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How I Stay Alive: Living with Bipolar II Disorder

Words by Hannah Ragen

I live with bipolar II disorder. I will live with it forever. It is a part of my normal life, something that cannot be avoided, ignored. It insists on being at the forefront of my existence, day in and day out.

When I envision my mental illness, it looks like this: I am spinning around, arms out, like a child dancing through a field. Except there are glass walls surrounding me. On one side there is a perfect world, a place I know I have the capacity to reach. But I’m spinning and my arms are crashing through shattering glass. I can see outside where there are people with blank faces, but no one can see in. I cannot speak. My screams are silent, my fists are shaking and my teeth grinding together.

Bipolar II is the most frustrating thing I believe I will ever encounter. Unlike bipolar I sufferers, I do not suffer from psychotic episodes or full-blown mania. Instead, I live with rapid cycling hypermanic and depressive episodes. The difference between mania and hypomania essentially equals the difference between types I and II.

In my experience, bipolar is a widely misunderstood mental illness, and even more unknown is the fact that there are two types. The up is not healthy, the down is not healthy. Some days, my body – which does everything it can to keep me alive – is punished for doing just that. It does not mean to be cruel. It cannot be cured, only managed. It is mental as well as physical.

When I say rapid cycling, I mean this: in the space of a single day, I will feel like I am flying through life effortlessly with my bones on fire and my head in the stars. My brain moves at a thousand miles an hour, more than I can possibly keep up with. And then I will hit absolute rock bottom, unable to move.

My thoughts are consumed with self harm and images of deserted cliffs where it would be so easy to fall from. Sometimes, thoughts can make you bleed. I am painfully aware of every inch of my body: the gaps between my toes, the bumps of my spine, the rough skin on the back of my arms. The scars already etched onto my body in moments of grief seem to pulsate with my heartbeat and turn from white to a shade of red that screams: “you know you want to add to this warzone.”

Sometimes, the highs will last for days, and I just wait there for the inevitable crash to come so I can spend the next days as a hollow shell of the person I was just hours before. It will hit with force and knives at the back of my throat, which ignite the tears of pure frustration and despair.

I take medication. I am not ashamed of that fact. On a day where I forget them, it does not take long for the clouds to cover the sun and the darkness is quick to stretch its black fingers around my neck so that I cannot breathe. They keep my thoughts from becoming too heavy for my body to carry, and let me hear my brain saying through the dark clutter: “I thought we had plans beyond this.” But they are not what keeps my heart moving.

This is how I stay alive:

There is a certain type of love that transcends anything I’ve ever known. It is too big to be properly put into words. It is so much more than unconditional, and I sometimes cannot comprehend how I came to share this love with another person, with other people.

The only way I can adequately describe my best friend is as a lifeline. I could write a novel on what we have experienced together over the years of our relationship. It ranges from the most horrendous situations I hope either of us ever have to go through, to the absolute highlights of my life so far.

We have screamed in each other’s faces, hung onto shaking hands like it will keep my heart beating, and he has been more brutally honest and raw with me than anyone. There is nothing that cannot be said, yelled about through tears and gut wrenching words which will forever tie us together.

As the years have gone on, my main support has grown to a group of five of us who have a friendship that I will never take for granted. I truly never expected anything from them, yet I continue to receive everything. Without judgement, without hesitation. Just actions filled with the most uplifting emotion.

They are the brightest part of my madness, and manage to set my soul on fire when it would otherwise drown. I suffer much less because they take the time to sleep next to me, to carry the deep forest of my mind in their own hands. To ensure that I continue to understand: no feeling is final.

Feature image: Cadabams
Image: The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Categories: Stories