“You are doing your best.”
“You are doing the work.”
“You won’t feel like this forever.”
“You are trying to get better.”
“You are doing everything you can.”
“It must feel good to finally know.”
“You must be relieved.”
I’ve heard a combination of all of the above over the last week as I’ve shared with those closest to me the results of my long awaited psychiatrist appointment. The official diagnosis – Bipolar 2 Disorder with Mixed Features and a side of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). You know, just for added fun. <insert sarcastic eye roll here>
Firstly, I want to give a quick crash course on those “scary” terms and maybe debunk some common misconceptions:
Bipolar Disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that affect how people think, behave and function.
- Bipolar 2 Disorder is a milder form of Bipolar 1, which means I have milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression (i.e. what I went through about a month ago)
- Hypomania is a milder form of mania, meaning I never become fully manic (which from what I’ve learned can be very serious and scary) When I’m hypomanic I have tons of energy and feel very happy. It’s generally pretty great! The problem with hypomania is it can be both long or short lived and is almost always followed by what I’ve come to refer to as a “crash.” The crash can be subtle and emerge as a few hours of unexplained sadness or lack of energy. Or it can be longer lasting and turn into a black hole of despair, lasting days and even weeks.
- Mixed Features refers to the occurrence of simultaneous symptoms of opposite mood polarities during hypomanic or depressive episodes. It’s marked by high energy, sleeplessness, and racing thoughts including feeling hopeless, irritable and sometimes suicidal.
- Bipolar 2 Disorder with Mixed Features is a difficult combination to treat and manage because my moods don’t “stabilize” for as long as they do for people with just Bipolar 1 or 2. Meaning, they [my moods] fluctuate frequently and mix together. As an example, I could be hypomanic and have lots of energy but also feel depressed and suicidal.
- Bipolar often surfaces in adults, though it can be diagnosed at a younger age.
- There is no cure though it is generally manageable with the right medication.
Borderline Personality Disorder causes difficulty regulating or handling emotions or controlling impulses.
- It does not mean I have multiple personalities (though sometimes my moods make me feel like I do)
- It is not uncommon for someone with Bipolar to also have BPD.
- BPD mainly affects my relationships, especially those I consider the closest.
- Its main symptoms include fear of abandonment, poor self image, emptiness associated with loneliness and neediness, impulsive behaviours and “stormy” interpersonal relationships.
- There is no treatment or medication for BPD, though there is guided therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) that helps you to learn to better regulate emotions and is proven to be very successful when applied.
So now what?
New medication, check.
Weekly therapy appointments, check.
It seems pretty linear right? You have a problem, you find a solution and then voila, you’re done! The problem is that mental health is anything but linear, nor is there a simple solution. The road to get to this point was long and winding. Now the real work begins, the one I’m apparently already doing. But nothing feels any different. Happy one minute, sad the next. Independent one minute, needy the next. Confident one minute, broken the next.
Truth is, I’ve been on this rollercoaster for so long it feels like I’ll never get off. Like every time I pull into the station and the attendant says to raise my hands for the lap bar to unlock, the coaster hurdles forward into yet another series of climbs (highs) and drops (lows).
So am I doing my best?
Am I doing the work?
Will I feel like this forever?
Am I trying to get better?
Am I doing everything I can?
Does it feel good to finally know?
Am I relieved?
Those are hard questions to answer. They seem simple, sure. But nothing is simple about being diagnosed with major mood and personality disorders. The reality of any mental health illness is that one day you might take 2 steps forward and the next day you might take 10 steps backwards. Or sideways, as my husband likes to call my “off” days.
Validation is great, but confirmation that this is something I’ll live with for the rest of my life is a hard pill to swallow. The medications prescribed for Bipolar are no joke and the side effects are nauseating, both literally and figuratively.
The therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder is long and taxing – though promising. It’s something I will have to work at constantly just to maintain the relationships I pride myself so greatly on having. Some relationships won’t survive. My darkness will just be too much. That’s okay, as hard as it will be, I will survive the losses. Others will sit in the darkness with me. For those people I will fight relentlessly, because losing them would simply just be too much to endure.
Where is the reprieve though? How do I find the light amongst such darkness? It’s hard to be optimistic about something so exhausting, even more so when you have little to no control over it.
I once heard depression described as a dark room where the light switch and door handles are missing.
My room looks a little different, and like my mood, changes depending on the day. But the fixtures remain the same. There’s a window in my room to let fresh air in when I cannot breathe. There is a door handle that opens to let my army in. Sometimes I lock the door but those who love me have a key and come in regardless. There are pictures on the wall that remind me of all I have that’s worth fighting for. My light switch is on a dimmer. When the dimmer is all the way up I shine bright over everyone around me. The best version of myself. In that brightness I am a great mom, wife, daughter, sister & friend. But the dimmer is broken and has been for quite some time. It dims without warning, sometimes to half the brightness, other times it shuts off completely to where my room is engulfed in darkness. It’s not as easy as calling an electrician because this is a unique type of dimmer that cannot just be swapped out for a new one. There is no quick fix.
It’s lonely in my room. Even when it’s full of people that I love and who love me in return. And it’s incredibly scary. For the first time in a long time, I am afraid. Afraid of being judged. Afraid of being mislabeled or written off completely. Afraid of actually being alone. My fears are for the most part irrational and unfounded. But it doesn’t make them any less visceral or real.
Now the real work begins, the one I’m apparently already doing. Ready or not, here I go. Hour by hour. Day by day. I’ll die trying.
I am trying to do my best.
I am trying to do the work.
I hope I will not feel like this forever.
I am really trying to get better.
I think I am doing everything I can.
Title Lyrics – “All the Right Moves” by OneRepublic