Bipolar Disorder Community
How does it actually feel to be 'bi-polar'?
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Bipolar Disorder is also known as "Manic Depressive Disorder". This forum is for questions and support for people with, or for loved ones of people with Bipolar Disorder. The forum covers topics ranging from Aggressive Behavior, Affect on friends and Family, Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Appetite Changes, Chronic Pain, Denial, Depression, Difficulty Concentrating, Euphoria, Guilt, Manic Depression, Medications, Mood Swings, Poor Judgment, and Sleep Disorders

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How does it actually feel to be 'bi-polar'?

Many folk say 'my disorder' or 'I was diagnosed as bi-polar...' etc. but I can't help feel that that's accepting the lone-size-fits-all label of BPD a bit too unquestioningly. What does it actually feel like to be 'on one', or to have 'a bender' - positive or negative. How does it feel to experience a mood swing? I can only Imagine that folk feel that whatever their disorder is, it's singularly unique to them!




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Avatar_m_tn
... one-size-fits-all.
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Avatar_f_tn
It depends quite a bit.

Mania can feel quite awesome.  You're thinking fast, really creative, getting a lot done.  Then, it gets more severe, and you're still having ideas but the productivity is greatly reduced.  You feel on top of the world, grandiose thoughts seep in.  You can do anything and everything.  You're invincible.  You don't need to sleep but a little, if at all.

Then, there's the other side of mania: the energy and high with irritability and agitation, the psychosis.  All of which is frustrating and/or scary.  You see things, hear things, and you may or may not even realize they're not there.

Mania usually leads to depression but not always, and when it does, oh, how it hurts.  I mean, you go from this great mood and feeling invincible to feeling like you want to die.  Your body's tired, you're dragging, can't get anything done, can't think straight.  You wonder why you even bother anymore.  Of course, depression can happen on its own, but for the most part, it follows my periods of mania.

I'd recommend reading "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redford Jamison.  She does a great job recording her experiences with her own bipolar disorder.
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Mood swings are normal things that everyone has experienced at some point.  The difference between having mood swings and having bipolar is the frequency and severity of these mood swings.  Also, there can be other features than mood.  I suggest you look up "mania" or "hypomania" (which is just mania lite) and take a look at the symptoms, because they are not just "feeling really happy".  Mania is characterised by a lack of inhibition, an excess of energy (even sleeping just an hour a night or something), risk-taking behaviour, anger or happiness, word diarrhoea or even speaking in rhyme or something strange like that.  The depressive periods are very similar to "normal" depression.  There are mixed episodes, where one has elements of mania and depression.  
Everyone who has bipolar is a little different, as you rightly point out.  There are people who go through 'rapid-cycling', which is where you have more than three episodes a year of mania/hypomania/depression.  There are people who only ever get moderately depressed but get very manic, there are people who only get hypomanic and depressed but not manic (these latter people have Bipolar Type II.  If you get manic you are bipolar type I.  If you only rapidly cycle, you have Cyclothymia, which is basically bipolar lite).  These "episodes" are usually much more clearcut than the mood swings of normal people.  For example, I was suicidal one day and then happy the next.  And I don't mean I had a bad day and thought of suicide and then the next day was better.  I mean I couldn't function at all for months, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't do a thing.  and then the next day I woke up happy and remained so for months.  Until the next episode.  My mother goes from suicidal to skipping as well, and she has a bipolar type II diagnosis.  
European psychiatry tends to see the United States as overdiagnosing bipolar, and I agree, but of course that is a matter of opinion.  It's pretty much an American thing to think that children can be bipolar, for example, or to count people whose condition is temporary.  Also America has a higher rate of bipolar than other coutnries because of the prescription of anti-depressants in childhood, which has now been shown to sometimes trigger problems with mood swings later in life.  But of course just because America may overdiagnose bipolar, doesn't mean I or anyone can go about deciding who does and doesn't have an accurate diagnosis.  Which is my pet peeve, because I often get people questioning my diagnosis who doesn't know a thing, saying "oh, you just seem a little eccentric".  Well, the people who say that don't have a clue about my regular major breakdowns where I have such mood, psychotic and dissociative problems that I can't function.  I haven't been diagnosed as bipolar because I am young and my condition is still evolving and I don't fit into any box properly yet, but it seems to me and my favourite doctor that I am developing either bipolar or schizophrenia.  I am on anti-depressants, mood stabilisers, and have antipsychotics I can take if I wish (I do not wish).  Under American guidelines, I would be classed as bipolar.  
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Mania for me is like EVERYTHING is going faster. All my thoughts go faster, I talk faster, I want everything done faster, I drive faster, etc. It feels like there's a pressure building up inside and the only way to keep it from becoming too much is to go faster. I fidget and ramble, I can't sit still, I'm distracted by everything. I feel like I am the universe, I am the most important person in the world and I'm the best at everything I try. I'm the best at my job, the best at driving, the best at shopping (lots of shopping if I have money). But then I start to hear things that aren't there, people talking to me who aren't around. People calling for me when they're not around. Music playing when it's silent. I start to feel that people are watching me, laughing at me, talking about me. It's all about me. I start to feel like people are following me, everyone is attracted to me. Then I start to get angry, everything that doesn't go my way makes me angry! I can't find my book, and it HAS to be the book I want, I'll tear apart my house looking for it leaving a mess behind me.
That's not really in any sort of order though.

When I'm depressed though, everything is darker. Everything is hopeless, I couldn't do anything at all, not even the simplest task. Because I had no energy at all, no reason for being around, I feel like I'm a failure when I'm depressed. I lay on the couch all day starring at the tv screen, I don't eat, I don't drink, I just lay there. When people are around I put on my best act and sometimes it works, but sometimes I just can't keep the tears back. I think about death all the time, how easy it would be for me and everyone else afterwards, how they'd probably be sad at first but quickly move on. When I was most depressed I would do drugs, I snorted cocaine and rolled with extacy. I feel like hurting myself and sometimes I do. And sometimes I make plans for my suicide, and twice I've tried. For anyone who's ever thought about it but never tried, don't! It's the most physically painful and humiliating thing you could do to yourself. And I hear and feel people around me too when I'm depressed, it's just worse.

Anyways I can't think of anything else
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Avatar_m_tn
Thanks to all for your comments... I've read them all the way through and truly empathise!

From the few replies, it does seem that BPD is similar for sufferers in that they generally swing from 'getting a lot done' over to  'unexplainable dark thoughts'. Is that right, that  these might be 'typical behaviours' that a trained professional might recognise as BPD? The frequency of this flip-flop seems to differ great from hours to months - is that still BPD or are there accepted nuances?  

I've read plenty on the subject of BPD as I have four friends all diagnosed with it and on the same medication. Posting reference to other material is much appreciated but I am primarily interested in how it feels for sufferers first-hand! And so, am still open to others comments on how it actually feels for YOU to be bi-polar. For instance, I'm curious - are there periods of normalcy between episodes?  
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I do feel normal between episodes. Sometimes I don't though and I'll just bounce between up or down for a while, when I do feel normal apparently my usual responce is "I feel so calm and down to earth that I feel like I'm on drugs!" to which my fiance replies "You say that every time.."
In terms of how long it lasts, the dsm says that (all of these are lengths not requiring hospitalization) mania: 1 week, hypomania: 4days, depression: 2 weeks. Everyone is different and some people don't always meet these timelines, I think it's more important to look at severity than length, a 2 or 3 day long manic episode if it's severe can be just as damaging to life as a longer one.
It's also important to look at how many episodes a person has a year. A "normal" bipolar amount is up to 3. Rapid cycling is defined as 4 or more. Ultra rapid cycling is faster and ultradian is mood swings happening in the same day.
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Avatar_f_tn
I don't get a 'normal' really.

I am a pendulum. I swing high - love love love life, people, moving, getting stuff done... so productive and friendly and just happy.

The lows are awful. Sleeping, dark thoughts, just wanting the bed to suck me in because I just can't deal with rolling out of bed in the morning because it's just too darn much to deal with.

I also get mixed episodes. Those are the worst for me. My mind was racing, I couldn't sit still, I was pacing... but without the happy thoughts. More like the anxiety and awful thoughts were going to make me explode and I couldn't stop thinking or moving.

With my mixed I also had delusions that were terrifying (thinking there were people at my windows) and awful intrusive thoughts (OCD). It was worse than depression, even though I didn't realize that was possible.

I apparently am a rapid cycler, which I never thought about until my psychiatrist mentioned it. We get me as close to a 'normal' mood as we can, but I'm always needing adjustments because I can't stabilize.
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When I first began to have the highs and lows of bipolar I would have full blown manic episodes where I thought it was a great idea to just up and quit my job, disappear for days without telling anyone where I was going, be promiscuous and drink to the point where I would black out. Usually during those times I would feel like I was totally in control, queen of the world, being bold and really living life.

But then the mania subsided and a completely soul crushing depression would set in. I would feel like the whole world was black and just doing the simplest thing like brushing my hair or getting dressed was a monumental task. And during those times I would be desperately trying to repair the damage I caused when I was manic.

Eventually I sought help and was finally diagnosed as bipolar rather than having only episodes of depression, which is what I was told was my problem for years.

Five years or so into being diagnosed now I don't experience manic episodes very often anymore. My issue is with rapid cycling and mixed episodes. Rapid cycling is fairly normal for me. I can go from the top of the world to the bottom of a well in a single day.  For the most part, I am able to rationalize my way through this though and the meds do their job.

For me, a mixed episode is the worst part of the whole disease. I feel so anxious and sad, just wanting to curl up and hide, but at the same time my mind is racing a million miles an hour and I can't focus on anything and I am so irritable that I lash out at everyone. I have really odd repetitive thoughts.  I can't close my eyes without having images appear behind my eyelids, patterns and faces and scenes that are so disturbing I can't sleep. There is no relief for me during these episodes. I will self injure in a futile attempt to alleviate some of the feelings crowding my head. Usually when I fall into one of these episodes delusions and hallucinations are soon to follow.  I have had to be hospitalized a number of times due to mixed episodes. The last hospitalization was complicated by postpartum depression on top of the mixed episode.

This is how bipolar tends to effect me. I know it is different for everyone in certain ways, but I would hope some of this sounds familiar to other people.
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Avatar_f_tn
I don't post here.  I was reading your responses and thought I'd throw in something.  Most of the time I'm running in the depressed phase, where I can't seem to get anything done.  I've had times where I have manic moments.  I've only had 2 or 3 episodes of those.  I hate those!  For about the last week, I feel like I've been in a "normal" range, which I've actually enjoyed!  
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Avatar_m_tn
Again, thanks for all you real-life comments!

I'd not thought of a 'mixed' sate before but as it's described above - it seems to be very different from 'normal'?

Re: frequency of episode... some talk of having only ever had two or three manic episodes in life, the DSMIV is quoted that two or three per year is BPD, plus there are several descriptions for other faster frequencies e.g hypomanic and cyclothymia et cetera.

Just going  by contributors stories, it seems to me that BPD has  four states: Manic, depressed, mixed and normal. It appears that contributors exist more in a zone that cycles slowly between 'depressed' and 'normal' and only occasionally get 'manic' or have 'mixed' episodes  - is that a fair description?

Kindly comment with YOUR experience!

Superbuggg



Is what seems to be described here specifically as 'mixed' actually an out-of-character increase in frequency between the 'poles' manic and depressed
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Avatar_f_tn
In my younger years, before I was diagnosed, I had periods of depression (was diagnosed with depression) than I had periods of extra energy, brain working perfectly, I was social, I could do anything and a little more. Then I had what my GP referred to as a nervous breakdown. It was horrible. I was super anxious, couldn't leave the house, didn't want to talk to anyone. I was afraid. I would cry a lot. It was like the car was in park but the motor was revving. In between I would have years of 'normal'.

In the last 4 years things have been pretty rough for me. I have held jobs for short periods during my normal/slightly hypomanic time. I developed Ultridian (ultra rapid) Cycling. That is when you switch moods within hours of days. It is like being on an emotional elavator and not knowing which floor you are getting off on today. I could literally feel my mood switch mid day sometimes. I wasn't getting the nice mania, I was getting irritable mania. I had energy but everything was pissing me off. I had a lot of anxiety. I couldn't stop my thoughts and my dreams became very vivid. The depressions were crushing. I felt like I had no worth. I felt broken. I ached. I didn't shower and many days didn't get out of bed or watched TV all day. They tried a lot of different medications during this time and nothing was seeming to help, or  had dangerous side effects. I was told by one pdoc that I just had to learn to live with it because there was nothing more they could do. I saw a new pdoc I read about SSRI antidepressants causing this so I asked to be taken off of them.He said he would if I would go on an older antidepressant. I picked trazodone. That helped but didn't work the whole way. I am now on 3 different medications and they help but don't take it away. I am working part time which is a really big deal for me. There was a long period of time where I was certain I would never work again.

The medication makes me tired during the day and I don't sleep very well at night. It is frustrating to be in my 30's and need an afternoon nap.

I am really struggling with accepting my life as it is. There is a large chance that part-time work is all I will ever be able to handle. I was an executive with a large salary. Now we are living hand to mouth. This illness can be very cruel.

And yet I know I am fortunate. Many have it much worse than I do. So I am thankful for the gains I have made. I've come a long way, especially in the last two years.
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Avatar_m_tn
Wow... amazing! I especially liked the analogy '...the car was in park but the motor was revving' Thank you!
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Avatar_f_tn
My mixed episode was just like a manic episode - insane amounts of energy, no sleeping, no focus, can't stop moving... only the rapid cycling thoughts and energy weren't positive. Usually you'd catch me working out 2 or more hours a day if I was manic/hypomanic... but this time I was just pacing and my anxiety was out of control awful... thinking about every awful thing about my life... It was like being depressed on speed, for a lack of better descriptors. Plus the OCD (thinking knives were going to just up and cut me somehow from the drawer, so bad my husband had to put the knives away because I thought somehow they'd cut me... ugh)... and the faces at my windows (thank you, paranoia that cropped up)... I was like a ball of uncontrollable anxiety/depression/negativity. I was scared to sleep (even the 2hours I was getting).

I am constantly up or down. I have no idea how many times a year I swing... I usually swing several times a month, although when I hit a bad episode (depression or the mixed) I stick there until they can correct it with med adjustments.

I have to say it's interesting to read everyone else's stories... it's a relief (and yet really sad) to know that others have so much in common with me, even if we do have a lot of differences. I don't feel so alone. I don't have any friends with BP, so I don't really talk to others like me a lot :)
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Avatar_m_tn
This forum software asks me to select the 'best answer' to my initial question... but really, how can that be done - all the comment have been unique and powerful?  

I just drifted through and copied these our as the most interesting, and honest of contributors comments so far. Most of which, raise further questions:

Thatquietgirl: Mania can feel quite awesome. You see things, hear things, and you may or may not even realize they're not there. Mania usually leads to depression. feeling like you want to die. getting a lot done/can't get anything done. for the most part, it follows my periods of mania. I'd recommend reading "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redford Jamison.

Capegirlnoshoes: Mania is characterised by a lack of inhibition, 'rapid-cycling', which is where you have more than three episodes a year. there are people who only get hypomanic and depressed but not manic (these latter people have Bipolar Type II. couldn't do a thing.  and then the next day I woke up happy. European psychiatry tends to see the United States as overdiagnosing bipolar, and I agree, but of course that is a matter of opinion.  It's pretty much an American thing to think that children can be bipolar, for example, or to count people whose condition is temporary.  Also America has a higher rate of bipolar than other coutnries because of the prescription of anti-depressants in childhood, Which is my pet peeve, because I often get people questioning my diagnosis.   I have such mood, psychotic and dissociative problems that I can't function.  I haven't been diagnosed as bipolar because I am young and my condition is still evolving. but it seems to me and my favourite doctor that I am developing either bipolar or schizophrenia.   I am on anti-depressants, mood stabilisers, and have antipsychotics.

RBoulet: EVERYTHING is going faster. All my thoughts go faster, I talk faster, I want everything done faster, I drive faster, etc.  I feel like I am the universe, I start to hear things that aren't there, people talking to me who aren't around. People calling for me when they're not around. Music playing when it's silent. everyone is attracted to me.  I just can't keep the tears back. I think about death all the time. It's the most physically painful and humiliating thing you could do to yourself. Anyways I can't think of anything else. "I feel so calm and down to earth that I feel like I'm on drugs!" . I think it's more important to look at severity than length,

Linda Hand -  They tried a lot of different medications during this time and nothing was seeming to help, or  had dangerous side effects.  I picked trazodone. That helped but didn't work the whole way. I am now on 3 different medications and they help but don't take it away. my normal/slightly hypomanic time. I had what my GP referred to as a nervous breakdown. Ultridian (ultra rapid) Cycling.

Linda Campbell: I don't post here. For about the last week, I feel like I've been in a "normal" range, which I've actually enjoyed!

Run4you:My mixed episode was just like a manic episode. Plus the OCD (thinking knives were going to just up and cut me somehow from the drawer, I usually swing several times a month. I stick there until they can correct it with med adjustments.  (thinking there were people at my windows) and awful intrusive thoughts (OCD). it's a relief (and yet really sad) to know that others have so much in common with me,

SallyScissorHands: Five years or so into being diagnosed now I don't experience manic episodes very often anymore.


And to Thatquietgirl... I've just ordered "An Unquiet Mind" and look forward to reading it.
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Wow, you guys are awesome.  You beautifully explained this terrible condition.  I'm new to the forum and am going to "friend request" all of you, lol.

lindahand - I was reading my own story in your post.  The way you touched on the feeling of loss of "might have beens".

Run4you - the sad relief that we really are all the same.

The description of ultra-rapid cycling.

You guys are awesome.  I'm in terribly good company.
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I have bipolar 1 rapid cycling Darlene age 43
Mania for me at its worst is promiscuity, over spending, saying stupid things and doing stupid things. I am so humiliated and embarrased when i come down.  Last year i startwd getting psychosis. Hearing voices, people following me who were going to stab me, (almost hit some guy over the head with my purse). Not fun. Mania feels like i am the most beautoful, sexiest, smartest, most artistic person. I bounce off the walls with energy, get alot accomplished, Am arrogant, get impatient with "stupid people". I was at my granmas funeral, bouncing off the walls laughing, tickling people and trying to dance with people... Horrifying. My emotions have their own agenda and dont often match lifes situations. Promiscuity is so shameful, i always regret and hate myself. Would NEVER make the choices about sex when normal. It is like i lose my mind. I hate feeling like i cannot control my mind, my choices. Another manIc occasion, i was at support group and ran around pinching guys bums and laughing. Humiliating.
Depression, well these are hellish. Includes slashing my arms, unable to get motivated, feel hopeless, suicidal thoughts and planning. So much pain !!! I would compare the pain to when a normal person grieves a death of loved one. It is that intense. Hate myself, hate my life, i am the ugliest, stupidest person alive. I think everyone hates me. Very difficult to leave my house. Usually stay home in bed with covers over head, or on couch watching t.v.  I cycle about every 5 to 7 days.  I go up, middle, down, middle, up, middle, down .... When i come out of depression, it feels like i am deep underwater and all of a sudden my head pops up above the water and i see the sunshine. It is very bizarre. Just diagnosed 6 years ago. Clean and sober now for 5 years, but used drugs and alcohol to cope before diagnosis.
I am now on lamotrigine, ciprilex and trazodone, and my moods still swing but it is less severe. Trying to learn how to live with this illness. Stress sets it off, so i try to avoid and manage stress.
Thank u for asking, glad to share my "secret".
Darlene
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Avatar_f_tn
My main problem just happens to be that I am manic a lot more than I am depressed. It seems that I go from manic to mixed and back to manic all the time. I'm sure that I get depressed. But I think that it's such a short amount of time that I don't even notice it. My mania follows along with the same symptoms as have been mentioned by others. The worst part is the paranoia. I also hate the over spending that seems to come along no matter what mood I am in. Makes it really hard on my spouse when I can't hold a job for more than 2 months at a time because of my instability, yet I spend like we have money to blow. I feel great when I'm shopping, then guilty for spending money! I'm on a mix of meds that leave me aware of living a life instead of sleeping through it yet My symptoms while a lot better are still excessive. I have a hard time being on a lot of mood stabilizers because they make me so tired that I can't even take care of day to day things.
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Avatar_m_tn
For me its quite simple. I have a neutral point between the manic and depression episodes. During My manic episodes i am always happy, i laugh uncontrollably till my sides hurt, i become talkative but can never find the words to express my thoughts. I run around make weird noises or if i am at home just start rolling around on the floor laughing. i never know why i am laughing, or even on the floor. this can last 10 minutes all the way up to 2 hours. but always after having a manic episode, i go straight into depression. this usually lasts about a day. i have all these thoughts about guilt. i feel that every single problem that someone has faced that i know of is because they know me, and it doesnt even matter if i wasnt involved, it will still be my fault. i get angry at myself, i hit myself, i harm myself and i start crying, tears pouring out of my eyes as i am screaming "what the f--- is wrong with me?!" every single person i have fallen in love with has been hurt by my condition and they chose to leave me alone instead of helping me in my cry for help. i just want to die. and then eventually i get over it, i walk and forget that all that had ever happened, i become neutral again for a couple of days. and it all repeats.
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Avatar_f_tn
My mood is crazy.

It changes within minutes. I can be laughing my heart out one second, the next crying & feeling so bad it actually physically hurts, the next one I hate myself & all can think of is ways to kill myself & what I could write to my mom if I did so. Usually when I get so depressed I feel like killing myself it's really hard to crawl out of that hole. I roll up in bed & cuddle my bunny (that I have since before I was born 20 years now, I sleep with it every night, I cannot sleep without it, I get all anxious, sleeping with it is really comforting) & cry or just lay there thinking of reason why I should kill myself. Mostly that I have osteoarthritis (yes, you can have that with 19) and that it will only get worse & that because I'm bipolar having kids one day will be difficult (although that'll be in like sooo many years) & then I think I'm sorry for my boyfriend...because I feel like he's wasting his life with me & I convince myself that I should just break up with him, leave & never come back (I also convince myself that I shouldn't have kids, although that's one of the only reasons why I want to live). Or I should just kill myself so that he doesn't have to deal with me anymore. Then somewhen along the way, I feel a lot better & I sit on his lap & say that I'm sorry for my mood swing & thank you for being so patience & he reassures me that it's alright & that I shouldn't worry & then I start crying again because I fell that he's just going to get tired of me one day & leave me...I kinda have abandonment issues. & then he gives me a little kiss & I'm on the clouds again, seeing flying elephants & unicorns.

Sometimes I'm just sitting on my desk working on something & I of nowhere I just feel like crying & start feeling bad. Then again I start thinking of all the things that are wrong with me, why I should just stop all the pain (because of my osteoarthritis I'm in pain ALL the time). Then it's as if someone pressed a switch & I start being all productive again, smiling (to myself) being all optimistic about my disorders, knowing that I can do something against them & it can get better. It's ups & downs, not only between hours, between minutes. My mood can change so fast...it's nuts. But ever since I'm taking my medication I'm doing a lot better. The problem is when I start thinking that maybe there's nothing wrong with me & that I should just stop taking my medication & then I think again of all my physical problems & get depressed, then optimistic again, then happy, then laughing then again spinning downwards.

Another problem I have is that I'm really impulsive, pretty much all the time since I have mixed states & I'm never "normal". I sometimes have hypomanias, but never really bad depressions...well, I don't know, my boyfriend is really supportive and helps me live a decent life, he makes me get out of bed, he makes me go to university, he makes me go to work. That helps me. If I were alone I couldn't do any of that. I don't really do it because I want to, I mainly do it because I love him & he's been the most supportive, understanding, patient, loving person to me & he accepts me the way I am. With my roller coaster of emotions, with my craziness, with my OMG IM FREAKING OUT IM SO OBSESSED WITH ____ (fill in the blank). Oh yeah, that's another one. I get obsessed over things REALLY easily. Especially about buying things I will never need, or dying my hair some crazy color, or cutting my hair short although I've been letting it grow for 3 years because all I wanted was for it to be long, or reorganizing the room, or ordering all my books AGAIN in a different order.

I also have a really short attention span. Like a one day fly's. It all sounds so catastrophic...well in a way it is. In a way it's not. Depends on my mood. As I wrote the other day on my notebook:

I'm sick. I'm happy & I'm sad. I feel good & I feel bad. I laugh & I cry. I scream & I remain silent. I feel pain & I feel pleasure. I smile & I frown. I create & I destroy. I want to live & I want to die. Mostly simultaneously, ALL of them.

Also my thoughts are a mess ^^ but I hope I helped you a bit :)
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