Living With Rapid Cycling Bipolar Is My Struggle And My Strength

living with rapid cycling bipolar
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

I never in a million years thought I would ever identify with Kanye West.

His ego, politics and god complex have, at best, amused me and at worst, baffled me; but I never really had a strong opinion on him until recently.

After he made a bizarre, emotional speech at a presidential rally and posted some very erratic tweets, Kim Kardashian West spoke out for the first time about her husband’s battle with bipolar disorder.

Her words were kind, dignified and called for compassion instead of ridicule from the press and the public. Her words perfectly summed up bipolar for what it is; complicated, confusing and difficult.

I know this, because I too have bipolar, and I too wish for more compassion.

I was diagnosed with Rapid Cycling Bipolar just over three years ago; after many years and many battles with health professionals, trying to find out what was wrong with me.

Rapid Cycling means I experience at least four “episodes” of depression or mania in a year. But it’s a lot more frequent than this. It’s essentially a constant roller-coaster where I’m either driving the cart off the track at 100mph, or lying on the tracks willing the cart to run over me.

When I’m manic, I feel like I can change the world.

I overspend, because I don’t think of consequence, I talk faster, sleep less and make grandiose almost impossible plans. Usually an introvert, I’m suddenly demanding all eyes on me, forcing people to pay attention through any means necessary.

If you didn’t know better, you would assume I was high on drugs.

What I misidentified as a god complex in Kanye, I can now easily identify with as being an episode of hypomania. My only saving grace is when I’m posting a chain of turbulent tweets, I only really have about 12 followers who could be offended.

Everyone knows about depression. One in four of us have experienced it. And in some ways, depressed people are easier to deal with. I can’t speak for everyone but when I feel down, apart from walking my pup (my lifesaver), I eat my body weight in potatoes, shut the blinds and roll up in a duvet.

Yes, the things going on inside my head are dark and scary and often make me question my whole existence. But on the outside, I’m just a mopey human burrito.

Mania is often billed as the upside of bipolar.

But it is during this time that I feel most like I have a mental illness. In the eye of the storm I feel ecstatic and invincible. I go from caring too much, to not caring enough. I transform into a whirlwind of mania that leaves behind a trail of destruction that either “normal” (whatever that is) or depressed me must pick up.

The choices made while manic often contribute to a spout of depression. I have strong feelings of remorse and shame. Mania makes you irresponsible and promiscuous, and I’ve lost most my friendships during these extreme highs. Though it’s not always terrible. And now I have it under control, I’m usually at my most productive and ambitious when I am manic, although I still haven’t conquered the insomnia.

I’ve never been ashamed of talking about mental health. And since my diagnosis, I happily share with anyone I meet that I have bipolar. But it’s surprising how many people, whether consciously or not, edge away when you mention the B word.

There’s a bad rep for people with mental illness, especially women, since we get labelled as crazy and irrational anyway.

My exes have almost always used my illness against me, even in the simplest of arguments.

One ex owed me a fair amount of money that I was relying on and let me down at the last minute paying it back. When I kicked off, his response was that I was always causing drama and an absolute mental case.

Another ex of mine had his mother escort me to a train station, to get a train from Glasgow to Newcastle, because he said he was scared of what I would do to his flat (I had literally slammed a door and caused a Domino’s pizza box to fall off his amp and spill on the floor).

I later found out he was cheating on me and had another girl at the flat while I was sent to purgatory. But when you have a mental illness, it’s all too easy for others to use it as an excuse to treat you poorly.

Feelings of worthlessness—and being a strong empath—have also meant I’ve ended up with narcissists. But that’s another story.

That’s why I now tell potential partners straight away. I think it’s important to sort the wheat from the chafe. If they can’t see through the stigma of mental illness and see the strong, resilient, caring woman underneath, they don’t deserve a second more of my time.

Most boys like the idea of a wild girl; a good-time girl. But they don’t see me as “wife” material. It’s frustrating because I know I’m a good catch—despite, and probably because, of my illness. But it seems to be a red tape preventing me from making friends and finding love.

It has taken me many years, and I’m still not fully there yet, but I have accepted my illness as part of who I am. And—dare I say it—I wouldn’t change it.

I’ve suffered extreme lows, faced extreme battles, and had to pick myself up time after time. I’ve moved cities, survived domestic abuse, broken more bones than anyone I know, and live with an inside turmoil almost every day. And I do all this with a smile on my face and open arms to help anyone, else who needs it.

It took me ten years and three cities to get a degree in journalism, but I didn’t give up, and graduated with first-class honours last year.

If I didn’t feel so low, I wouldn’t appreciate the completely ordinary moments so much; in fact, I find them wonderful.

I know I am strong, smart and beautiful. And living with rapid cycling bipolar doesn’t affect any of those qualities.

But I wish more people understood.

Maybe now that someone as prominent as KKW is openly talking about it, it may open a conversation about bipolar and its many intricacies.

She described her husband as a “brilliant but complicated” person, and I love that combination. It is a magical, confusing, heart-breaking disorder.

But it’s also time we started speaking openly about the different strains of mental disorders; so we can all understand each other more, and show more compassion.

I’m Lauren, I have Rapid Cycling Bipolar, and I am a brilliant but complicated woman.

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