Bipolar Depression, Manic Episodes, + Finding Your Own Way

For most of my young adult life, I was terrified of finding out I had bipolar disorder. My dad has bipolar disorder; actually, he was diagnosed back when it was still called manic depressive disorder, which sounds even scarier if you ask me.


I didn’t want to go to a therapist or even worse a psychiatrist because I was afraid they would confirm that I was just like my dad. He seemed sad all of the time. Sometimes he layed in bed for days on end and didn’t know what day it was when he woke up. Not much seemed to make him happy or excited.


When I was little, I saw him in a depressed state a lot of the time, but I can’t remember seeing him in his manic state much. So, to me, bipolar disorder was just depression. And, that looked like me, too. So, I was scared.


When I was 24 and in graduate school, I finally went to a psychiatrist after my school counselor badgered me about it in every session throughout the semester. She didn’t seem to think she could help me and was determined to get me medicated. [More on her and how you should never settle for a therapist who doesn’t feel right in another blog.] I had avoided medication this whole time, all the while having an inkling it might help me, because I was even more scared of becoming someone I didn’t know. The depression got comfortable because at least it was familiar.


By the time you’re in your late twenties, a manic episode has usually manifested for most people with bipolar disorder. So, around the age of 24, I was starting to feel a little safer since I had never experienced what I would call a manic episode. A manic episode can look like an exaggerated sense of well-being, like you could physically withstand anything; exaggerated self-confidence; decreased sleep; talking a lot and talking quickly; racing thoughts; or engaging in pleasurable activities more, even ones that are unsafe.


The psychiatrist scared me even worse than the counselor by telling me I could still have a manic episode at my age. He then put me on a medication that he said would essentially tell if I was bipolar or not. This is because if I had an episode while I was on that particular medication, I would react very poorly--like, they’d have to give me anti-psychotic meds poorly. Are all psychiatrists just trying to scare us? No, just that one? Okay, moving on.


I’m 31 now, and it’s pretty much official that I have clinical depression with a heaping dose of generalized anxiety disorder. While I can’t say that’s loads of fun, it is somewhat a relief that I’m not the spitting image of my dad’s illness. While I’ve never had a manic episode so to speak, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been open to seeing manic tendencies in myself--ones that if I think back hard enough remind me of qualities in my dad.


I get really, really excited about new things (books, musicals, albums, trips) to the point of obsession--where it’s all I can think about and talk about, sometimes for years. Like how after I saw Spring Awakening for the first time in New York City for my 21st birthday I wrote essays about the musical, bought every CD and book related to the project, found out everything I could about all of the original cast and the national tour cast, followed the tour around to different states, worked on a grassroots organization to promote the musical in my own state, and sat on stage during the musical. Maybe I took it a little far.


I take on too many projects at once and as soon as one thing is starting to pick up, I add another project--think wedding planning, then starting a new business, then fixing up a van, then planning a huge road trip. I put all of my energy into some things at the detriment of anything else I have to do, and then don’t always follow through.


I’m not proud of these qualities in myself. While I’ve managed to avoid anything super damaging like becoming obsessed with drugs or missed any class assignments or work projects, I don’t serve my best self when I behave in this way. My mind tends to work so fast that my future tripping is on overdrive. Anxiety central.


If you have any of these habits yourself, you know it can be hard to break them. I’m not claiming to know how because, honestly, I haven’t figured it out. But, I do know that I need to be aware of these habits.


What awareness brings:

  • I need to remind myself to slow down sometimes.

  • I need to let go of projects and be willing to give things up.

  • I need to re-evaluate what’s really important to me and what I really want to spend my time on.

  • I need to be organized and focus on what I need to do first and what I want to do next.

  • I need to schedule in breaks so I don’t overwhelm myself.


Whether you have bipolar disorder, clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, PTS, or some other mental health disorder, know that the title doesn’t define you. I highly recommend working with a psychiatrist and a therapist (the right ones, which are not often the first ones you find). But, at the end of the day, your mental health is up to you. It’s up to you to recognize habits in yourself, to be aware of your own patterns, and work to find what strategies work for you.


What habits do YOU need to be more aware of?


Do you have someone to support you on your mental health journey? If you don't have someone, don't worry! I want you to join MY internet tribe over on Facebook. We're here to support you and be your cheerleader. 


I wanted to take some of the guesswork out of finding those strategies. That’s why I created The Mental Health Toolbox. It’s 30+ pages of tips and techniques on how to manage depression + anxiety. It’s coming out soon, but to tide you over, I’m giving away 4 of my best tips for FREE.