Living with Bipolar: She-Hulk Vs The Sad Sack
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Written by IB
TW: mentions of suicide
I knew I had Bipolar Disorder the second I opened up the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-5 as we clinical social workers call it. I remember the day I read it: it was my first day at my supportive housing field placement for my Master’s in Social Work at NYU, and I had just sat down at my desk with 7 binders we called “charts.” Charts had all the information pertaining to the medical history of our clients that one could possibly think of: their birthday, their intake form for when they were admitted to the supportive housing agency, a copy of all psychological evaluations done by doctors, a list of their diagnosis (sometimes there were multiple), and their address and phone number among other things.
My first client, I’ll call her Sandra, was a 40 year old Black female who suffered from Bipolar I and PTSD. Her treatment plan included medication management, community engagement, and vocational training. On my first day, my job was to identify her symptoms so that when I did my first home visit with her, I would be able to compare her current symptoms (if any) to those listed in her chart. All I knew about Bipolar disorder was the association with low-lows and high-highs, which was not very descriptive at all, so I asked my coworker for a copy of the DSM-5 to get more familiar with the illnesses my clients suffered with. I flipped to the section “Mood Disorders” and found Bipolar listed as the first illness. The definition told me there were extreme sides of a person’s mood. The high was called “manic,” or “hypomanic” episodes, and the lows were called “depressive” episodes. As I read through the symptoms I began to panic. My thought process was a mixture of deep denial and the sinking feeling I always get in anticipation when I watch a scary movie and know that something messed up is about to happen.
Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)
This sounds serious. I don’t have this at all. I am fine. Everything is fine.
Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic
This is also fine. This is just my personality. I like to look on the bright side of things, especially now when the colors of the sky are so pretty and vibrant and the world has so many endless possibilities for me and my friends. I am a sparkly blessing to everyone and can enrich their lives with optimism and beauty.
Maybe I am irritable. But I live in a constant state of irritability and that is normal. I was also irritated at the bouncer at the bar last weekend and I got thrown out for mouthing off to him. What a prick. That was obviously a him problem and not a me problem. Although my friends did coin the term “She Hulk” to refer to my anger lately… probably just a coincidence.
Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
This is ridiculous. This cannot be me. I consider myself to be very humble about my achievements, and I genuinely felt I was qualified for the 24 scholarships that I applied to at 3AM yesterday morning. Why can’t I reach for the stars?? Why should I let perceived barriers in my life stop me from achieving my goals?? I am the most deserving of the things I apply for and no one can stop me.
Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
This is one symptom I probably cannot ignore. I’ve been getting approximately 3-4 hours of solid sleep in the evening but that’s okay, because I use the hours between 3-7am to work on important things like browsing amazon for unicycles, listening to inspirational Oprah podcasts, and color coding my entire Global Public Health binder according to the countries we were studying. When I am satisfied with my productivity for the morning, I go for a run at around 7am because I decided a few days ago that I would like to train for a half marathon. If I’m so productive on this little sleep why would I be concerned about that? This is the life of a grad student, and personally I think it is better not to ask questions about the things that help us thrive in this impossibly difficult time.
Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up
I do not understand this. I already am a fast talker so I feel this does not relate to me. Although I did have to repeat my starbucks order 5 times because the cashier was incompetent and it clearly was not a problem of my annunciation. Again, not a me problem. I told them they needed to use their listening ears before storming out of the establishment a little too quickly and crashing into a stranger and spilling my coffee all over myself.
Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next
Hmm. As productive as I am, I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to read my assignments for school. I was also frustrated with the fact that my 15 page paper for Social Work ended up being 42 pages long, and the professors refused to accept it. This was a truly inspired masterpiece???!! Don’t they know an inspired masterpiece when they see one??? I don’t understand this.
Impaired judgment and impulsiveness
Oh no. Was agreeing to buy seven Pit-Bull Bulldog puppies from Westchester County not a good idea?! I am questioning that now. I am also now questioning a number of quirky amazon purchases that I was very confident in until about 2 minutes ago. Hopefully that man selling me the dogs can give me my money back… nah I think it’s fine?! Those puppies will greatly improve my quality of life in my two bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side.
Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences
Okay so. I definitely have been shoplifting A LOT lately but I always thought it was kind of funny??? Like let’s see how many useless things I can get away with taking. Like this pen, or this candy, or this button that says “love myself” on it. Shoplifting is fine if the item does not cost a lot of money. Right? This is fine. Everything is fine.
So this was pretty spot-on to the things I’ve been experiencing lately. What was shocking (and a little disheartening) was the fact that I thought I was simply embracing life and loving the productivity I was maintaining. However, I couldn’t ignore the flip-side to all the fun: The Darkness. I knew that I had been experiencing pretty intense depressions over the summers following the death of my Mother, but I thought that was always just grief. The depressive symptoms were pretty straightforward: feeling hopeless, sad, or empty, irritability, inability to experience pleasure, fatigue or loss of energy, physical and mental sluggishness, appetite or weight changes, concentration and memory problems, feelings of worthless