtle in some ways. The “highs” are termed “hypomanic” and oftentimes it’s a feeling of euphoria. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though, but that’s something I’ll address in a whole ‘nother post. (BTW—I’ve been told ‘nother isn’t a word. Humor me.) For me, though, it represented the good phase of my energy swings. Plenty of energy to work, do the laundry, clean, and even have energy left at the end of the day to play board games with the kids. Life was good in this state. A feeling of “Ahhhh…” But I didn’t recognize some of the down sides of hypomania, like making unnecessary purchases or making plans I couldn’t fulfill.
The flip side of bp II is a deeper depression than that experienced by bp I, and generally longer lasting. I read a report a few years back that the fatality rate of people with bp II is greater than that of all cancer patients combined due to the high suicide rate of those with bp II. Hmmm…now THAT’s cheerful, isn’t it? Until I crashed all those many years ago, this was just my low energy cycle. Couldn’t stay awake and felt as if I had the flu or a bad sinus infection. Occasionally I’d enter a deep depression, but always came out of it after a few weeks. Not suicidal but deeply depressed.
So after all those years of asking various docs about my energy swings I discovered I was having mood swings. Lovely. I was one of “those people”. But all I needed was a pill to fix it, right? Right?!
Oh, how naïve I was!