Bipolar disorder and me – touched with fire

mental illness


TW: Suicide, self-harm, depression

Lots of people are afraid of what they don’t understand. Bipolar disorder is one of those things. E has bipolar disorder and is learning to live with “being touched with fire”.

I am mentally ill. I don’t know for sure what illness it is. It was suggested by counsellors and psychiatric nurses I’ve encountered that it is some sort of bipolar disorder. I’m not sure exactly what makes me different from most people. At first the thought of being “not normal” terrified me, but now after several years of simply being, I can embrace this part of me.

On depression

Most of you can understand depression. We all get depressed.

For me, it starts as a dead weight in my chest, just behind my sternum. Behind my sternum is an empty space, a heavy empty space. It expands, and takes up a lot of the area my lungs need.

It physically pulls me down. I carry my body differently. Everything slumps. My arms and legs become heavier and heavier. The weight in my chest spreads through my body, from the tips of my toes to my head.

When it hits my head, it mentally pulls me down. The physical empty space becomes an emotional empty space. I may as well be dead. Then the flood comes in: every negative aspect of my personality, my relationships and my lifestyle becomes magnified. I begin to question myself, and believe that all of the horrible things I’ve done define me. I suddenly wonder why people bother with me, and why I even bother with myself.

I lead a worthless existence. I withdraw from the world, rather than subject people to the disgusting, pitiful poor excuse for a human being I think I am.

We all experience this, in varying degrees. But imagine having it without a trigger, without a cause. Everything is marvellous, then snap – your world is at an end and nobody can save you.

You are trapped in every terrible thought of deed you’ve ever had or done.

On mania

Mania. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

I feel a little bit buzzy. Ideas spring to mind faster than I can grasp them. I talk to people, try to explain, but they don’t understand. In frustration, I decide to charge ahead and get on with things myself. But then, in the midst of that, I forget what I was doing. But it’s okay! A far grander plan has formed, and I charge head first into that instead.

I don’t need to eat or sleep. No really, I don’t. It’s all rumours. Trivial things like that just get in the way! Things need to happen and they need to happen now.

Other people around me can’t see it – they can’t see the bigger plan. But I know how important my task is, and it must get done. I can’t wait around for people to catch up with me.

Then the flaws start to appear, and I tear up the plans, curse the gods and start again. Hours become days, and by the end I have nothing to show but discarded drawings, a pile of torn through books and a half-tiled bathroom.

It’s terrifying. I become locked into a thought pattern and can’t get out of it until something else comes along, tempting me with whatever glamour it possesses. I have been trapped for days considering insignificant things, while my work, relationships and health go down the drain.

Even the people closest to me, who accept the bipolar disorder, do not accept the self harm I inflict on myself. I try not to blame them – I mean, it must be scary to see someone so desperate to feel better that they would harm themselves. Sometimes it can feel like the only way I’ve found so far to escape the locked-in thought patterns of my condition.

I have tried to take my life once, after a frustrating session with my psychiatrist. I’ve never seriously considered killing myself again. However, I do feel suicidal on a semi-regular basis. For me, there are two different types of suicidal feelings: you want to die or you don’t want to live any more. I am lucky, nearly all of my feelings are of the second type.

At times, I feel my life is unbearable and the feeling of wanting to completely disappear from the world is real. I usually cannot help myself out of this frame of mind. I need to be reminded by the people around me that I have to keep going.

It helps me to remind myself I’m a part of the lives of others. The concept of an interconnected web of relationships has saved me numerous times.

Why I deal with it all

In the introduction, I said I had a mental illness. I dislike the word “illness”. I am ill, but it’s not something that can be cured. My brain is wired differently, that’s all. The word illness implies that by medicating, everything will be a-okay. This simply isn’t true.

I’ve always been this way, but it only came to light after dealing with several issues in my life. I struggled with accepting it. I was made to feel abnormal – someone who needed to be fixed in order to function. But that’s not true.

I may feel broken at times, but I am not broken.

I may feel incomplete, but I am all the person I need to be.

It can be scary, and it can be lonely. But there are silver linings in this storm cloud. I am at my most creative and expressive during my bad days. I have a unique view of the world, which I value. My depression offers me introspective skills and my mania offers me drive and passion – the touch of fire. I can focus my condition at times, and I wouldn’t want to give that up.

Being like this does get me down sometimes, but I have the support of a few good friends who offer me additional strength. I’ll admit it, without them being this way would be a burden I could not carry. The beauty of being like this is that you do see who your true friends are.

I embrace my mental condition because it is me. It’s not something to be hidden away, or something to be cured – to do so would be changing an integral part of who I am. Any suggestion that I need to go and be fixed, I take as a personal insult. You may as well ask me to stop being white. Something clearly isn’t right with me, yes, but that doesn’t mean there is something inherently wrong.

I am an intelligent, amusing, bewildering and downright silly person, who just so happens to have a mind that functions differently from the status quo.

There’s no need to be scared.

Useful resources

International suicide helplines