Being Bipolar Means Always Having to Say, ‘Um…What’s Your Name Again?’

Illustration for article titled Being Bipolar Means Always Having to Say, ‘Um…What’s Your Name Again?’
Photo: iStock/Jim Cooke (GMG Art

Charlie Sheen, who at one time was definitely a terrible person who also happens to struggle with mental illness and addiction, once said (and I paraphrase) that most people wouldn’t last very long in his head. While during the very manic time when he said these “tiger blood”-related things, Sheen was, again, a chaotic, awful person, I found there was some truth to his rants. I, someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, have often thought that if anyone had to deal with the competing realities bouncing around at any given moment in my brain, they would probably just give up —career, relationships, friends (sexual and otherwise)—and move to a farm upstate to live out their days alone.

Being bipolar isn’t quite like having a “superpower” as Kanye West has said. Or at least, that has not been my experience. It’s more like an extra hurdle impacting activities that would be mundane for anyone not me. For example, I can’t remember anyone’s names or faces with any consistency anymore. I meet tons of people all the time, and they just go through my mind like sand in a sifter, thanks to the fact that when I’m meeting people I’m usually not present. I’m usually stuck in my head, worrying about this or that. I struggle to walk down stairs due to an overwhelming fear I will fall down them. (I have never really fallen down stairs. I’ve tripped up stairs, but not down.) I struggle to take public transportation because too many people, being underground, subway platforms and trains all freak me out. The airport is just a house of horrors—not only do I have to board a plane at the end (a feat that’s a miracle each time), but I have to take on the challenges of escalators, loud noises, heights, crowds, lines and my fear of being late for things. (I’ve never missed a flight, yet each flight I’m convinced this will be the one I’ll screw up.)

Basically, I’m afraid of everything outside of my house and leaving my apartment every day is like launching a space shuttle mentally, with the number of internal gymnastics I have to do to convince myself to get ready for the day and face the world. Outside of these physical terrors, there are the solely mental ones—freaking out when it takes more than a few hours for someone to text me back and repressing the strong urge to just keep texting to get a response. You see? I am a little intense, but I’m painfully aware I’m intense, so I largely keep my freakouts to myself and a few close friends.


Nobody needs to know about the time I burst into tears because someone waited days to text me back, and I had to endure those horrid hours, having a crisis of wondering why people won’t properly communicate with me in a timely fashion. Don’t they know how rude this is? Don’t they care? The answer is yes, they know, and no, they don’t give a fuck about my existential crisis. And, like, you could tell them, “Hey, when you don’t respond to me it makes me feel worthless” but then they would be like, “I literally met you two days ago. Are you crazy?”

Why yes! Yes, I am!

The few times I’ve “allowed” myself to go over to the dark side the results have been dire. I only told one guy, once, on a first date that I was bipolar and there was no second date. Mind you, I date plenty of randos and there’s no second date, so this wasn’t the most unfamiliar feeling. But still, all I could think was, “What was I thinking?” And the reality is, I wasn’t thinking. I was just riding the wave of bipolar disorder, slipping and sliding through life without logic or reason and just going wherever my ever-escalating emotions were taking me.

What’s wild is that this year I’ve actually been challenging myself and taking myself out of my comfort zones, with interesting results. I started taking the subway again after avoiding it for more than a year. I started taking self-defense classes and working out again. I started a new diet. Started back therapy. Moved to Harlem. Started working on improving my overall communication. Got 245 pages written of my new novel. Started reaching out to literary agents interested in said novel. Started being proactive again and pursuing various desires and goals. Planned a trip to Paris even though I’m terrified of international travel. Joined a women’s group for female executives. Started making new friends. Started going back out again after a bit of a hiatus after my mother’s death. I’m largely obsessed with my own self-improvement and taking on new challenges. So why, when so many good things are going on, do I focus on text messages, crowds and loud noises, and let them depress the hell out of me?

Because I have bipolar, that’s why.

Now, what’s your name again?

Editor-in-Chief of The Root. Nerd. AKA "The Black Snob."

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The Madwoman of Chaillot

I’m bipolar, and have had the, uh...distinction of spending time in my local psychiatric hospital on a few occasions. Everything that you wrote, with the exception of the dating part, as I’m An Old Married Woman, could have been written by me. I felt as though I was reading my own journal.

It’s tough being bipolar. And it’s extra tough navigating a world that isn’t built to favor (or even really acknowledge) those of us who struggle with mental illness. Thank you for having written this.