Bipolar Disorder and Identity

I wasn’t sure who I’d be once I reached some level of stability.

Photo by Hugo L. Casanova on Unsplash

Looking back, I think I began experiencing small scale hypomanic episodes around the age of 15. That’s 15 years of cycling. That’s 15 years of becoming consumed by this hobby, that belief, some goal just to suddenly and completely lose interest. For that interest to resurface years later… or never.

Those fluctuations in identity and values can leave you with a deep level of self-doubt. These days I can barely make a decision without scrutinizing my every thought.

For example, I recently started sharing my experiences with a group of 32 friends on Instagram. This is a large quantity of people for me to blatantly share my story with. I’m doing so due to a deep feeling that the current mental health awareness movement is exclusionary towards anyone who experiences more than depression or anxiety.

If your advocacy doesn’t include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, etc. I don’t want any part in it.

But I question myself every time I start to post. Is this the real me? Am I some level of manic? I run through the DSM. Am I experiencing other symptoms? Maybe I’m slightly impulsive. No euphoria. No agitation. I’m exhausted, not struggling to sleep.

And I think that these feelings must be common in the bipolar community. Especially in those with early onset. Or those, like myself, who also experienced childhood trauma and live with PTSD these days.

Frequent cycles in particular mean that I haven’t been able to develop and intimate relationship with my real self. I’ve mostly been a passenger while my manic side careens us along a cliff as elevations rise and rise. Or while my depressed side slides us back down the mountain at a pace that feels both wild and out of control or an utter crawl.

I’ve spent almost a year being MOSTLY stable. I’ve had one significant episode triggered by Geodon. I spent a week alternating between being awake for 48 hours and sleeping for around 4 hours. I spent weeks with mild symptoms and a lot of brain fog. Beyond that, I’ve had a few minor episodes that my husband and I haven’t recognized until they’ve passed.

But over this time, I’ve recognized a few static parts of me. Passions and interests that have remained consistent. Since my childhood ever.

Heavy Music

This is probably the biggest one. Heavy music and the cultures surrounding it. If you want to talk about mid-2000’s emo and screamo, I’m here. If you want to talk about the 2005–2010 music you could listen to on Headbanger’s Ball at midnight, let’s go. If you want to talk about the early 2010’s metalcore, I’m ready.

Or, we can talk about some of the early 90’s and 2000’s stuff like Disturbed, Mudvayne, and Godsmack, I can go there too.

At a young age, my dad started introducing me to the heavy music he liked. And I ate it up. He’d quiz me. Band, title, album, and track number. He’d brag to friends and coworkers about his kid’s taste in music. Healthy or not, my love and knowledge about the genre (a mostly male dominated genre at that) became integral to who I am as a person.

My husband and I even met through the genre. Me organizing a few shows and him being a metalcore guitarist.

I’m now 30. My 6-year-old likes Motionless in white, Kubla Khan, and Bad Omens. Bring me the Horizon, of course.

In fact, I’m writing at the gaming computer my husband built me in a room that we swap into a recording studio when he has sessions. Sound panels that he built cover the walls. Six or so electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and a bass guitar are hung up in the empty spaces. A full drum set is set up behind me.

We work on house projects with heavy music blasting from a 90’s stereo hooked up to our phones via aux.

I am heavy music.

Outdoorsy Fast Stuff

I don’t know how else to word this.

I learned how to drive a four-wheeler around 10 on a 600 Polaris Scrambler. My dad bought me and him the first round of Yamaha Raptors. And 80 for me and a 660 for him. He sold his and got something else shortly after due to flipping it a few times and breaking his collar bone. He’s not responsible enough for a racing four-wheeler.

We started off with a speedboat. We’d blow across the lake and periodically climb onto a tube on the back. I couldn’t have been older than 7. My mom would drive and we would, occasionally, jump off to sort of freak her out.

My dad decided that tying the speedboat up to my grandparents pontoon boat wasn’t practical. So he bought a jetski. Then another jetski. I’d beg my dad to sub it, where you basically take the whole thing under water by creating a lot of waves, lowering the front end setting, and then running through the wave.

I learned to drive on my own, with my dad on the back of course.

We once went camping at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky and launched near 76 Falls, where we sat on the jetski and watched the beautiful water gush off the edge.

We will soon be carrying on the tradition by picking my raptor up from my granddad’s. My dad, his wife, my husband, the kids, and I will be going to a motocross race like we did when I was little. And it’s only a matter of time before my kids have their own go-cart.

I am speed.

Being Outside in General

I have less to say here.

But take me to the lake. Let’s go on a hike. Let’s sit in the sun and have a picnic. Let’s weave bikes in and out of the woods along a trail that takes us through the sunshine and shade.

Mother nature is regulating. And sharing that time with my family makes it even better.

I am time spent in nature.

Writing

My mom’s bipolar disorder really hit around the time I was 7. Things got bad. My parents weren’t stable people. They drank too much, stayed up too late, and didn’t communicate well.

They weren’t able to care for themselves during a mental health crisis, and they weren’t able to take care of me either.

I started writing poetry as a well to cope and process my experiences and feelings. I found a teacher at school who always read what I wrote and encouraged me. She took many of my poems, paired them with whimsical pictures, and made me a little book of my writing.

I went on to regularly write vignettes of my life. I took every writing class I could in school. Worked up way up to editor-in-chief for my school newspaper.

In college, I continued to write and take writing classes. I have a minor in professional writing and editing.

I still love writing. But my brain isn’t what it use to be. Years of cycles have slowed me down. And I’m not sure that Lamictal or Lithium are doing me any favors. I need help remembering words quite often. I still enjoy writing, but I struggle to see myself ever reaching the potential I thought I had.

I am writing.

My therapist says that the average neurodivergent person finds 4–6 things they love and are passionate about. Parts of themselves that are static. Consistent. I’m on the low end of that spectrum. But I am on the spectrum.

I’m eager to learn more about myself as this journey goes on. My husband and I play playlists of our old music, and try to remember who it is without looking. I’m hoping this will help with some of the cognitive decrease, and help me get closer to the writing I aim for.

Regardless, I’m coming back to myself. And that’s a damn good thing.

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