Living with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, is like riding waves. A drastic crescendo followed by a swift plummet, repeating over and over again. During the high waves, I feel euphoric, invincible, and impulsive. The high waves can be exhilarating, but they are unmanageable and overwhelming. When the waves come crashing down, it feels as if I am drowning. The low waves plunge into a frigid darkness and I struggle to keep my head above water. It is in between the waves, when the surface of the water is calm, that I feel peaceful, capable, and in control.
The high waves represent mania in bipolar disorder. When I am manic, the need for sleep evades me. I will go days without resting, as I feel pulses of energy course through me. My mood becomes elated and I see the world as more colorful. I become obsessed with projects that I start but do not finish. My energy is boundless. Mania distorts my thoughts so that I see myself as brilliant, special, or destined for greatness. Like the time I spent five hundred dollars to start a blog because I thought I was a genius writer. I stayed up for three days perfecting my blog, but I never actually wrote a post. On the other hand, mania can be productive. At times, I have spent hours cleaning one room until it has reached perfection. Some people who live with bipolar disorder enjoy mania and others despise it. I am somebody who looks at mania as a gift. The thrill is like a drug. However, it is also exhausting, and I know it will not last forever.
What comes up must come down. After the waves reach their peak, they spiral downward and a storm ensues. The low waves represent a depressive episode where I struggle to stay afloat and to keep my head above water. The world becomes dark, ominous, and threatening. When I am depressed, I lose interest in the things that I love, I become isolated from the people who care about me, and I lose sight of my dreams and ambitions. Suddenly, I lack the energy to crawl out of bed. Eating is a chore. I become listless and apathetic. That blog I crafted during mania? It now sits stagnant, untouched. In the back of my mind, I think about the investment I made, spending hundreds of dollars on a project. Whereas during mania I felt like a prodigy, I now feel like a failure. The tides have turned.
In between the waves, there is only a gentle ebbing and flowing of the water. The calm after the storm. This is stability. I exist in the present moment, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. I am driven but not obsessed, I am positive but not disillusioned, and I am excited but not impulsive. I am able to set and accomplish goals. With bipolar disorder, it seems like I spend more time riding the waves than I do enjoying the calm between them. Depression can last from days to months and mania occurs a few times per year. I have learned to live for the moments in between and I have learned to understand that no matter how tumultuous the storms are, the water will always return to calm.
I used to try to manipulate the waves. When they carried me upwards, I tried to maintain that state of energy, but it was tiring. When the waves crashed downward, I fought against them in an attempt to keep my head above the water. I have since learned to drift with them, letting them carry me up and down. I have learned to swim in the storm, but I will always be waiting for the moments in between the waves.