If you follow my articles, you’ll know that I occasionally like to take a break from talking about SaaS (for Sales Confidence) and education (Opogo) and talk about something else that matters to me. Mental health.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and it’s something I manage every day. Over the last few months, I’ve written about having bipolar and different things that have happened to me because of it. In this article, I’d like to try and explain how it actually feels inside my head.
OK, let me start by saying that of course, I’m not a doctor or a psychologist or anything like that. Everything here is how I choose to think about it.
I think of my mind-state as a scale. You’ve got zero in the middle. Then on one side, it goes up to 10. On the other side it goes negative, -10.
So around 1 is when I’m feeling pretty grounded, when there’s not much going on in my head. If I’m walking along, the sun is shining, and I’m about to go and do a talk or something, I’m probably around a 3 or 4. I’m happy. All is well.
Problems come when my mind state goes beyond that level. When I’m hypermanic, I go to a 6 or 7, and that’s when I think I can do anything.
8 or 9 is a psychotic state. I would say at 10, that’s when I’d jump out of a window thinking I can fly. Thankfully, I’ve never made it that far up the scale. I always try to stay under 5.
When I’m at a hypermanic stage, so above a 6, anything can happen. If you’ve read my article which about when I set up a club night, that was me above a 6. I would do things that are utterly ridiculous, bordering on dangerous, but think they’re completely healthy.
There were other things too. When I was hypermanic, I would back myself to do things outside the norm. For example, I’d try to beat the fuel gauge on my car. I’d drive around, and if the needle went into the red I’d think, ‘Great! I’ve still got another 25 miles to go!’. Of course, I didn’t. My car broke down because of no fuel literally 15 or 20 times.
The minus numbers
Of course, after the highs come the lows. That’s when my mind-state would go into the minus numbers. I went through periods of anxiety and depression that would last for weeks. Like hypermania, my actions would be as ridiculous, but much darker.
One time when I was in a state of depression, I was working in sales. It was a really great job at an amazing organisation. You’d think life would be great.
However, I just had the worst imposter syndrome. I had this feeling in my mind the whole time that I was going to get found out, that my bipolar would cause me to do something stupid and the entire thing would blow up. I hadn’t ever experienced anxiety like it, it felt like a claw coming over my face that wouldn’t let me breathe, speak or do anything. When that happened, I would panic, but I didn’t feel I could tell anyone about it.
So what I’d do was just run away. If I had a meeting with a customer, I’d call them up half an hour before and tell them I couldn’t make it because of an emergency with my children. I’d run out of the building, go to a park and hide.
Of course, I was completely unproductive, and no one knew. The customer thought I was with my child. My boss thought I was at the meeting. My partner thought I was at work because I never told her. But actually, I was sitting in a park bawling my eyes out.
I’d get home, and my partner would ask me about my day. As much as I wanted to, I could never tell her what was really going on. I just felt like I was at a loss.
Eventually, the depression lifted, as it always does, but the negative end of the scale is not a nice place to be.
Managing the highs and lows
As I’ve got older, I’ve become a lot better at managing my highs and lows. I manage to keep on an even keel now, trying to stay under 5 on the positive end of the scale at all times. I’m an optimistic person by nature, so most of the time, it’s not that difficult.
The key is to be conscious of it. I don’t know whether my mind-state scale makes any sense to anyone else, but it’s my way of evaluating how I’m feeling at that exact moment. Because of my scale, I can shut myself off when I feel a change coming on and take other measures as I wrote about here. It’s all about looking after yourself and being honest about how you’re feeling.
The other thing I’m much better at is talking about how I’m feeling inside my head. If you’d like to ask me anything about how I deal with having bipolar disorder, I’d be happy to try and answer your question. Likewise, if there’s anything you’d like to say about these stories, I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment down below.