Bipolar II: Two hands push against a blue tarp.

Hi. My name is Frank, and I am bipolar. I have been mostly stable for 10 months.

I have bipolar II. A little background: It is a mental illness characterized by moods that cycle between hypomanic highs and depressive lows. Depression is… well… depression; if I have to explain it to you then consider yourself lucky to not be among the 1 in 10 Americans who suffer from it. Hypomania is described by WebMD as “a less severe form of mania. Hypomania is a mood that many don’t perceive as a problem. It actually may feel pretty good. You have a greater sense of well-being and productivity.” Generally speaking, hypomania symptoms include “needing… less sleep in order to feel rested, talking very rapidly or excessively, distractibility, fast thoughts, tendency to show poor judgment, such as impulsively deciding to quit a job, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity — unrealistic beliefs in one’s ability, intelligence, and powers; may be delusional, and reckless behaviors (such as lavish spending sprees, impulsive sexual indiscretions, abuse of alcohol or drugs, or ill-advised business decisions)”. Honestly, it’s been my experience that these symptoms are very general guidelines. Some of the symptoms I experienced acutely, others not so much.

My symptoms, acute as they were, ran under the radar of my awareness. I skewed heavily hypomanic; depression came later. It took me almost a year to even figure out that something was wrong. My wife and I had just gotten married and had our first son. This was meant to be the happiest time of my life, instead—because of the pressures of my new life: graduating and starting my first career—the world just felt like it was closing in. It was like I was in the center of a room that was slowly filling with talking people. My brain only wanted to fixate on what was wrong, perseverate on the bad, and I did whatever I could to try to bury those feelings.

Bipolar II - a man yelling

Life with bipolar II

Deep down I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be having such feelings during that point in my life, but I couldn’t stop. They say you don’t hear voices with bipolar II hypomania (that’s pretty typical of bipolar I), and I didn’t. I heard just one. It was my voice… a very angry my voice. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t control what it said, and what it said was angry and nasty. Everything was wrong and everyone around me was wrong. I was paranoid and the world was against me. The room in my head was packed with people who were screaming at me.

I spent a year being nasty and mean to the people who meant the most to me. I never knew I was hurting them; it wasn’t until later that I learned what I had done. Another side effect of my manic period is a limited memory of the period between March 2014 and March 2015. The little I do remember is from a paranoid and selfish point of view. Ultimately, my wife left me. Given what I’ve learned, I don’t blame her.

I finally discovered that something was wrong when my world fell apart. It was midnight when I got up to see if my crying son was okay. I carried him to the living room and rocked him back to sleep. When my wife came to get my son at six in the morning, it seemed to me that only a few minutes had passed. It had been six hours. I then proceeded to have a panic attack that would last several weeks. My wife left soon after. The instant I was able to gather up the pieces of myself, I went to a doctor who initially diagnosed me with depression. There is a world of difference between depression and bipolar’s version of depression.

To be continued: “Pt. 2 Treatment”

Written by Frank Stockowski