08/23/2015 10:42 EDT | Updated 08/23/2016 05:59 EDT

I'm Living Through the Highs and Lows of Bipolar Disorder

Young woman reaching for the sun, with flare.
Tim Robberts via Getty Images
Young woman reaching for the sun, with flare.

As I attempted to write the first draft of this article, trying to figure out how to convey feelings of depression or mania, I decided to reminisce about my own past.

But before I tell you anything, let me first introduce myself. My name is Sana. I am 31 years old, mother to a little baby girl, and wife to a major techie. I'm also a writer, journalist and artist. And, as much as I dislike the usage of labels, you can add another label to my being. I am bipolar.

I was diagnosed seven years ago, this month. It was at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where a very somber young doctor on duty, informed me in July 2008, that I was, am, bipolar.

I accepted that diagnosis, as best as I could, as I was in my manic state. I went on be hospitalized for two weeks, placed on anti-psychotic drugs, in order to be brought down from my manic high. And that, ladies and gentlemen, at the age of 24, was the beginning of my bipolarity.

Mental illness, including mood disorders, affects one in five Canadians, and millions more around the globe. I don't exactly know at which point during my journey with this mood disorder did I decide to become so vocal about it. I probably started because I wanted to prove people wrong. I wanted to prove people wrong because people judged me, and I had to hide my bipolarity as a result. I was especially judged during my manic phase when I exhibited extremely uninhibited behaviours.

I've compared being manic to an extremely elated person, who's high on a mixture of drugs. But packed in that high are raw emotions, which upon interaction with the world (and ultimately oneself), result in irritability and spontaneity. To put it mildly, there's the potential of all hell breaking loose.

My behaviors during mania made people feel uncomfortable, uneasy and some became concerned. I suppose I'm lucky that I have caring family and friends, who noticed something had gone wrong, that something was amiss, and eventually intervened about one month into my mania. Leading up to the it and during the episode, I hardly slept, ate very little, had intense racing thoughts, felt larger-than-life, grandiose  --  therefore, exhibiting behaviours reminiscent of a typical manic person.

It was during my mania, when my good friend, who was studying fine art, advised me to give painting a shot. I dabbled, and really enjoyed it. I found painting to be therapeutic, as it gave me a chance to just be. I've had two successful exhibits since then. My first art show was dedicated to mental health, and proceeds from the show went to research at CAMH.

I've tried hard to block out certain things linked to my manic phase of bipolar. But they're there. Quietly tucked away in the back of my mind. Point being: I haven't forgotten. I've been very harsh on myself based on what happened during that episode. At times, I've even been unable to forgive myself. But I've come a long way since, and I've become more nurturing to myself.

It's important these manic traits of mine be discussed, because those people who judged me, and called me 'crazy' -- well they didn't know any better. They didn't know what mania, or depression or bipolar was. Being bipolar can't possibly be dubbed "abnormal," as I believe it's, rather, normal. There's just a lot of brushing under the rug, and a hesitation to openly discuss mental health, due to huge amounts of shame and stigma attached to it. And this, by the way, is a global phenomenon. Societally, I think, it's worse in countries like Pakistan, where I was born. This is mainly due to stigmatized notions on mental illness. I'm definitely the anomaly in my family, as someone who discusses mental health, or more specifically, my own mental health.

The sad thing is that mood disorders tend to run in families, so if people become more vocal about their own experiences, detecting illnesses at an early stage can be extremely beneficial. Findings reveal a high number of people in Canada commit suicide stemming from mental illnesses like, bipolar and depression.

Bipolar comprises of two strands, hence the name, bi  --  meaning two, and polar, meaning polar opposites. My depression came about six months before the mania set in. When I was in a depressed state, I didn't know I was depressed. No one else caught on, no friends, no family really noticed, enough to act upon it. But my depression came and went. I stabilized for a few months, then hit the manic stage.

Since then, my bipolar has been treated -- primarily through medicine, some psychotherapy, and last but not least, the consistent support from family and friends. It took about one year since the onset of my manic phase for me to finally become, what's considered, "normal." This disorder is thoroughly common, and quite manageable if treated. But most importantly, it's through educating ourselves can we realize how to help one another.

So, next time, when you see someone being "weird," or out "out of the norm," or even "crazy," remind yourself of this article. Remember: those who don't understand mental illness, fear it. Mental illness can destroy lives, but it can also help sustain and nurture lives.

Everyone's experience with their disorder is different, much like how we, as individuals, are so unique. I no longer want to be ashamed of being bipolar. I don't want to live a secret life. That would be like saying I am diabetic, and wanting to hide that fact from the world. Being bipolar is like having any other illness, and people with bipolar go on to achieve great things. Dare I mention names like Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain. The individual just has to learn to manage it. Note, I said manage, and not cope. I say that because being bipolar is not a curse, I'm not suffering all the time. I am myself, and I've come to accept that about myself. My bipolarity is a part of who I am.

And here I am today, seven years later, with a diagnosis, a management system, a little daughter, a doting husband, loving family and friends, and understanding bosses. In my opinion, it's clear that my ability to be frank, open and honest is in a very small way normalizing discussion on bipolar. Clearly, there's a lot more to accomplish.

I've realized many lessons about myself since that summer day in July 2008 at the height of mania. Being bipolar isn't just some phase. It's here to stay with me for the rest of my life, and I'm absolutely okay with that. I'll consider myself lucky if my story enlightens you in some way. Talking about such mental health issues can get you in trouble in some places and with some people. This is exactly what I fight against. And I hope one day during my lifetime, I -- along with each of you -- can help spread the word through education, and we can thus, become a more progressive society.


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