The Dangers of Mental Health Labels

Hey guys. It’s 1:16am on this Thursday morning. I am manic. So manic. I have not been this manic in a while. Sleep is out of the question tonight. I must write, lest I wish for my brain to explode.

So what is the trigger for this particular manic episode, you may ask? Well, basically, I spoke to my psychiatrist on the phone today. She recently increased my medication dosage for both the mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic. I asked my psychiatrist if the increased dosage of the anti-psychotic would cause weight gain. She replied in the affirmative. I freaked out. How can I, a dancer, gain weight?! But it certainly explained a lot. I’ve been exercising regularly and eating healthily… but I am not seeing results. It’s that damned medication, I’m telling you. So anyway, after I heard about the weight gain side effect, my mind immediately jumped to the solution, which was to exercise more and eat less. I am actually training for a ballroom dance competition in three weeks, and I need to rapidly lose weight so I don’t embarrass myself on the floor (not that anyone but me really cares). I think the competition is definitely another trigger for me. In situations of stress and pressure, I tend to go to the extreme in the pursuit of excellence. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself to work hard, and going over the edge into manic territory. Clearly, I have gone past that line, as demonstrated by tonight. I was actually going to go on a midnight run on the levee in the freezing cold, but thankfully, my mother stopped me in my tracks and scared me into submission.

More manic behavior– I impulsively messaged my ex-boyfriend, bombarding him with messages that I deeply regret sending. I don’t know why I sent them. All I know is that I was out of control. Totally manic. I don’t want to be that person who blames EVERYTHING on her illness, because not all my actions are a result of bipolar. I need to own up to my actions. But I also need to acknowledge that bipolar can really affect one’s behavior in drastic ways. I need to figure out which actions are the “real” me talking, and which are manifestations of bipolar.

Okay, so onto the meat of today’s post. I recently got my old laptop fixed (I broke the screen two years ago and finally got it fixed today). I was digging into some of the old notes I had written on my computer and stumbled across a particular gem written on August 14, 2016. Now, keep in mind that I got diagnosed with bipolar in 2018. So during the time that note was written, I had no idea I had a mood disorder. Yet, a part of me sensed that something was amiss with my mind. Well, enough of the preamble. I’ll just show you guys an excerpt of what I wrote that day.

“The older I get, the less I trust myself.

I am impulsive. I am sporadic. My emotions run rampant… I can be on top of the world one day, and feel depressed the next. I don’t trust myself. I need to learn to control my emotions… I need to learn to keep my motivation steady… Not 200% one day, and 0% the next. I need to be steadier. Less whimsical.

What is the source of my emotional instability? It may be because I always push myself to the limit… I may think this is a good thing, but if I’m going at 300 mph perpetually, I will inevitably crash. These “crashes” must be the depressive states I go through… Although lately, I haven’t been pushing myself. Well, Belicia, you are on vacation… But even Chris is practicing piano! Austin is working out! What are you doing? Why aren’t you stretching or dancing or reading or studying chem? Why are you just listlessly letting the day float on by? Watching movies… surfing the net… you aren’t growing yourself in some way.

But, instead of beating yourself up about it, let’s see what went wrong and try to fix it.”

The way I described my moods is almost exactly the way one would describe someone with bipolar. It’s interesting though– back when I didn’t have the label of “bipolar” smacked onto my forehead, my self-perception was vastly different, which in turn affected my ability to handle my mood disorder. Firstly, in 2016, I never thought I had a mood disorder. I didn’t even know exactly what bipolar was. All I know is, back in 2014 when I saw a therapist for anxiety and depression, I was told by said therapist that I was “unusually motivated”. That might have been another way of describing my manic symptoms. At that point, my moods did not show much fluctuation– I was manic most of the time. But, I digress. Where was I? Ah. Labels and how they affect self-perception. So back in the good ol’ days of ignorance, I truly believed that my mood fluctuations were a direct result of my action/inaction. As you can see from my note written in 2016, I blamed myself for being motivated one second and completely despondent and depressed the next. On the one hand, the bipolar label helped me realize that a lot of these mood fluctuations were not in my conscious control. It’s simply a chemical imbalance in the brain. In that way, I was relieved of much of the pressure that came with trying to “will” myself to feel and act normally. However, if one relies too much on the label, one will fall into the trap of blaming ALL their actions (and inaction) on the illness. Do this, and you are essentially absolving yourself of all blame and responsibility for your actions, which is not a good thing to do.

I’ve been reflecting A LOT on my bipolar lately. As I learn more about the illness and how it manifests in my life, I am growing a lot more accepting of it. I am starting to treat myself with compassion, instead of hating myself for having this mental disorder. However, I sometimes catch myself falling into that deadly trap of blaming my actions on my illness. Oh, I spent my money recklessly that weekend in Los Angeles? That was the bipolar talking, sorry. Oh yeah, I bombarded my ex-boyfriend with a million hurtful messages? That was also the illness. Oops.

But there’s a fundamental flaw in that kind of thinking. I’m using my mental illness label as a crutch, a way to excuse bad behavior. So here’s the big question: How much of my actions are the “real” me talking, and how much of it is bipolar? I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Two-faced. Dr. Jekyll is the real me– cool, composed, normal. Then there’s Mr. Hyde, aka, the side of me that comes out when I’m either manic or depressed. I’m a two-faced being. And I struggle to distinguish between the two. Is my bipolar side a fundamental part of my being? Am I one and the same as my illness? All big questions that may take a while for me to answer.

Alrighty guys. I don’t know what to do now. I have exhausted most of what I wanted to say… my mind is a bit less restless, but I still have so much energy. I know I won’t be able to sleep. I just need to fill my time between now and 4:30am, when I will hit the gym. Got a long day tomorrow. Personal fitness training 11am-12pm, lunch with a mentor 12pm-1pm, and two dance lessons in San Jose 3:30pm-5pm. Fun fun. Not sure how I’ll operate on zero sleep, so maybe I should try to catch some shut-eye. Yeah, I’ll do that.

 

 

 

XOXO,

Belicia

 

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