As I look back on the cycles of bipolar that have tried to steal my life away from me, I am acutely aware of both overt and covert cycles associated with this illness.
The overt cycles are mania or hypomania and depression, which is why this brain disease used to be called manic-depression. Some sufferers prefer to use this name because it accurately describes the two polar-opposite cycles we swing through without the middle ground in between.
Hypomania is the milder form of the upswing cycling experienced by those who have bipolar 2, the more “benign” form of bipolar. While mania is often accompanied by visions, voices and dangerous behavior, the symptoms of hypomania can be overspending to the point of bankruptcy, risky sexual behavior, or extreme irritability with self or those around us.
Depression in bipolar 1 is more extreme, while in bipolar 2 is more frequent. Both are life-affecting and makesit impossible to function in a 9-5 job, and difficult to function in relationships unless we’re honest with ourselves and our significant others about the effects of depression on family members.
The covert cycles of bipolar are changing jobs, changing homes and changing friends.
I’ve written before about changing jobs, and the cycle of changing every three years. Holding down a job was extremely difficult. When I was in a hypomania phase, I became extremely irritable with others, was convinced I could do my own job better than my job description defined it, and rebelled against authority. When I was depressed, I was certain I was the worst employee, took off sick for weeks, and couldn’t cope with the smallest problems.
I also moved frequently, sometimes as often as every six months. I couldn’t get along with roommates, I had expectations of “family,” and they had expectations of me I simply couldn’t meet. More and more I wanted to hibernate, not wanting to socialize or attend parties. I looked forward to time alone when no one else was in the house. It became difficult for me when others were home, seemingly invading “my” space. Unfortunately, some of those “others” were the owners of the home in which I rented a room.
As my symptoms worsened over the years, friendships were lost. I found it difficult to keep commitments and was reluctant to admit to my condition. I didn’t trust anyone with my secret because I heard others labeling those who were not bipolar as bipolar coupled with terms like “crazy” and “loony” and “dangerous.”
As I began to develop faith in God, the dark cloud of stigma and shame began to dissipate. What people thought of me no longer mattered. The only one whose opinion had significance was that of the One who did not judge me. As I embodied His opinion, my assessment of myself began to change.
The more I listened to the voice of the Spirit, the more I realized accusation and judgment came not from God, but from the enemy speaking through others. I have a choice – to listen to the One who gave me life, renewed my soul and transformed my mind and heart, or listen to the one who wants to drag me down and revel in my destruction.
Do I have days I succumb to the enemy’s discouraging words? Of course; and the cycle of depression hits, and hits hard. Those are the days I close myself off from everyone I know and care about. Those are the days I blame everyone and everything for my circumstances and illness.
But I know the truth. I may have no control over the overt cycles which take over my life at times. Yet I also know when I allow the Spirit to lead me and I am open to His gentle voice, I am now able to manage those covert cycles because I have information and the power of His wisdom and grace to do so.
Listening to God doesn’t guarantee I’ll never experience depression; it simply reminds me Jesus takes my hand and walks with me through the valley of shadows. It reminds me I always have His protection and guidance. And in the remembering, I am comforted.
He makes me whole again,
steering me off worn, hard paths
to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
near with Your protection and guidance,
I am comforted.
(Psalm 23:3-4, The Voice)