Bipolar 1 and Bipolar II – Knowing the Difference and Recognizing the Signs –
My First-Hand Experiences
In the last blog/ article, I broke down the different personality/ mood disorders. For this blog/ article, I want to discuss my personal experiences.
I can speak a great deal on this subject, just as I can to many other health issues, however, I am not a medical professional. I am just a fellow sufferer/ survivor and I come from a family where these illnesses and disorders run like a river right through. My mom always liked the saying “we don’t run or hide from our crazy, we put it on the porch and give it a beer”. She was a force to be reckoned with. Mom never denied her “craziness”, such a nasty word. Such a stigma! She would say, “I may be crazy, but I am not stupid, there is a big difference!”
The first experience with the word “bipolar”, comes from my best friend, my aunt. She was 12 years older than I. I recall being younger and staying with her in North Carolina, during her first marriage and even when she moved back to Virginia. She used to make me these weird snacks, I have not thought about them in quite some time. She would take a slice of bologna, place a squirt of mustard on it (in a line) and put a dill pickle in it and roll it up, served with a side of Cheetos. It was so good. I truly believe my love of pickles comes from her. She would let me eat them by the jar full.
I then recall times when she would disappear and no one would know where she was, then she would end up in the psychiatric hospital. When she was “normal”, she was loving, kind, funny, caring, the best person to be around. During a manic episode or a bipolar episode mixed with dissociative identity, it was a nightmare.
I wish not to discuss the extreme things that she would do to her children, it was not fair to them, it was not good. She loved her children more than life, however, living and dealing with these disorders, when she would “split”, they were not her children, we were not her family, she was not herself.
She became someone different, not knowing who she was, not knowing who we were. Sometimes she thought she was a prostitute (though she never was), sometimes she would disappear and end up in another state (not knowing how she ended up there), she would walk out of jobs and leave her personal belongings, she would drive like a racecar driver, listen to music extremely loud, and then she would cut off family which she was closest to.
During these times, we would have to “green warrant” her, that simply means, we would have to contact the authorities and have them come out and evaluate her to see if she was a harm to herself or others. She was a master manipulator during her “splits”. Once evaluated, one of two things happened. She was taken to a mental facility and held for 72 hours, seen by a judge and released or placed under further supervision for monitoring and medication control. If that did not happen, she was simply deemed safe and released. If the authorities did not see her as a threat, nothing at all happened. We would have to wait a few more days for her to get a little sicker and deeper down the rabbit hole.
So many times, she refused to take her medications. As the years went on, I tried to understand her illness. I couldn’t fully comprehend it. There was minimal information on these disorders, the mental health/ medical field during that time, was not equipped to handle these disorders nor the families dealing with them.
As a family, we learned to recognize the signs. Some of the signs she exhibited before a “split” were days and nights of not sleeping, batting her eyes a lot over and over, listening to really loud music, distancing herself from the people she loved most, denying that she was a mother, dressing differently, not cleaning her house, not brushing her hair, driving really fast, excessive shopping, not showing up for work.
These are clear signs of mania in bipolar I disorder. The part of becoming another personality stemmed from her dissociative identity disorder. I was never aware of her personalities having different names, although they did have different characteristics and lives.
I asked her during a therapy session if she could feel the mania coming on, she said that she could, but she had no way to control it. It was a euphoria; she was escaping her life and the stress of it. So, she went down the rabbit hole per se, sometimes not to return for months. She seemed to enjoy it.
Some of the stories I could tell are terrifying, others are comical. By the age of 41 years old, she was deceased. All because of these illnesses, all because she lacked the consistency of reliable mental health care. She was also diabetic. Diabetes added to manic episodes.
Uncontrolled diabetes can additionally cause periods of aggressiveness, uncontrolled emotions, brain fog, mood swings, and very unpredictable behavior. During the last day of her life, she was so confused and thought her blood glucose levels were too high. She ended up administering too much insulin and bottoming out with low blood glucose. This ultimately led to her demise.
Had my aunt have received consistent mental health care, information and follow up, maybe she would still be here. Had her closest family members, such as myself, received the information and support, maybe we could have saved her. Instead, we were caught up in a vicious circle of chaos. She went from normal, to “split”, we called for help, we received it for a few days or not, then the cycle repeats itself. She lived very few years at a time with stability.
Imagine what this was like for her, her children, for all of us. Imagine how helpless we felt. Imagine how confused her children were and still are by her mental health disorders. I am positive that to this day, they do not fully understand it and there is still resentment there.
She could not always be the mother that they deserved. She wanted to be a good mother. Her mental illness prevented that from happening.
Where does my knowledge of DID and Bipolar come from besides dealing with my aunt? Great question!
We will get into my mother’s, ex-sister-in-law, and other relatives/ friends later. For now, I can tell you, I have experienced it firsthand.
I have a dissociative disorder; no, I do not have another personality. I simply have the amnesia and disconnection from past experiences that come with the illness, along with numbness. I also suffer from bipolar I, just as my aunt did. I did not recognize my own signs as they were much different from hers.
It took a breakdown and several years of therapy to understand that I was bipolar, just a different level. In 2012/2013 I was in a state of mania and extreme depressive lows. I have received extensive help and therapy. I know my warning signs. When I am generally getting ready to begin a manic episode, I have very eccentric and highly interesting ideas, they come in clusters, I talk fast, I do not sleep for days, I feel the euphoria. It is a great feeling. I do know that I cannot go down the rabbit hole. In that rabbit hole, there is reckless behavior, impulsive behavior, and chaos. I immediately seek help from my psychologist or a close friend, I talk myself through it.
When I am going into a manic low (depression), which commonly happens to worsen from August through March, I immediately try not to dwell on emptiness, self-loathing, helplessness, and hopelessness. I count blessings and I pre-occupy myself. I also reach out to my mental health support team. If I stay in bed or in the house too long, my dissociation worsens and I become distant, having to bring myself back to normalcy and reality, by leaving the house.
Recognizing the signs of any mental health disorder or mood disorder is important. Pursuing immediate attention and help is the key to controlling it. Not everyone needs to take a handful of medications. Some only need cognitive behavioral therapy, a few medications, different activities. Every person is unique in their coping skills. I know what mine are.
I wish that I knew then, what I know now, to save my aunt, to also help myself faster. To help her understand that her disabilities and mind were not what defined her, and help was available.
I am not ashamed of the person that I am. I am not ashamed of my aunt. I am ashamed of the mental health care system and their lack of assistance to those in need and their family members or friends. Mental health is such a huge part of self-care and self-love.
It has taken me a long time to love me. I could tell you every diagnosis I was given throughout the years, that does not change who I am. What changes is how I cope with it. How I manage it. How I live with it.
Bringing awareness of disabilities, disorders, and illnesses are close to my heart. Thousands of individuals live with the “unknown” daily. Never recognizing they need help or how to get help. Feeling different, off-balance, not right.
Help is available, unfortunately, we often must seek help. It does not find us.
If you or someone you know is dealing with or suffering from a mental illness, disability, or disorder, please do not ignore it. Please seek help.
Contact your local state mental health advocacy or even our national advocacy.
Remember the differences between the two bipolar disorders:
Bipolar I – One manic episode (full of energy, on top of the world, elation) at the least, may not or may have major depressive episodes. Manic episodes also include or are characterized by poor sleep, risky behavior, sexual indiscretions, trouble focusing and concentrating, an exceptional amount of energy, euphoric feelings, bouts of restlessness. These can all happen without being influenced by drugs or alcohol.
Bipolar II – Hypomanic and depression, no manic episodes. Hypomanic is not a manic episode, it may be out of character for yourself. Friends or family may notice a change in behavior; however, it is not mania.
Treatment for both is important. You are important! You matter!
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