I happen to have a form of BPD that is rapid cycling. I can go from being depressed to being manic in a matter of hours. Early on in the onset of my illness, I was depressed more than I was manic. That is not to say that I did not become manic; rather, it was not as intense and did not last as long. However, these days, since I turned 35 or so, mania has become the predominant problem. Again, I do get depressed, but it is not as crippling as I have previously experienced. At its peak, my illness caused me to cycle every other week. One week up, then one down, then back up for a week, then back down, for periods of months at a time. This type of cycling can be exhausting, not only for me but for the people around me.
Up until a few years ago, I was not taking my mental health seriously. I would actually fuel the manias, and try to maintain an emotional temperature of 7-7.5 as much as I could. The problem was, at that level, I was often unable to remain there, and I cycled up to 8, 9, and 10. That is when it became necessary to go to the hospital to treat the ultra-manic and psychotic symptoms. I was a danger to myself and others, including my family, my ex-wife, and son.
Now, I work hard to counter the effects of my brain chemical imbalance. I no longer drink a lot of alcohol or smoke that much pot. I have tried to limit my caffeine intake and cut back on how much I smoke cigarettes. I am trying to keep a sleep schedule. This has proven to be the most difficult of all. When I start to cycle up, I have a decreased need and want of sleep. My mind is buzzing, and I have so much to do, the drive to create is overwhelming. When hypomanic, I am a prolific writer and artist, although I rarely finish any of the numerous projects I start.
My current wife is the best barometer of my emotional temperature. She recognizes the behavioral symptoms and can identify the trigger events which are the antecedents to my becoming ill. When she points them out, I often discount what she is saying to me, label her as pissing on my parade, and act out even more. I am trying to get better about trusting her judgment, as mine is skewed most of the time.
A discussion we had recently is actually quite telling. We were talking about perceptions of reality, and I stated that I seemed to experience three separate realities—one manic, one depressed, and one thin sliver of “true reality.” She countered that the three are actually one. Instead of three separate realities, distinct from one another, they are all entangled with one another. She stated that it would be possible to be creative while in the normal and depressive mood states. It would take work, she assured, but it was possible.
Together, we came up with the following strategy: When I am manic, I come up with a lot of painting titles (which would also make great names for a punk rock band!). Instead of the numerous lists I had, I now write them in a blank journal, two to a page, leaving space to take down any ideas, in written notes or quick sketches. This also gives me space to document who I have given the painting to, or who commissioned me to do it. Now, I am organized and I can remember my manic visions of what my art should be. When less manic, I am more able to concentrate my artistic skills on a better product, instead of the visual vomit that is often the result of my manic episodes. Brilliant! A little bit of organization and work, with long-lasting benefits.
Together, my wife and I can brainstorm for other creative solutions. The real point here is that I must listen to my wife when calls me on my manic symptoms, and try to de-escalate my mood as I know I can before it gets out of control. I will always experience the highs and lows, but how far they go, up or down, is basically my decision. I have taken responsibility of my moods. It doesn’t always mean that I make the right choices, but at least I am confident in the fact that my illness is not in control of me, I am in control of it.