The Changing Face of Bipolar

I woke up in the middle of the night for some reason and what was on my mind was how manic I was in my 20’s. Sometimes I question why I don’t seem to have mania any more, and I’m thinking maybe I used it all up in my 20’s.  In my 20’s, the world was full of magic and potential.  The air was crackling with the possibilities of life.  I was full of impulsivity – financially, sexually, and then finally geographically.  At about 23 years of age, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like my life, and it was because I had always wanted to go to Paris, and the solution was to move to Paris.  So I set about selling everything I owned and bought a plane ticket.  I had very little money and even less of a plan.  Fortunately, I had a cousin living in Paris so I could stay with her initially.  When my cousin Mimi asked me what I wanted to do in Paris, I replied “I don’t know where this is coming from, but I feel like I want to sing!”  I was full of intuitive hunches and my faith in them.  I just knew everything would work out.

At the time, I was sober and very involved in AA, so when I got to Paris I found the American churches and the AA meetings full of ex-pats and made loads of new friends. I was gregarious and full of life – I was a beautiful 23 year old girl – who wouldn’t want to know me!  I walked everywhere in Paris – everywhere I looked was beauty.  Things I had only seen in pictures were regularly showing up in my field of vision.  I felt like I could do anything!

In talking to one of the ladies from one of my AA meetings about needing a job, she said “Well, can you sing? Because there’s this place called the Hollywood Savoy that takes English-speaking girls and you wait tables and then sing in between.”  A light went on in my head.  Hadn’t I said I wanted to sing?  I went right over with her and met the management, and just like that, I had a job.  They let me start without the proper paperwork (I didn’t have permission to work), so the job was very short-lived.  Also, even though I could sing, I wasn’t used to singing with a band and didn’t know how to come in with the intro, and I couldn’t find my key.  I must have looked like an idiot.  Some of the other girls made fun of me.  Oh, the dream and the reality were not matching.  Oh dear.

At this point, I was missing my group of friends and my family very much, and wondering why in the hell I’d come to Paris. I was suffering from culture shock and realizing that I didn’t speak French as well as I thought I did.  Specifically, I couldn’t understand the French that was being spoken.  I was beginning to panic.  Even so, I tried to salvage the situation by looking for a job as a nanny.

One thing in Paris that I had never seen or heard of was “Turkish Toilets” – that’s what they called them. They weren’t toilets at all, but just a hole in the ground that you squatted over to go to the bathroom.  Any time I encountered one, I resolutely refused to use it.  It disgusted me!  I was offered one nanny job in Paris that offered upstairs servant’s quarters for the nanny, but the bathroom was a Turkish Toilet.  Based on that one fact, I turned down the job.

The second nanny job I was offered, I took. It was just watching a baby, and I was expected to do everything to take care of the baby, including getting up with him in the middle of the night.  At one point I was sitting on the floor with the baby, and I was so sad and missing my family and friends, and I started to cry uncontrollably.  Then the baby started to cry.  Then the mother walked in.  Somehow I composed myself and tried to make light of the fact that I was an emotional basket case.

All in all, my Paris fantasy lasted all of six weeks before I called it quits and ran home with my tail tucked between my legs. I was so relieved to be back in my hometown, but also embarrassed because I had told people that I would be gone for a year.  I suffered a deep depression upon my return.  The magic of life had died.  I didn’t know where I had gone wrong, or where to go from where I was.  It may have been the first time that I felt really betrayed by myself, the first of many, many, many times to come.  I would not be diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder for another ten years, many heartaches, many financial disasters, many failed relationships later.  For now, I would fumble along in life, looking for the magic, believing that something great was just around the corner, thinking that I was destined for great things.

The mania showed a person so zestful, so happy, so smart, so full of potential, that people reflected that back to me. People believed in me and in what I might do.  But the inevitable crashes that mania produced (as well as crashes caused by impulsive behavior, my kryptonite), caused me to be a shadow of that person.  I confused myself, and the outside world, with my two sides.  I thought I just had depression.  Why my therapist couldn’t link my severe impulse control issues with my mood disorder, I’ll never know.  However, it’s all clear to me now.  Although I miss the highs of life, and the belief in magic, I am grateful for the impulse control that keeps me from running my bank account down to zero, the impulse control that keeps me from shoplifting and the fear of being caught and exposed, the impulse control that keeps me from having sex with random strangers and thinking I’m a porn star.  I don’t have as many secrets to hide, and that’s a relief.  In AA, they say you’re only as sick as your secrets, and I believe that to be true.  I’m not too sick.  I am a secret smoker.  Sometimes I use pot, although I try to avoid it.  But that’s about it, for secrets.  You guys know it all.  And you’re still reading!!  Thank you.  And for now, I’ll close with saying take a chance.  Share your secret.  Even if it’s here in the comments.  You’ll feel better.  I know I do.

51 thoughts on “The Changing Face of Bipolar

  1. Wow. It’s hard to think of a secret to share because I stopped hiding them long ago. Lets see…I’m an alcoholic with 12 years sobriety, but everyone knows that…I was a heavy meth head, but most people know that…I’m gay – nope, everybody knows that…I’m sure I have a lot, but nothing off the top of my head right now. Maybe I’m just perfect.

    • You’re great, Bradley! I never knew you were a meth head!! Wow you don’t hear about a lot of sober meth heads 😉 You are a model of hope, that’s for sure!! Hope you’re doing better with your mood, you’ve been in my thoughts ❤

      • Moods gotten worse each day this week, but I’m hanging on. Had planned to finally get out of the house to go to Starbucks to write, but I just can’t get myself in the shower an out that door

  2. My twenties were similar. I feel you. Sometimes I look back and think What The Shit was that? But it all makes for a good story 😉 Thank you for sharing your secrets with us.

  3. Such an interesting recap of your venture to Paris. I enjoyed reading your descriptions about mania and the two sides of you. I can relate to some of the impulsive behavior. Funny enough, I actually bought a plane ticket to Paris in 2007 on a whim. I traveled there alone — first time ever overseas — and stayed four nights. Totally crazy looking back on it, but in a way, it also makes sense to me.

    As for secrets? Well you probably know by now, I am finally coming out with them. Whew!

  4. This is a great blog, thanks for sharing. It is all very familiar – my twenties were pretty much identical. I only got diagnosed a few months ago and looking back I still can’t believe I did half the stuff I did!

    • Thank you for the comment and the compliment!! Yeah a part of me expects me to go back to my 20’s-level of functioning which in many ways was much better than now but I just can’t seem to do that. Damn.

      • Exactly!! I still struggle with this the most. I often feel that by accepting this diagnosis I am just ‘giving’ up on my potential. I know this is not the case but I miss the high functioning person I used to be.
        We just have to remember that it wasn’t the best thing for us to be un-treated – and that there are bad consequences to the type of behaviour bipolar brought out in us 🙂

      • I understand how you feel. I’m working hard to figure out how to at least feel like I’m moving towards my potential. I know we can do it.

      • Some days I do, some I don’t. I think my perspective of my life’s potential was a little skewed, and that I have been forced to reassess this in recent times (mainly due to a recent bipolar diagnosis). I think I definitely put myself under way too much pressure to do everything perfectly before. Now it is more about doing what makes me happy 🙂
        How about you?

      • It took me about 33 years to figure out my perspective was skewed, and make some changes, but mine is definitely still skewed a bit! 🙂
        You seem to be on the right track with creating a good perspective and life 🙂

      • I’ve been diagnosed for years and have always struggled with not being able to do the things I want to do. I’ve always put too much pressure on myself too. And then i go the other direction and just dont care. These days I’m all about following my passions. I figure if I devote my life to that I’ll be happy. I’m officially on disability for my Bipolar and that alone makes me feel helpless. So, I’m working on finding the courage to believe I can actually reach my goals and following my passions. That makes me happy. What do you think?

      • I think it’s delightful that you’re following your passions! And it’s wonderful that you are on Disability for your Bipolar, it’s a little bit of support to help you along, it sounds like, so you can focus on your goals. Thank you for your very inspiring comment!! ❤ ❤ ❤

      • I think you’ve got it figured out Robin. It’s much more important to follow your passions than make yourself do something you don’t care about. It’s soul destroying – and us creative bipolar types don’t do well with normality anyway 🙂
        I’ve just began to realise it’s most important to do what makes me happy!
        I don’t think you should think of your disability as a bad thing – it lets you do what you want to do at your own pace. I have thought about going on it many times, and just writing and being happy. But for now I’m stuck in a job doing part-time lol

      • I’m thinking about getting a part-time job to keep me connected with people now that my son is moving out.
        I’m so excited you are doing things you like! Sometimes it can be hard to do that. Way to go!

  5. Our stories are quite similar. I also worked overseas in my early twenties, thinking I was going to life this fabulous cosmopolitan life, but reality never is the same. Unlike you, I spent my early twenties DRUNK DRUNK COMATOSE DRUNK. I had been diagnosed major depression, and still another 10 years before diagnosed with bipolar. I self-medicated. I was, true story, drunk day and night for probably 6 years. People say to me ‘you so frightened of everything, Pieces, so how did you manage when you were travelling?’ And I tell ’em straight – I was drunk lol ! Then when I stopped drinking I married an alcoholic LMAO !!! Life is fucked up

  6. Finally getting here and it’s a comment rager!!!!!!!

    I loved reading this – wow, you’re a fantastic writer – you really are. I could see you writing a whole lot more. The writing is so lyrical and flowed so well, you’re gifted. I know talent when I read it & I have good taste. (I’m not manic, it’s true! 😉

    I completely related to everything you wrote because I’ve been in those states, although I didn’t go off to Paris! I went to Australia and New Zealand at 24, but I wasn’t manic – my bipolar disorder hadn’t been triggered yet!!!! “Only” 2 bouts of clinical-level depression – the first one was after my ex dumped me when I was in the hospital the day after I had knee reconstruction, the second clinical depression was after my Granny died when I was 27. Bipolar arrived ten years after that.

    As far as sharing my deep, dark secret goes, well, I’ll give you two of them. One will be recorded here, and the other one will be in a separate comment window.

    1) I’ve stolen my next-door neighbor’s mail – but I returned it! He moved in (a renter) and I had no idea who he was despite leaving him a welcome note/a carton of our chickens’ eggs and my email. He was hardly ever there, and after he blew me off I was freaked out. His landlady was out of touch. So I wanted to Google his name. I don’t think anyone knows this secret!

    Okay, on to #2

  7. It’s great you’re telling your story and feeling comfortable to do so. It’s really hard for people to open up sometimes and admit the embarrassing or strange things they’ve done. You’re really helping people feel at ease. Keep sharing!

  8. My 20’s were the same. I once moved to Chicago after visiting the city a week previously. At the end of an 8 year relationship, I decided it was time to change scenery and relocate. Left a good paying job, a home, family, and friends -without any thought. So, needless to say, I really love this post. Thanks for sharing!

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