Living Life in Extremes

Lots of people live their lives in extremes. For me, that’s been quite literal, because I have bipolar disorder II. Bipolar II is a mental health disorder where a person cycles between two different and virtually polar opposite conditions: depression and hypomania.

Depression is the “easy” one to understand. Depression is when individuals “experience a low mood, loss of interest in most activities, feelings of worthlessness and similar mood and behavior changes” – people with bipolar II tend to experience bouts of depression that often last 2 weeks (though they often last longer). Almost everyone has heard of depression, knows someone with it, or has it themselves. Depression is defined as having feelings of hopelessness that last more than 10 days. The experience of depression is very different for different people. I’ve written more about it in a later essay. For me, depressive periods tend to last a very long time (often several months). If I had to estimate, I would guess that I’ve spent more than half of my adult life depressed.

On the other “end” of the disorder, there is hypomania, which is a condition where your mood is heightened – you feel “abnormally energetic, happy or excited.” This is the “sexy” part of bipolar II – it feels like a fantastic promise of endless energy. This is a “lite” version of the mania that bipolar I patients experience. When I’m in a hypomanic phase, I’m full of energy and I feel like I can do anything. In an intense hypomanic episode, I try to juggle multiple activities while learning several new skills, all while skipping entire nights of sleep because life feels too precious to waste on something silly like sleep. I get extremely active, exercising like a madman (which is extremely out of character for me).

Hypomania also makes me extremely erratic and irritable. I’m scatterbrained, starting a new activity every hour without making progress on any of the ones that came before. I feel deep love for people, which unfortunately leads to disappointments and perceived slights from others that have no basis in reality. I get into intense arguments, refusing to hear my loved ones as I scream at the top of my lungs. Anger is unfortunately a part of both hypomania and depression, so I fall victim to these types of arguments during my depressed periods too. After, I feel unimaginable guilt and shame, offering endless apologies and falling on my knees (literally) as I ask for forgiveness. I cry for hours because of the guilt and because of the life I’m throwing away.

On top of that, I have anxiety disorder. I’m not going to dive too deep into this, because you either think this is a real thing or you don’t, and what I write here is unlikely to change your mind. I would just like to share my experience. The worst part of either depression or hypomania for me is this recurrent underlying anxiety that never seems to go away. It feels like the thread that connects these two opposite moods. Even as I’m hypomanic and full of life, I’m so worried and I don’t know why. Don’t even get me started on depression – it’s death by a thousand anxieties.

Bipolar Beginnings

As far as I can tell, my bipolar started presenting in a strong way during high school. I was often depressed but didn’t realize it at the time. My university experience was incredible and awful and strange all at once. Being in a place with so much possibility sent me into overdrive, and I would cycle through depression and hypomania at rapid speed. I wanted to spend all my time with my friends, talking to them for hours and hours, through the night and into the early hours of the morning. Then I would go back to my room, inexplicably cry for half an hour, and then sleep until I couldn’t take anymore.

Then I would wake up the next day and repeat the cycle. Life would continue like this until I’d crash, and the return to my room would turn into a long-term stay. I would spend weeks in my bed, only leaving to bathe and eat. I wanted nothing more than to disappear. And then one day, without warning, the depression Monster would move to the passenger seat again and hypomania would take the wheel, as I started to feel that zest for life again. I spent four years on this rollercoaster, and it got worse every year.

I think it’s interesting how we talk about mental health as a society. I’m thinking specifically of Season Affective Disorder (SAD) and similar disorders. SAD has often been lampooned as being a bit of a joke. In my favorite show, The Office, they take a quick jab: “Wow! Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka ‘SAD’…That sounds like a very real thing.” I have depression, so I don’t really care what others think about my struggles in the winter. I’ve struggled in ways I can’t even articulate, ways that still bring tears to my eyes to this day. This will become relevant because I’m about to share my first job (and working winter) with you.

My working life is almost an oxymoron. I’ve struggled so much since leaving university that I can’t even see my successes. All I see are the failures because there have been many (and that’s not an easy thing to admit). I started my first job in December 2013. I mention the month because it was winter, and Canada can be extremely unforgiving in the winter. That year was one of the worst winters that I can remember. I don’t remember how much it snowed, but I remember how hard it was to get up for work in the dark, drive to work in the dark, and then drive home in the dark.

I started the job with as much enthusiasm and energy as I could. I was going in early, trying to stay late, and getting to know everyone. I had a great manager and VP, and things should have been great. But the depression Monster started rearing its head about 2 months in. I started missing the occasional Monday at first, and then more consistently over the next few months, earning me the nickname “Sunday no Monday” amongst some of my peers. After a while, the Mondays became Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I held on to that job for about a year before I was fired. God only knows how I kept it that long – I was lucky to have supportive leaders.

Winters and Monsters

That winter turned out to be quite prescient – I got worse and worse as the year went on, and I had been expecting to be fired. When I got my next job, the cycle started again – extreme excitement for the first few months, and then disappointing my team again and again. I’m not sure why it happens – I start strong, and then the depression Monster gets me and hits me hard. I was let go from that job because there wasn’t enough work at that time, but it might as well have been a firing.

I don’t want to bore you with the details – I graduated about a decade ago and suffice it to say that this cycle has repeated several times since then. Bipolar disorder has destroyed my life over and over and over again. My professional life has been like one big game of hot potato, where I’m the potato, coming in hot and then burning the employers that put their trust in me.

I don’t want to sound too negative – I’m focusing on the failures because that’s often what I reflect on and how I define myself, but there have been great times too. I’ve worked in companies of different sizes, and it’s taught me a lot about running my own company. I’ve worked with my dad, building apps for companies in multiple countries. I delivered a technology project for the Prime Minister’s Office of Canada (my crowning achievement). As is the case with bipolar disorder, there have been plenty of highs to go with my lows.

My Diagnosis, My Salvation

The thing is, I’ve felt like I’ve been on a rollercoaster for most of my life, especially as an adult. I was actually diagnosed with depression about 6 years ago and got therapy on and off since then, but for some reason it just didn’t click for me. I knew I was depressed but despite talking to therapists, I couldn’t figure out why I was the way I was. My salvation came about 2 years ago, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II.

Suddenly, everything made sense. My mood swings, feeling invincible and hopeless (sometimes in the same day), being your best friend and then yelling at you for hours. It didn’t make things okay, but it started to make sense. It’s been a long journey since then, and that journey is far from over. It did, however, give me a new perspective on my life that I had been sorely lacking. More than just learning about my diagnosis, I started taking it seriously as a medical disorder. For some reason, having ‘just’ depression made it seem less serious. Maybe it’s because I was missing the other half of the bipolar puzzle. Depression without hypomania is like a Bollywood hero unable to end up with the love of his life (I’m not dramatic at all in case you were wondering).

I’ve made so much progress in these last 2 years. The beginning was hard. Knowing that I had this disorder put me in a weird headspace, where I was constantly analyzing my behaviours, unable to figure out what was a symptom of the disorder and what was actually me. My medication initially was hard to nail down- the go-to medication for bipolar disorder is lithium, and my first experience taking it made me feel even more depressed. So, I stopped taking it for a while, choosing the rollercoaster of bipolar II over what felt like the limitations of lithium.

A few months ago, I met an amazing psychiatrist who helped me to better understand the disorder. She got me back on medication, primarily lithium (which I can say is working brilliantly) plus a cocktail of other fun pills. For the first time in a long time, I feel good in a non-destructive way. My mood has stabilized – I can’t completely escape hypomania or the depression monster, but I’m much better at recognizing their triggers and understanding how to manage them. I’ve spent a lot of time on workbooks that help me better master my disorder, and I feel so grateful to have found such wonderful resources (which I will get around to sharing very soon).

I’ve been working on some professional projects that I’ll be launching in the near future. I’ve been taking time away from formal employment to try to sort out my life and mental health. I finally feel like I have a handle on work – the nasty combination of anxiety, depression, and mania that have defined my life are now taking a backseat. I’ve been working on learning some new skills and refining some old ones. I’m becoming the professional I always wanted to be, and I’ll be showing some cool projects to prove it.

All You Need is Love

One thing I didn’t mention here is the most important thing of all, the thing I believe is key, and the thing that I don’t think everyone is lucky enough to have. That thing is love. I am incredibly lucky in the family I have: my parents have been so open and understanding, that it almost feels surreal sometimes. They encourage me to do whatever I need to be okay (including this project). I hope they take pride in knowing that, as a good Indian boy, even a mental disorder didn’t dull my ambition – while others are happy with just 1 disorder, I refused to accept anything less than both depression and hypomania. My brother (who is younger but quietly runs the place) is one of the wisest people I know and gives me support beyond belief.

I have great friends who are always there for me and who have been crucial as I go through this journey. I don’t know what I would do without such wonderful people in my life. It’s amazing how much the support of friends can mean: there’s a love there that helps me feel so comfortable in my skin.

To be honest, all of that was the foreword. The main course is the love of my life, Chelsea. I’m very serious when I say that love is the most important thing in the world and has saved me in ways only Chelsea and I know. Her love has been endless – within the first month of our relationship, I plunged into a deep depression while she was vacationing in Asia, and she instantly became my support. I am so lucky to have her in my life. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her and I’m genuinely unsure how I would’ve ever found this normal.

She’s been with me to every doctor’s appointment. She’s more on top of my medication than I am (she organizes my neat little pill box for the entire week). She’s always looking for resources to help me, following Instagram accounts on bipolar disorder so she can send me tips. She has consoled me at my lowest points, which is an impossible feat. She has calmed me when I was out of control, dealing with my erratic behavior and waves of panic. She has had to ride the rollercoaster along with me, dealing with mood swings and joys and sadness and bitter fights.

Her love has given me the courage to take on this challenge, and her love carries me every day. She’s had to be my strength so often – when I’m depressed, she helps me see the joy in life and reminds me that she’s not going anywhere. She has endured so much because that is often life when bipolar II goes untreated. I hope she’ll take the time to write about her experiences, because they’re an important mirror to my own. I love her for everything she is and everything she has given me. I love her for helping me muster the strength to believe that a better day was coming. The worst of me is when I’m out of control, trading highs and lows as if they’re going out of fashion. The best of me is when I can be my truest self, and my truest self comes from giving and getting love.

12 thoughts on “Two Lenses, One Me”
  1. This is such an inspiring story Santa! I am grateful that you were able to share it with us and to understand how much have you suffered and all the love ones around you. There is truly a need for mental health education.
    Thank you and we miss you!!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Carlos. It’s funny that you’ve known about watching my mental health so intimately, even though we have not known each other for a long time. I’m glad for that, because you are an amazing and supportive friend. Thanks for taking the time to read my work..

  2. This is a really vulnerable piece to write and I think an important piece to read. (As you obviously know) Bipolar can be very difficult to understand to those without intimate experience (and those who do), and your piece really conveys your struggles with it. It may not be the primary objective, but it’s a very informative read and helps to demystify the condition.

    It sounds like you’ve found yourself in a good place now. Very proud of you and your journey, friend.

    1. Hey Ben, it’s funny that you wrote about my journey since you’ve been a part of it. All the things you wrote about bipolar disorder are exactly right – it’s poorly understood at large, it has stigmas associated with it, and it’s hard to live with. It feels good to know that I was able to convey the feelings and experience to a certain extent.

  3. I’ve read of the cathartic power of sharing one’s personal journey. This along with love and friendship and treatment and meaningful work I too believe are the keys to successfully navigating the turbulent waters of bipolar disease. Sanat I admire your candor, strength, and courage. Upon reading ‘About Me’ I’ve become a follower because you have so much to say and you say it in a kind, soul-touching way. I live with bipolar. I get you.

    1. It’s always nice to meet someone else who understands the bipolar, journey and struggle. It has been very cathartic sharing, but just the amount of kindness people have shown to my writing, including you, has energized me even more. I’m so glad youve become a follower. If there ever comes a day, do you want to share, know that this blog will have a place for you

  4. I can’t tell you how inspiring this is to read! I hope sharing these experiences brings you more and more confidence and courage to own & share your uniqueness and all its parts–because you can’t have the good without the bad unfortunately. 🙂

    Best wishes,

    1. You nailed it, Sam – you can’t have the good without the bad. It was tough writing, and a little scary sharing, but I just felt like I had to do it. It felt almost out of my control. And then, when I have people like you writing such wonderful things I can’t help but feel that it was worth it. Sincerely thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts 🙂

  5. Hey Sanat, your post has been enlightening. I never realized how facing each day and participating in life could be such an act of courage. I read somewhere that having bipolar disorder means waking up not knowing whether Tigger or Eeyore will be making your decisions for you. All I can say is, don’t let this disease tell you that you’re ‘lesser than’ because, if anything, you’re more. Your mania, fear, sadness… are all felt more intensely. Like you, I’m not a fan of rollercoasters, so I can only imagine how terrifying it must be if you’re not strapped in!
    Sometimes it’s hard to find the words when there’s so much emotion but you managed eloquently when describing Chelsea and your relationship with her. It was very moving. I want you to know that, although ‘supremely imperfect’, you’re an exceedingly lovable human being and we embrace the opportunity to have you as an important part of our lives. Bravo you!

    1. Hi Miss Moreino, thank you so much for reading and commenting on my blog. It’s very important to me to know what’s your thoughts were, since you’ve become such an important part of my life. It sounds like my writing helped you understand me a bit better. Looking forward to discussing more in- person 🙂

  6. Sanat, thank you for sharing your journey with us. Reading this has helped me gain a better understanding of what you have been going through. It is brave and inspiring that your are willing to share your own story and also provide a platform that could be helpful to others.

    I am looking forward to reading more of your posts

    1. Thank you so much Yazeed. It’s so gratifying that you took not just the time to read my blog, but to offer such wonderful words of encouragement. Glad you’ll be sticking around with me on this journey

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