“Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Bipolar disorder is a category that includes three different conditions — bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder.” -American Psychiatric Association
Madness seems like such an old-fashioned term, much like “insane asylum.” However, I’ve known madness in my life and, when going through the mental twists and turns, it can be difficult to recognize just how mad I am.
I had my first official manic episode around twenty years old, which led to a bipolar I diagnosis. I was irritable, angry, functioning on little sleep, and doing crazy things like reading the entire newspaper from cover to cover.
Prior to that, I’d been hospitalized for major depressive episodes. But at twenty years old, a college student with a seemingly normal life, I simply went “mad.”
I spent a lot of time in deep resentment toward my father: he had a drug and alcohol problem, he could be mean and critical, and he was in the middle of what would develop into a years-long divorce feud with my mother.
When my father died last year, I began to connect some dots. I reflected on his behaviors: his lavish spending, his obsessive tendencies, his abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Did he suffer from bipolar disorder, as well?
In the end, bipolar is just a diagnosis, a label. However, it’s good to work with the label so that I can take care of myself and avoid severe ups and downs.
If left untreated, many people with bipolar have a high risk of suicide. That scares me enough to know that I need to be aware of self-care and monitoring my symptoms, so I don’t slide back into madness.
I’m researching insane asylums in the early 20th century for a novel project, and it’s made me think of how far society has come in the treatment of mental illness. I feel grateful to be living in this day and age, where mental disorders can be treated.
Madness is scary: I’ve had episodes where I’ve had delusions, believed in conspiracy theories, have been afraid to leave the house.
But there’s always hope. Madness may visit me again (it usually does), but I hold on to the hope that the storms will pass and I’ll enjoy the clear skies again.