Recently, I had a cousin diagnosed with Bipolar Syndrome. I've always been interested in knowing about it for character development, so I'm so happy to have Claire on the blog!
(Images aren't mine)
I’m Claire and in addition to blogging and writing, I am a digital marketer, one day per week I apply those skills as a volunteer with a mental health charity. I live in Bristol, England and am passionate about reading, music, travel and health and fitness.
How does being bipolar physically feel? How do you think it compares to those who don’t have it?
Physically it can depend on where I am in the Bipolar cycle, if I am manic I’m full of energy and so I can do a lot more than I should physically be able to. I do twice as much exercise than I normally would and still have excess energy when I’m finished, I’m bouncy, I’m excitable, I can’t sit still for more than a minute or two. But I also get awful headaches, horrendous anxiety and panic attacks, I don’t sleep and although I don’t feel tired, physically weeks of no sleep start to drain the body of sanity and the ability to function.
On the flip side when I am depressed I physically feel drained, moving is like dragging a car behind me, I physically hurt even though there is no reason for my body to hurt. I feel as though my body is shutting down on me and in many ways I want it to.
I think many people who don’t have Bipolar can relate to the way depression can feel, I’m fairly sure most people have experienced that feeling at one time or another in their life. But the mania, is quite unique to Bipolar and something that isn’t comparable to anything else I’ve heard about.
How do you feel about being bipolar?
I spent many years resenting having Bipolar, it took about eleven years to get the diagnosis then another eleven years before I received the correct treatment for it, so I spent a lot of time in a bad way with it. But now that I’m on good medication, I understand the illness and have a better understanding of it. I don’t think I could be without it. Sure, my life would be a lot simpler if I didn’t have Bipolar but I don’t think I would be the me I am without it and I’m not sure I’m okay with that idea.
What challenges does Bipolar Syndrome pose?
The biggest challenge is committing to anything in life long term. I may feel well right now, but I may not be well in a month, or even a week for that matter. Bipolar is unpredictable and so I have to be ready for anything to happen and to accept that I can’t control it, my medication can only do so much and sometimes I’m going to get ill, need medical intervention, and sometimes even hospitalization. It sucks but that is just the way it is.
The biggest external challenge I am currently battling is returning to work. Employers are very reticent about hiring someone with bipolar who has taken time out of employment. Although I am well now, and over qualified for most of the positions I apply for I can’t get paid work and instead have to freelance which is much riskier.
Is there anything you like about being bipolar?
There’s a phase before you become manic called hypomania. It’s a mood which is slightly above a normal happy mood, the pistons are firing, you feel excitable, and you have lots of energy bubbling inside of you. You start getting the feeling you can beat the world and you can take on anything. I love that feeling, I get super productive, I’m happy, I’m confident, I make friends, I talk to people. I could happily live in hypomania. Unfortunately, it never lasts, you either drop into a depression or fly off into mania!
Do you think your day differs from others because of being bipolar?
Probably a little. I’ve learned I need to be quite structured, I have quite a defined routine which includes time out for meditation and self-care to ensure I am looking after myself. Days that I let this routine slip and don’t look after myself I always feel it and the stress will affect me quite severely.
Do you have any cultural differences between others who are also bipolar and those who are not?
I don’t think there are cultural differences per se. I think people with bipolar are a little more aware of the stigma surrounding mental illness as with others who are living with mental illness. We are very aware of the way people/the media etc. speak about it and some of us do speak out about it. I think unless we do speak out and try to educate people about how they refer to mental mental illness as a whole nothing will change. It’s one of the things I like about volunteering with a mental health charity, we are encouraging change from the inside.
I think the thing most people forget is that everybody has mental health, everybody could get ill at some point, maybe not with something like bipolar, but with something, depression, anxiety, PTSD. Nobody is immune.
What are some stereotypes about Bipolar Syndrome that irk you?
I get told regularly I don’t look like someone who has Bipolar. This one gets to me, I’m not entirely sure what someone looks like who has Bipolar in the minds of someone who says this but I know quite a few people who have the illness and we are all sizes, shapes, and colours and we each have different types of Bipolar (because even Bipolar isn’t a one size fits all). I think it’s incredibly narrow-minded to make assumptions about an illness and the people who have it like that.
I hate the stereotype that people with bipolar are unpredictable and dangerous. Yes, we have mood swings but for the most part, we know what our moods are doing and counteract them and get help to manage the more extreme ends of those swings. Also, the only people we are a danger to is ourselves. I’ve never hurt anybody but myself, even when I’ve been completely delusional and unable to know what I’m doing.
What media portrays Bipolar Syndrome badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Sean in The Big C… I loved that show but I didn’t like how they handled that, maybe it was the comedy versus the reality didn’t gel well but it just didn’t work for me.
What media portrays Bipolar well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Carrie in Homeland… This is absolutely nailed in my opinion. They’ve created a character who has bipolar very similar to mine and maybe I relate because of that but I watch and can feel everything she is going through. I totally get everything. It’s quite hard sometimes and have had times I’ve just had to stop watching.
Who are your top three favorite characters who also are bipolar in books, movies, or shows?
- Carrie from Homeland
- Pat from Silver Linings Playbook
- Seph from What Goes Down by Natalie K. Martin
Thank you again, Claire! This is such a wealth of information! Thanks for reading!
Do you have any characters that are bipolar? Did this inspire you to write a bipolar character? Are you bipolar and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Claire? Be sure to thank her!
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