Living With Bipolar Disorder

Much more than just “normal” mood swings.

Yvonne lives with bipolar disorder and tells how she experiences manic-depressive illness from her point of view.

In contrast to a broken leg, mental illnesses are not visible to outsiders. Unfortunately, they are often something not everyone understands. Yvonne can also sing the proverbial song about this. She lives with a bipolar disorder, which leads her to experience extreme emotional states, from “abysmally desperate” to “furious with enthusiasm”. A suitable therapy helps her to get the manic-depressive illness better under control, to be active, to enjoy the company of other people and life. Nevertheless, the bipolar disorder remains a constant, invisible companion.

Yvonne knows that there will be times when she will be less well again. With her guest contribution she wants to contribute to a better understanding of her fellow human beings and others who live with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders. She therefore explains what it is like to live with a bipolar disorder, how she perceives the manic-depressive disorder herself and how it is perceived by other people.

A sign at many supermarket checkout counters asks for your understanding that you have to show your identity card when purchasing certain items. Sometimes I imagine that I might wear a T-shirt with the inscription “You can’t see my severe disability”.

I should wear it to sensitize my environment to the fact that I suffer from a severe, chronic, mental illness which restricts me so much that I can no longer participate in my professional life and sometimes even forces me to withdraw completely from any social life for a while.

This is due to the bipolar disorder, also better known as manic-depressive disorder, which means that depression and its euphorically irritated counterpart – mania – occur alternately in me. What at first sounds like mood swings, which everyone has, as you know, is much more extreme with me.

“My emotional world doesn’t lie between ‘I’m sad’ and ‘I’m fantastic’, but between ‘I’m desperate and want to die’ and ‘I soak up life with every single pore of my existence and celebrate it with rapturous enthusiasm’.

These are states of such intensity and antagonism that it is hardly bearable, especially as they catch me ice-cold and unprepared. What was still good one day and led to real storms of enthusiasm can be completely inappropriate, even depressing the next day.

With the moodiness of a diva, I change within a very short time. If I was just a shadow of myself, I can soon strain the nerves of my fellow men passionately and full of compulsive overzealousness. Such a person is incalculable and exhausting – for family, friends, the employer and even more for the person himself.

If everything gets completely out of hand because the sick person causes more and more chaos and the inner reality deviates greatly from the outer reality, in some cases only a stay in hospital can help. There, medication and appropriate therapy are used to bring the patient so far that he regains control over his life.

It is not a matter of calming the manic depressive person with tablets, even if this can be helpful in the beginning, so that he reaches a point at which he finally comes to rest and can work on himself and his life. Rather, it is a matter of quickly finding a medication that permanently keeps the diseased brain metabolism in check. This requires real fine-tuning, where half a milligram of a drug can determine whether you are well or not.

For those who can quickly find a suitable cocktail of tablets, can start therapy and are able to put what they have learned into practice. Sometimes years may go by. No easy time and a stroke of luck if finally the medication – I currently have three different medications – ensures that the emotional peaks of the emotional sinus curve are ‘cut off’ – but please only to the extent that life does not become tasteless, because feeling makes us human beings living beings.

Emotional neutrality is hardly bearable if one knows sensations that are beyond all normality. Especially the hypomaniac phases, in which the world is always a bit more colourful and beautiful and you yourself are much more active and often more creative than usual, can easily be missed as a bipolar person, if the feelings are dimmed too much by medication. Some people then skip the tablets and risk a new mess.

Unfortunately, taking tablets on a regular basis is not enough. I also have frequent appointments with my psychologist and psychotherapist. While the psychologist together with me has found out the lowest possible effective medication, I have to fine-tune my way of thinking and living with the psychotherapist.

It took some time until the most urgent personal problems were dealt with and I had also internalized that human well-being is made up of many small gears that mesh and interact with each other.

Due to the illness I have, among other things, concentration and attention disorders, fluctuations in drive and thinking, I am fully incapacitated for work and a burden rather than a benefit for society, but thanks to tablets and therapy I can still lead an active, fulfilled and independent life.

At least that’s what I’ve learned over the past 10 years – since I was diagnosed – how to avoid stress. Stress robs me of my life energy and brings out the emotional peaks dampened by the tablets in order to put me back into chaos.

Through therapy and a lot of reading and trying out, I have acquired the knowledge to be able to deal with it without additional medication or even a stay in hospital being necessary. But this is always associated with a strenuous struggle that tears me out of life and forces me to rest and retreat so that I can fight against the abysmal exhaustion and self-destructive patterns of thought that occur.

I then have to cancel all appointments and cannot keep any actually pleasant appointments and leisure plans, because I use all my strength and attention to pursue strategies that help me in such times. Then I am invisible to my environment and cannot be reached.

“Most people only know and see me when I’m well. They experience me as an active, balanced person and wonder why I don’t manage to work, even though I seem to be doing so well. I would try to explain it if they asked me…”

It takes a lot of practice and self-observation to realize when finally returning to the active normal daily routine is possible and even necessary, so that I don’t remain in the stagnation that inevitably makes me get bogged down in depression. In everything I do, I feel urged to be cautious and slow, just as many people feel urged to hurry.

But after some time it is again possible to enjoy life, to maintain physical health through nutrition and sport, to pay attention to one’s psyche and to live as stress-free as possible. But there is no pure freedom from stress in life and so any effort is always a precaution for the bad times that are guaranteed to come. But until then I enjoy being active again and am also happy about being together with others.