With bipolar disorder, I have a tough time reconciling the manic, depressed, anxious, and normal “me.” How do I determine my identity, when my ever-changing mood disorder causes “out of character” behavior?
Bipolar Disorder & Questions of Identity
I have been living with active bipolar disorder for decades, and I have struggled with the question of who I am because of it. Am I the “manic me”? Am I the “depressed me”? Am I the “normal me”? Is there a “normal me”?
When I think about the “manic me” and some of the things that I have done while manic, I think, “That’s not me. Who is that person? Is that me who obsesses about sex? Is that me who solicits sex with strangers? Is that me?”
For a long time, I had a hard time reconciling the manic me with the normal me.
I simply didn’t know who I was. And who I was changed constantly.
Shame & Guilt, Mania & Depression
The normal me feels guilt and shame for what the manic me did. But, when I am manic, I don’t feel any guilt and shame.
The normal me feels regret for what I couldn’t/didn’t do while I was depressed, and the major repercussions to my family and work life that bipolar depression caused.
The depressed me feels guilty for not doing what I need and want to do at home and with friends, and for my inability to hold a job.
At home, when the dark cloud of depression enveloped me, I lay in bed. If I could get up and get to the couch, I would sit and try to just hold it together. It was everything I could do just to be. Just to exist. I couldn’t be present for my wife and kids. I couldn’t work, and I couldn’t spend time with friends when in this mood state.
I have regrets about all of these things.
That is not to say that I don’t have regrets about the manic times. About the things I did when I was flying among the clouds. I do. But, for some reason, when I am depressed, I feel like it is my fault, and that I have “failed” at life.
When I look back at my mania, I see that I was out of control. I was driven by the mania. I was not “in my right mind.” When I think of my mania, I feel embarrassment and shame. But I don’t feel guilt. Even though I “should.”
So, as a mature adult, I ask myself, Who am I?
Is My Identity Time-Based?
The swings of my bipolar disorder have gotten worse as I’ve grown older. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower. As I aged, both also lasted longer.
I can’t track the amount of time that I was manic, depressed, or normal. Add in the anxiety, and I don’t know if I was out of my right mind more often than I was manic, depressed, or anxious.
I do know that I spent a lot of my normal time feeling guilt, angst, shame, and regret.
Am I More Than One “Person” Because of My Bipolar?
Today I think there are three of me. I am the “sex-crazed maniac.” I am the depressed me who “failed at life” for months on end, over and over. And I am the thoughtful, kind, and good husband, father, and friend who lives with the damage caused by the mania and depression. I am all of these people.
That is how I reconcile my true self.
The “Manic Me”
I measure my successes during mania. I measure the accomplishments. Some of these are from behavior I feel badly about, like promiscuity and bringing others into my mania.
In mania, I feel great. I dream big. These dreams are grandiose and risky. These dreams are wanting things for the wrong reasons, such as notoriety. I achieved many of these dreams, only to lose them when I was depressed.
The “Depressed Me”
I measure my failures during depression. I lost businesses, lost all our money, and ended up homeless during my depressed episodes.
I lost friends, I lost jobs, I lost respect from my kids, others and from myself.
The “Anxious Me”
I must touch on the anxious me, since the anxiety was present when I was in a depressive episode and when I was feeling “normal.” Anxiety has been and is a big part of my life.
My most intensely anxious times are those when I did not try to do things, to participate in life. The times that I hid in the shadows, afraid to talk to people. Afraid to let anyone look into my eyes and see the fear inside.
It’s the anxious me who had to escape and hide when I felt a disabling panic attack coming on. These are the times when people ask my wife, “Where is Anthony? Is he okay? He is acting strange.”
The “Normal Me” & Living for Today
The normal me is the successful me. It is the me who got promoted. It is the me who made good decisions. It is the likable me and the respected me.
It is also the me who knows that in a few months, or a few weeks, I will “crash and burn” in depression again, or I will go manic and wreck my life in some way.
Today I am stable. The medicine I am on helps keep my mania in check and my depression mild and short. Today, I try the be the best I can be.
I live for today. My anxiety is under control, but I am always conscious that I may become manic or depressed. That makes today special.
I do my best today. I appreciate today. And I don’t want to spend today feeling guilt, shame, and loss from the past that I had so little control over.
Anthony Clark, of Austin, Texas, is an entrepreneur and advocate who was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in his 20s. Now in his 50s, Anthony believes that the “taboo” symptoms of bipolar (hypersexuality, impulsivity, grandiose thinking, etc.) deserve greater attention, awareness, and discussion—especially among medical professionals and even within the mental health community. He is dedicated to shedding light on aspects of living with bipolar that are rarely shared and, when kept secret, can give rise to feelings of shame and isolation. Anthony hopes his honesty in sharing his experiences will bring hope to others who struggle with their diagnosis, as none of us is ever truly alone.
Offering your adult children with bipolar the choice to meet your needs (or not) is a first step to creating a peaceful home. Understanding the “Hijacked House” & Bipolar Disorder My post called “The ‘Hijacked House’: Tips for Parents of Adult Children with Bipolar Disorder Living at Home” addresses questions about how to handle an adult...
Former performance poet Bassey Ikpi is tired of retelling her story about dark times and struggles with bipolar depression. She wants you to know that it’s worth putting in the work to get healthy and stay there. Performer & Activist In the world of Google searches, Bassey Ikpi has two major claims to fame. The...
My bipolar disorder diagnosis was used against me in my relationship. Here’s how I recognized the manipulation and escaped. Bipolar Diagnosis & Questioning My Perceptions Years ago, I experienced my first major depressive episode, which precipitated my bipolar diagnosis. I was terrified. I had so many questions swirling around in my head: Was I broken?...
Sometimes I feel like having bipolar and experiencing “identity crises” go hand in hand. Recognizing my authentic self has helped me quash questions like, “But who am I, really?” Self-Identity & Bipolar Disorder One thing I have noticed about many people who live with bipolar disorder (including myself, at times!) is that we seem to...