I have been writing on The Mighty for over two years now, but I feel the need to reintroduce myself.
My name is Jane and I have bipolar disorder type 2.
That’s right; my diagnosis was changed on me about a month ago. After countless therapy and physiological sessions, medications, doctor visits and late nights scanning the internet on how to get a handle on a depression disorder – it turns out I didn’t have it at all.
Bipolar. When my physiatrist told me I had a type of bipolar disorder, I actually laughed at his face. I thought he was joking. I had friends who had bipolar disorder and I acted nothing like them. I didn’t have bizarre manic highs for days, which is the typical image when you think of bipolar. It turns out there is more than one type of bipolar disorder. My friends had type 1, while I had type 2. While we do have “up” and “down” moods, how intense we feel each “up” or “down” is different. How we act during each mood is different. Our medications and treatments are different. Even though it is caused by similar altered brain structures and chemicals, these were two different disorders.
But back to my diagnosis story. The doctor waited until my laughter turned uneasy when I noticed he was being completely serious. He asked me to research the symptoms of bipolar type 2 and to make notes about any symptoms that sounded like me. When I did, I was shocked. Annoying little “quirks” I thought were part of my personality, which I couldn’t control, were actually a part of the disorder. It turns out my bipolar disorder had been present throughout my teenage years, before anyone suspected I had developed a mental illness.
Below are the eight main symptoms that told my doctors I had bipolar type 2. Please remember that each person exhibits their bipolar disorder differently and to seek medical help if these are triggering for you.
1. I am a creative type.
There are many studies that show artistry and bipolar disorder are inevitably linked. Researchers are still looking at why that is, as bipolar individuals in the arts are overrepresented as a group. But I feel like I am in good company here as Lily Allen, Mariah Carey, Stephen Fry, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Carrie Fisher, Sinead O’Connor, Demi Lovato all have or had bipolar disorder. Even more celebrities who are well-known for their artistic side fall under bipolar disorder.
2. I constantly have new ideas, especially toward projects and plans I want to finish.
During my “up” moods or manic periods, I have a noticeable increase in energy. I get so excited that I speak so quickly and no one can understand what I am saying. My thoughts race and quickly jump from one subject to the next. I want to do a hundred different projects at once and might even choose to sleep shorter periods because it is more important to get these projects done than to take care of my health. I used to be a workaholic, and I remember periods when I’d only get three hours of sleep (or less) because I was so excited or wired. I just had a need to do a lot of tasks, especially at 3 a.m. A part of my brain knew it was unhealthy, but there was a louder voice or impulse “to do all the things,” as it says in the meme.
3. Periods of reckless behavior.
Spending too much money can be a bipolar symptom. I thought this was a female thing and that, when people go into their favorite store, they couldn’t help but spend $200 or $300. My favorite was craft stores, where I would go in for colored paper but end up buying furniture, fabric, gifts, stationery and more. It turns out during a manic period, my brain turns off a lot of inhibitors that tell me when I’m “acting out” or making decisions I usually wouldn’t make. I know now I have to keep an eye out for these manic periods, as they can be a little dangerous — and not just to my bank account. I am more likely to drive too fast or run through red lights when I am usually a very careful driver, drink too much at parties when I don’t drink and do things around the house without thinking of my safety (like put a fork in the toaster without turning it off because my toast is stuck). A big thing about being reckless is that I would do something “spur of the moment.” Not go get breakfast or go to the gym. More like explore a forest and walk until I can’t walk anymore, then call up my family to let them know where I am and have them pick me up because I’m lost and can’t get home. Also, adopt a dog and then drive through the night so I can meet him as soon as possible.
4. Feeling emotions more intensely than my friends.
I always knew I felt things differently than my family and friends. A PG kids’ movie would leave me a blubbery mess while my friends were bored stiff. A news story about a corrupt politician or environmental rally would throw me into a fit of rage and I hardly show any type of anger. I remember coming out of a staff meeting feeling so upset and raw. I felt as if the manager was attacking me during the whole meeting and I could only hold it together until I was back in my office. My best friend followed me and couldn’t believe my reaction. “Jane… she wasn’t attacking you! She was giving the whole team constructive feedback,” was her response to the meeting. A small part of me knew she was right, but I couldn’t help but feel so irritable and tearful. Knowing what I do about my bipolar symptoms now, maybe I was experiencing a “low” or depressive episode, or my bipolar was making me feel irritable that day. I was reading so deeply into events and coming to an illogical conclusion and reaction, which would confuse, annoy or scare my friends and family as they couldn’t really understand why I was feeling the way I was. I also struggled to understand why I was feeling the way I was as well.
5. Having a special meaning or significance in (ordinary) items.
During an “up” or manic period, I get told that some of my beliefs are a little strange and I’ve lost contact with reality. I would get fascinated with art pictures in books and paintings or certain objects that people gave to me. I remember when I was a teenager, finding a book about dragons and explaining to my friend about how the colors flowed together in the pictures. My friend told me I was a nerd and left me to pour over the pictures alone. Later, I had to photocopy the book so I could “own” those pictures. I still do something now where I have to have a hard copy of books or printed pages of a painting so I can “possess” something “unpossessable” — an idea or feeling that the image or picture has given me. I think it is a similar feeling to my shopping sprees, where my bipolar disorder makes me want to collect feelings or ideas.
6. Singing for no reason.
I used to sing at school and loved it. Singing has and will always be an outlet for me. However, during a “low” or depressive mood period, I can’t. The opposite happens during a “high” or manic period. I just sing and sing and sing and can’t stop. I sing hello to my family. I sing hello to my dogs. I sing hello to my plants. I sing hello to my boss. If you are a close friend of mine, I will serenade you in the office as a good morning or goodbye. There could be dancing or props even. You get the picture. My friends asked me what on earth would possess me to sing at them, and I could only answer, “I felt like it.” Now, I know this is one of the big indicators as to where I am in my moods. Especially if I feel the need to dance.
7. Fatigue or low energy.
This is something I have struggled with for ages. This is a sign of my depressive periods — when I have feelings of hopelessness, poor concentration and don’t feel like doing the activities that usually bring me joy. Not only does this have a significant impact on my day-to-day activities, but on my well-being in general. My doctor informed me that because I had bipolar disorder since I was a teenager and it was mostly untreated, it was becoming stronger. And that could be dangerous when it was bipolar disorder type 2. As a person with bipolar gets older, the disorder tends to have longer and more intense periods of the depressive phase. This means my recent tearfulness, lethargy and thoughts of self-harm were linked to my bipolar. I was alarmed that bipolar gets worse the longer it remains untreated. I originally saw my doctor under a diagnosis of depression, and he told me that a lot of type 2 disorders bipolar do get misdiagnosed as depression. The biggest sign I had bipolar and not depression was that my medication wasn’t very effective, especially when it came to dealing with my fatigue and low energy.
8. Having family members with bipolar.
The last one here is a big one. I have an uncle with bipolar disorder, and my family and I thought for the longest time that bipolar wasn’t hereditary. Nope. Now, we are becoming more aware of who has it as the “bipolar gene” definitely runs in my family. There is a myth that if you have someone related to you with bipolar, that you have bipolar too, and this is false. Scientists believe you need the gene, environmental factors and stressors for the gene to actually develop into the bipolar disorder. But the percentages are quite high if you know a family member who has it. Research suggests it is between 5 to 10% for a close relative and 40 to 70% for a twin. I had no idea I had bipolar disorder, so if you do know a family member who has it, it might be a good idea to check out your mental health with a doctor.
So this is what I know so far. Bipolar disorder type 2 is a lifelong condition with the above signs as indicators to how my mood is going. However, I have new medication that is helping to level out the extremes of both the mania and depressive episodes. My focus now is learning how to live my best life, now I know my little “quirks” in my brain have a name. The biggest lesson I’m learning is a message from my doctor: I have a diagnosis, but I am not my diagnosis. I am still a person who deserves to have a full, healthy and productive life.
I hope this article helps you live yours as well.