- Let’s Talk Mental Health is a series of articles intended to share patient perspectives of their struggles with mental well-being. Through these articles, we hope to inform, educate and reduce the stigma around mental health discussions
What would it feel like to shift intensely between mood, energy, activity levels and concentration? According to professionals, Bipolar Disorder is not the typical “mood swings” that many of us go through, but a problematic condition where moods range from periods of extremely “up”, elated, irritable or energised behaviour to a very “down”, sad, exhausted, depressive or hopeless periods. A twenty-four-year-old artist going by the name Lithula, spoke to us about his experiences as a patient diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
“I would get up from bed at around 3.00 am or 4.00 am with so much energy and uncontrollable excitement to do something or learn something out of the blue. I’d not worry about losing sleep or if I have to wake up early the next day. I’m just consumed by this burst of energy and motivation at random times of the day which can be very distressing.” Lithula said that it may sound easy to deal with, but explained that when you’re not in control of your own energy it can get extremely frustrating, troublesome and inconvenient. On the other hand, he would also get extremely depressed, dissociated and exhausted randomly for no reason. These psychological shifts are inconsistent and extremely troublesome when it comes to carrying out day-to-day activities. Lithula explains how he would often get ridiculed by his peers and even family whenever he gets this energy, joking that “he’s going crazy again.” Lithula also said that he’d get incredibly embarrassed when people tell him to “calm down” and look at him in a weird manner during these phases.
Maintaining relationships is generally difficult for him since whenever he’s at his worst stages, he would cut his loved ones off because of panic, fear and also to recover
“They don’t understand that I’m having an episode of Bipolar Disorder. I desperately need people not to look at me awkwardly whenever it strikes me, but it’s difficult to expect that from people because most of them genuinely don’t know about my condition,” he said. “I feel incredibly lonely and helpless when I get it and the embarrassment just adds to the pain.” Lithula wants people to show some empathy and acceptance during those times. “If it’s not harmful to me and if I’m just obsessing excessively about something, I want people to allow me to work through it myself and let it out of my system,” Lithula added. He understands that it might be difficult for his loved ones to garner patience but explains that he really appreciates the efforts people take to understand his disorder.
Lithula agreed to share his experiences because he believes that providing some insight into the nature of the condition would enable people to perceive Bipolar with awareness and not ignorantly judge or confront those who are suffering from it. “I would appear normal and functional for months but all of a sudden I would spiral down into depression,” Lithula dreads the feeling of helplessness when this phase dawns. “It feels inevitable, and I want people around me to know that I didn’t choose to be like this,” he said.
Lithula also discussed the unnecessary taboo around Bipolar Disorder. Often Bipolar sufferers are portrayed as people who should be feared because of their “unpredictability”. He explained that this is a wide misconception as a majority of Bipolar sufferers direct their struggles and pain towards themselves and are often victims of other people’s manipulative or violent actions. “We already feel bad about letting our loved ones down, worrying them and fears being an inconvenience to them. Therefore the last thing we want to do is to hurt them more. I personally struggle a lot with my own sense of worth and feel extremely self-conscious at times.” Lithula explained. He also added that he’s paranoid about being a burden to others and that he yearns to be viewed “normal”.
Lithula explained that being misunderstood is a part of his life because not many people in Sri Lanka understand what Bipolar is and that he has almost never seen programmes or discussions about it. And because of this, it has become difficult for him to refrain from blaming himself as well because he himself forgets that this is a psychological condition. Lithula said that because of Bipolar, he lives surrounded by unnecessary guilt and shame almost every day. He also added that maintaining relationships is generally difficult for him since whenever he’s at his worst stages, he would cut his loved ones off because of panic, fear and also to recover. “I wish people could be a bit more patient with me and would understand that my Bipolar episodes are temporary.” Lithula also mentioned that during these times, he appreciates more reassurance than advice.
There is wide misconception as a majority of Bipolar sufferers direct their struggles and pain towards themselves and are often victims of other people’s manipulative or violent actions
Lithula noted that choosing a good psychiatrist and a therapist to work through the condition is an extremely important step in recovery. “Treatment and therapy has made me forgive myself a lot more than before and has made me feel less guilty. But most importantly, it made me focus more on my treatment and healthy coping mechanisms which I can control than focus on the negativities and judgement of others which I cannot control.” Lithula explained that starting therapy made him feel more secure about his life and since then has started to develop more confidence in himself. Now he considers himself a survivor rather than a sufferer. “There’s always help, there’s always hope and there’s always a path to recovery. You are not defined by your mental illness” Lithula said.