You might be bipolar if…
I talk a lot about having ADHD. Between this blog, Twitter, my own podcasts, and many that I’ve guested on, I find ADHD easy to talk about. And people are, for the most part, receptive to hearing about it. As a disorder, it’s generally understood. It doesn’t scare people.
I have the displeasure of a dual diagnosis, though, and I don’t talk about the other half of it very much. Bipolar disorder is a lot scarier to most people. Hell, it’s scary to me sometimes. I was diagnosed with it in my 20s, long before I was ever diagnosed with ADHD. I’ve been through many different medications, and on the whole I’ve kept it pretty well in check since about the age of 23. But “in check” still has a lot of symptoms. Everything is relative.
So I’m going to talk about it. I’m not here to solve anyone’s problems, just maybe let some people know they’re not alone. Forgive me, this is probably going to get long and then not resolve to the kind of emotional payoff you’d probably hope for after however long this is going to be. Bear with me, I appreciate you hearing me and feeling whatever you need to feel about it.
I’m rapid-cycling, and my mania and depressions usually don’t last more than 3-5 days. I’m lucky to generally have my depressive downturns not last longer than the mania that kicked it off did, meaning I can spend a lot of my life as a “stable” (though not neurotypical, by any means) adult.
I was spurred to write this after watching an episode of Modern Love on Amazon Prime Video. It was season 1 episode 3, “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” in which Anne Hathaway plays a person doing their damndest to hide her bipolar without medication and without ever admitting to anyone what was going on. She would meet people on the upswing, make plans with them, and then before the date rolled around would crash and be unable to follow through.
It ruined her relationships, her job, and her self esteem. It was heartbreaking to watch, especially as someone who can relate personally. The happy ending came when she finally confided to a co-worker about what was going on, got some empathy and understanding, and then took it upon herself to relive that relief by calling up everyone she’d ever hurt and explaining how her bipolar disorder was at the heart of so many misunderstandings. I highly recommend checking the episode out.
In my world, mania doesn’t look like crazy, irresponsible behavior that endangers others, or sucks away all my money, or anything truly self-destructive. I’ve definitely been there, but these days mania just means a few days of not sleeping, getting obsessed with projects that don’t matter, and flaking on most of my engagements because I know I’m not “right in the head,” afraid that the combination of sleep deprivation and elevated mood will come off as crazy. It definitely can, and often does.
And then depression follows, which is especially hard if I have any aftermath of the mania to deal with. Because I just can’t. Fortunately that’s not a frequent occurrence, and for the most part depression means a few days of sleeping a lot, lacking motivation, and having trouble feeling much of anything for friends and family. But I’m very aware of what’s going on, and I’ve developed tools for dealing with this while causing as little harm as possible to my life and my loved ones.
I’m in a manic phase right now (which goes a way towards explaining this long and rambling post). It’s sometimes triggered if I go off of my ADHD stimulants for a while and then start them back up. It’s not directly related to the stimulants, though (I’m fairly certain). I get an elation from being able to get back to work, and I can usually tell almost immediately whether I’m just happy to be back on track with the ADHD stuff, or if I’m a little “extra.” Last week there was an issue getting in touch with my doctor to request my Vyvanse refill, and it ended up meaning a full week without stimulants. My mood stayed stable through that period, but my productivity suffered greatly and that’s just naturally depressing and anxiety-inducing. When the Labor Day weekend was ending, I was so excited that my meds would be filled the next day that my mood went manic before I ever even picked up the stimulants. That was yesterday.
I didn’t sleep much last night. For the last 6 months or so my manic episodes have been pretty mild. I’m usually able to fall asleep in the evening (around 9pm), but I always wake up between 12 and 3 AM. And no matter how long I lay in bed at that point, I won’t fall back asleep. I’ll get up and trudge to my computer, and just start hacking away at whatever seems interesting.
Combine this (fairly) mild mania with ADHD, and things get weird fast. First I’ll find myself chasing rabbits, just looking for the next challenge and anything I can accomplish that will provide some dopamine. Then my ADHD hyper-focus will kick in, and I’ll get obsessed with figuring out how to do something that will in no way offer profit or real benefit to me or anyone else.
Nights like this are exactly why I built doing. It helps me remember where the rabbit holes started, and helps me see when I’ve sunk three hours into tweaking a script that was already working and that no one else will ever need. Working feverishly from midnight to morning and having no idea where the time went is maddening. So
doing and Timing.app are good friends on nights like these.
To illustrate, pieced together from doing files and git commit logs: last night’s adventure started at 12:30am, working on a freelance gig that I’m really excited about. It wasn’t the reason I woke up, but it was something to focus all this extra time on. And I did focus, for a little while. Feeling good about working on paying projects. Insomnia might pay the bills…
I’m keeping everything for that job organized and linked together using Hook.app. And you may recall, I built a CLI for that, which I was making good use of last night. I’m currently running an alpha of Hook 2.0, and have been updating the CLI to work with a new AppleScript Library, so I was finding little niggles that needed work. Switching over to that project for a bit, I found myself fixing a couple of features, deciding to add a couple new ones, tweaking options, updating documentation… and then I got stuck on something stupid: converting the documentation generator to output a Markdown file instead of RDoc for my README. GitHub can handle RDoc, but I’d much rather have a more universal Markdown file. So…
The GLI scaffolding the project is based on has classes designed for modifying the help output, but it doesn’t seem that anyone actually has before. At least not to share. So I had to research that, go through an hour of trial and error, then update and tweak and Rubocop and test and tweak some more. By 10am, my CLI is self-documenting and updates a tidy README that will always have the latest details of every command and every option. It pulls in an overview file, a license file, and a credits file. It’s kind of perfect, for what it is. But very few people are actually using the Hook CLI, and nobody but me is using the 2.0 version of it. Nobody needed that README, not even me. But this is what happens when I can’t sleep, am full of energy, and find myself in need of dopamine. This is what happens when you combine ADHD with bipolar.
So yes, I’m lucky that this stint won’t last more than a few days. I’m lucky that my swings are mild enough that I can, at the very least, clearly communicate with the people that are affected by them. And I know that when the mania ends, I’ll have a half-day to a full day of just feeling pretty normal as I slide into a depression. Which, thankfully, will only last a few days as well. Then I could be stable for a month, maybe longer, judging by my recent history. My cycles seem to be getting shorter and less intense, which I attribute to a new medication I’m taking. But I’m on enough meds that interactions abound and everything is a tedious juggling act.
I think I could work in an office if I only had ADHD. I could find ways to cope. My bipolar makes me very happy to be independent, though. I can adjust my schedule as needed. I don’t know how well I would survive in an office environment; I’ve never really tried for long enough to develop coping tools. I’ve tended to immediately begin engineering my way toward a more flexible schedule and work-from-home setups in any job I’ve ever had, which works for me.
Anyway, I’m OK. I’m my version of OK. I mean, I’ve been doing this for years, even if I’m only recently coming to understand it better. I don’t talk about it much. I take my meds, I communicate with my loved ones, and I don’t spend much time regretting not being “normal.” I get a lot done, even if it’s in spurts. I hold my life together. And I ask for help and understanding from the people closest to me when I need it.
Thanks for listening. I hope that sharing this helps someone out there else feel less alone. Especially if you’re someone who is currently suffering from a more debilitating version of bipolar, or dealing with any other dual diagnoses. I’ve been there, I’ve seen friends and family live with it (for better and worse), and I’m here if you need to tell your story. If you do want to share your own experience, whether you’re someone dealing with bipolar or are someone who works with or loves people who are, it would make an ideal topic for Systematic. Get in touch, I’d love to talk. Or just share your thoughts privately, we don’t have to make a whole public thing of it.