In the famous words of Will Smith, "so here's a little story all about how my life got twist, turned upside down, and I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, to tell you how"... I got diagnosed with bipolar and what it actually means. It's a complicated subject - it can mean different things for different people, it isn't talked about anywhere near enough, and there's often an overly simplified, one-sided portrayal of it in the media. If we're ever going to be able to defeat prejudice and make mental illness a less taboo subject, there's going to need to be a clearer understanding of it. Here's part one of my A-Z guide to the unifying aspects of the illness:
A - Apathy
This for me is one of the worst parts of a low - you feel nothing. Totally disconnected from the world, even loved ones don't stir emotions in you. It can be quite scary to feel so numb, and it can get to a point where you can't even remember what it felt like to feel anything at all.
Somehow, everything bad that happens comes back to you, and it is somehow your fault. You're a burden on everyone you know. You're making their lives harder. They'd all be better off without you.
C - Clinical depression
I say clinical for a reason. This isn't just feeling a little bit upset or down in the dumps. This is a truly debilitating medical condition. You can't get out of bed for sometimes weeks on end. You can't eat, you can't sleep, you cry constantly over nothing. You feel fatigued - even simple tasks like taking a shower take too much energy.
This is when you feel completely separate to everything that's going on around you - almost like John Donne's description of ecstasy, your soul watching your body from above - except without the euphoric feeling. It's as if your body is a robot; as you go about completing every day tasks, you are a separate entity watching down, feeling nothing.
E - Euphoria
There are, of course, some positives to bipolar, and the euphoria is one of them. When you're up you feel on top of the world, totally indestructible, like you can do and achieve anything. It's like you've just fallen in love for the first time, but your love is for life. Everything is illuminated.
F - Flight of ideas
The best description I can find for this is a brain storm - the changing of thoughts as quick as a flash of lightning, hitting in all different, random directions. One second you're thinking about what you want to have for dinner, the next you're planning the next five years of your life, the next you're convinced you're going to die within the week. This is part of the 'manic' phase - where everything goes topsy turvy, super quick, and you're super paranoid.
G - Grandiosity
On a small scale, this is just having an inflated sense of self-belief - you feel as if you can achieve anything and do amazing things. It's a pretty positive feeling. However, this can take a turn for the worse in severe cases and lead to the god delusion - literally, thinking you are god, or have spectacular powers. It's scary stuff.
H - Hallucinations
Some people with severe bipolar can experience hallucinations, imagining things and voices that are not there. I'm lucky enough to have never experienced these, and I can't even imagine what it must be like, but I can presume it's both confusing and terrifying.
I - Irritability
You wouldn't want to be near someone with bipolar when they're feeling irritable. It's a nightmare. Everything is frustrating and annoying, and we aren't afraid to show it. My poor boyfriend has had to deal with my snappy irritability on numerous occasions and somehow has lived to tell the tale...for now.
J - Jubilation
A lot of this article focuses on the negative aspects of the illness, because there are many. But bipolar is an illness of lows and highs, and the highs really are spectacular. I was first diagnosed after my friends kept pointing out that I would go from being utterly miserable to the happiest person they'd ever met. A lot of people that know me are shocked to hear I have bipolar, because they've only ever seen the jubilant, buzzing Shadi. If only that's how it was all the time...