Growing up, my first association with the term bipolar was when people would carelessly describe the shifting weather. Other associations include hearing people who had changed their mind exclaim, “I am being so bipolar!” or hearing anecdotes of failed relationships, strained friendships, or familial quarrels where people would exclaim the person they were involved with or fighting with was, “being so bipolar!”
I guess these previous word associations are what confused me when I was eighteen, fidgeting in a wooden chair as I sat across from a behavior analyst who was giving me my first formal diagnosis. As the words bipolar floated into my ears I felt confused, relieved, worried, yet hopeful. I was afraid of what that diagnosis meant for me. I was scared knowing that it was something I’d have to navigate and live with for the rest of my life, but I felt elated in having a term to make sense of years of behavioral patterns I never knew how to navigate before.
Despite all of my previous associations and experiences with the stereotypes surrounding this word, I let my diagnosis take a new shape in my mind. For me, manic depression has never been an immediately flipped switch; it’s always been more of a balancing act. It’s knowing I’m always mentally walking a tightrope between flying and falling. When I’m manic, it all comes a little too easily. It’s the impulse, it’s the freedom, it’s the laughter, it’s the recklessness, it’s experiencing life on a level that feels like elevated ecstasy. When the depressive swing hits, it’s a different kind of chaotic pull. It swallows the manic me and every version of myself in-between. I feel a lot of shame as my usual lust for life is replaced with exhausted indifference. It’s a dance between feeling on top of the world and feeling unworthy of your place in it. It was never a shift in the weather but rather a shift in a tide, where one moment I could easily be floating through life and the next week I’d begin to sink without realizing it until my head was fully underwater. My diagnosis was the first step in not just giving into floating or sinking, it was the first step in teaching myself how to swim.
Aisling Brooke is an emerging writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is currently pursuing a double major in Psychology and Creative Writing and has an avid passion for using words as a way to make sense of abstract feelings within the heart and mind.