Many of us can remember it in perfect detail: the exact moment when we realized that we were living with bipolar disorder—and, in my case, not depression. Here I unravel my pre-diagnosis misconceptions, “mistakes,” and hypo/manic misadventures—and that pivotal moment of recognition.
My Magic/Manic Moment of Metacognition … The Musical
Who wants to open up “the vault” and rehash some destructive and embarrassing events from the past? Any takers?
… No? OK, fine. I’ll go first.
However. I do like to “ride the wave I’ve got”—and I’ve got an uplifted vibe right now—so I’m going to sing and dance my way through this subject that is difficult for me to think and talk about.
Bear with me.
“Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?”
We all have a story, I think, about the “aha moment” when it finally clicked in our minds that we have bipolar. It’s similar to the way that the general population tends to have an answer for questions like “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” “Where were you when O. J. Simpson took a joyride in his Ford Bronco?” or “Where were you on September 11, 2001?”
For me, the “aha moment”about my bipolar-ness didn’t happen a moment too soon.
“If You Don’t Know Me by Now…”
Years before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I received a gift that I wouldn’t recognize for years to come. I became friends with someone who had (has!) bipolar. I’ll call her Jane Doe to protect her identity.
At the time, I had already done a lot of grappling with depression and considered myself quite woke in terms of mental health awareness. I was happy to get to know Jane, and she made just about every meeting more fun. She was very open with her health and life issues, and I was happy to be a listening ear of encouragement—and also to get her unique take on things.
Jane and I were both going through breakups, and we shared camaraderie over re-entering the dating world. She joined an online dating site and had hilarious stories of encounters with potential suitors. But when I eventually heard about her (lengthy) series of one-night stands, I started to feel bothered. I made a judgment about her that she was too careless. “She doesn’t have enough respect for her body,” I told myself, subconsciously.
Jane bought a new car, signed up for an elective surgery, bought new computers, and began searching for the perfect vintage pinball machine on eBay. Good for her! I was even happy to give her gas money when she asked for it (“Oops! Jane must’ve left her wallet at home!”) But when I heard about the payment dodging, the overdrawn accounts, and the bill collectors, I started to feel bothered. I made a judgment about her that she was too wasteful and careless about money. “She doesn’t have enough self-control,” I told myself, subconsciously.
In my book, she was doing all the right things to manage her bipolar—talk therapy, medication compliance, and taking a brief leave of absence to straighten things out. But after weeks and weeks of extended leaves, I started to feel bothered. I made a judgment about her that she was taking advantage of the system. “She isn’t driven enough,” I told myself, subconsciously.
The painful moral of this part of the story is: despite having a perceived “awareness” about mental health and/or having an anti-stigma attitude in general, we can still make uninformed and inaccurate assumptions about ourselves and others.
Fast-forward a few years, and I’m no longer employed. I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar; and, as you can see from the previous section, I was not at all in touch with the symptoms, causes, or disastrous effects this brain-based illness goes unchecked.
I spent my days at home, with the TV constantly on in the background (hypo/mania much?). If you ever watch network television during the daytime, first of all, it’d better be The Young and the Restless (longtime fan here … as long as I’m baring my soul…); second, you will see a bajillion commercials for pharmaceuticals. From diabetes to breast cancer; from dry-eye syndrome to restless-legs syndrome—the daytime advertising slots are saturated with medications for curing what ails us (or at least trying to).
One commercial kinda stuck with me. It portrayed a woman who was frantically working—like, reallyfrantically. She was happy about it, though! She had a wall full of sticky notes and a computer and a phone and a notepad and was trying to do a dozen things at once. “How funny!” I thought. “That lady is just like me!”
Next time I saw the commercial, I watched the whole thing (this is pretty rare because I find commercials to be annoyingly interruptive and try not to give anyone the satisfaction of holding me hostage while they hawk their wares). And there she was—doing her “kicking a— and taking names” thing. “Maybe I’ll pick up some tips for multitasking!” I chuckled as I looked on. Then the camera angle panned back to reveal that she was doing all of this on top of a literal house of cards. The cards became wobbly with all of her fervent activity and eventually began to fall.
Me: … … …
Suddenly, it felt like I had seen this ending before—in a long-forgotten dream or something. In other words, I saw it and was surprised … but I also thought, “I knew that was going to happen.”
It was a commercial for a drug that treats bipolar.
… And that was the end of that. Full stop. I didn’t spend any time or energy mulling it over further.
But what if I had mulled it over further? Would it have helped me finally recognize my behavior as being bipolar-influenced? I don’t know the answer to that, but, in retrospect, it does seem like my subconscious had latched onto … something.
I think if we pay closer attention to moments like that—by asking our inner “wise mind” to explore the significance of our persistent (but seemingly random) thoughts more deeply—we might shed a bit more light on our own journeys and best paths. (Hint: meditation helps tremendously!)
“Livin’ on the Edge”
Speaking of mulling things over, I’ll tell you what I wasn’t mulling over: the significance and importance of the respectful relationships I’d built with my friends, loved ones, and colleagues over the years. I wasn’t thinking about my best path or my future self. I was sugar-hooked on fizzy feelings.
I did things, y’all. They were bad.
Here’s the only one you’ll get out of me today: I had a shopping spree. It was no ordinary shopping spree, though.… It involved a pair of Louboutins ( … or was it two pairs?); a Vera Wang evening gown; a mink bolero ( … and I’ve always been against wearing fur! WTF?!?); and just about everything that wasn’t bolted to the floor at the Christian Dior makeup counter. By the end of the day, I’d had my hair and makeup professionally done.
… Maybe you are in the 1% of people who can afford to have days like that. I am not. Not by a long shot!
Since bipolar is a cognitive condition that affects not only WHAT we feel but HOW we feel it, we can wind up dancing right at the edge of disaster—and be totally blind to the danger of the chasm below.
“Stop! In the Name of Love”
Fast-forward through a few months of more hypo/mania-induced reckless behavior, to a time when I’m (mistakenly) convinced that everything’s OK and under control. And if anything tried to come between me and that (delusional) sense of security, I was ready to go down in a blaze of glory. (Unless Y&R was on, of course. Everything gets put on hold for new Y&R episodes :)).
Reenter daytime television. As I was walking around the room, I caught the end of a pharmaceutical commercial that portrayed a woman isolating herself from her friends and family. She looked sad, anxious, and helpless—like she really wanted to be outside playing with her family … but couldn’t for some reason. “Oh, that’s just like me,” I thought. (I was doing a lot of self-isolation at the time). My instincts told me that this commercial was about a drug for treating depression. I was familiar with depression; I had been taking prescribed antidepressants for years. But, no, it wasn’t a depression med.
… It was a commercial for a drug that treats bipolar.
My brain: … Wait, what? … [feels itchy] … AHA!
Of course it took me—a bipolar Gemini—two commercials to really get the message. But when I look back at the self-induced “life tornado” that brought my “bipolar brain chemistry” to light, I’m just grateful that I managed to get the message at all.
The moral of this part of the story is that STOPPING and LISTENING can be very productive, even though they may seem mundane and inconsequential.
“Just Another Manic Monday…”
The rest of the day was anticlimactic in comparison to this revelation: I scheduled a meeting with my prescribing teletherapist. I’d only been working with her for a year or so; and, when we first met, I had already been dealing with depression for several years—so that’s what we focused on.
Me: Heyyy, hi … So, umm … I’m bipolar. Dr.: [raises eyebrow] … What makes you say that? Me: [explains latest shenanigans] Dr.: Oh. Ok. Wow. [turns white] Me: I need some different meds, and I’m gonna go back to my regular psychiatrist now. Dr.: Righto. [sigh of relief] I’m calling in a prescription for a mood stabilizer. Don’t stop taking your antidepressant. Meet with your psychiatrist ASAP. Me: Done and done.
Relief & Gratitude for the Correct Diagnosis of Bipolar
I was relieved to have an explanation for my “weird” feelings and behavior; I was relieved that there’s a pill (or two) that can greatly improve life for people with bipolar; and I was relieved that the life-wrecking could stop now. I still feel a sense of gratitude for these things today.
So, that’s the end of the story.… But calling it the “end” of a story seems like a misnomer—because my “aha moment” was really just the beginning of a new and clearer path for me.
*I often get mentally bombarded with a certain song or musical style when I’m writing, and I’ve come to embrace it—so these are my musical muses for the post. Please note, I’m sharing links to the songs for convenience of listening—it’s not about the video element at all.
Brooke Baron has a BA in English, a minor in philosophy, and a lifelong obsession with language. She is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Being Bipolar.
Although born and raised in Alabama, she has been a proud California resident for 10+ years. During a professional stint in Silicon Valley—in both the corporate and private business sectors—she handled internal and external communications, office design and construction, photography and graphic design, executive assistance, and functioning on very little sleep.
Brooke now specializes in "New Human Orientation" from her home in the suburbs. She has a young, loving, growing family of five and is fueled by that love and coffee.
In addition to caring for the rest of Team Baron, she enjoys writing, reading, researching miscellaneous topics, and funneling manic energy into creative projects. With so many balls in the air—including bipolar II disorder—balancing her life is like balancing two kangaroos on a see-saw. She offers consulting services for the bipolar community at Better Bipolar Balance.
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