A friend who shares my bipolar II diagnosis said something recently that really resonated with me. He commented that “nobody understands people with bipolar II because there’s no high, there’s just anger and angst.”
Best description I’ve ever heard.
Say “bipolar” to the average person and they imagine somebody out-of-control manic — spending tons of money, doing rash activities and the like. Say “bipolar II” and they often don’t know what it is, or they can’t differentiate it from depression.
The “angst” part is easy — that’s just clear-cut depression. When I think about it, though, I’ve been angry most of my life. It always surprises me when people say that about me, because that’s not how I think of myself — at first.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit it. I’m angry about a lot of things. Most of them are my fault, which makes me angry at myself. But some of them are somebody else’s fault, or nobody’s fault at all.
Sometimes I’m angry at stuff I have no control over. I’m absolutely furious about my mental health, for one thing. I did not ask to be bipolar. I did not ask to be mostly retired before I was out of my 40s. While I’m grateful for all my caregivers, and they are numerous, I did not ask for my health issues, whether mental or physical.
I had my 30-year high school reunion this year. Many of my classmates are lawyers; there’s at least one doctor; an architect — many professionals. I had to figure out what to say that didn’t involve coming out and saying “um, yeah, I’m on disability.” Not what I bargained for when I was 18. I dreamed about winning a Pulitzer Prize, of course, but I was happy with the career I ended up with and I miss it.
And surely there are those who are worse than me. I have another bipolar friend who currently is spending 30 months in prison. I bet he would be happy right now to have my problems.
I try not to let my diagnosis define me, but it’s hard to avoid that. My therapist noted the other day that I needed to practice, in the words of dialectical behavioral therapy, “radical acceptance.” One of the tenets of radical acceptance is to accept yourself, as you are, without judgment. I have a terrible time with that. I don’t accept myself because there’s so much I’ve done wrong and so much I’ve failed at.
I really hate the cliché “it is what it is,” but clichés become such because they speak truth. I might not have asked for what I got, but it is what it is. I can’t do much about the angst — the depression just comes whether I expect it or want it to or not — but maybe it’s time to try to start doing something about the anger. And maybe now you know what we’re up against, you’ll understand us bipolar II folks a little better.