Becoming Bipolar

How does someone “become” bipolar?

For the first 28 years of my life I had no idea I had bipolar disorder.  Bipolar was a word you called your high school girlfriend when she was mad at you for “no reason” (Bro, she’s totally bipolar.  One day we’re good, next day she’s mad for no reason… oh, also I guess prom was last night?)

But really, how nuts is that?  My whole life I was just a smart, quiet dude, who was constantly being told I could do better than whatever mediocre effort I was marshaling at the time.  I had flashes of brilliance, flashes of energy, flashes of productivity and then…


I fall flat on my face.

I’ve started 1000 things and finished maybe 10.  That’s a pretty shitty record.  I’ve been a sometimes musician, artist, chemist, programmer, brewer, an on and on… you name it and I’ve probably tried it – hell, not just tried it but got pretty damn good at it.  But then…


My head is too damn big!

Finally, at 27 I convinced myself that I had ADHD.  Adults can have that right?  I mean it made sense, I couldn’t focus on a damn thing – that’s why I never finished anything!  My web browser always has 27 tabs open (16 at the time of this writing), I’ve got 6 separate emails started to 6 different people at work, and I’ve rewritten this goddamn sentence 8 times! (Also did you know you can change the color of the font?  Isn’t that awesome?  Did you know that?  DID YOU?!  Oh shit, right, back to the post…)

So I swallowed back a healthy dose of toxic masculinity fueled apprehension and fear of doctors (or anyone that might “know better”… or you know, women) and went to get help.  And Then I was diagnosed with major depression.

I actually look just like this.

Not exactly what I was expecting, but maybe it made sense.  I mean, I have a pretty negative outlook on… well, everything.  I’d always said I was simply realistic, but that’s just clever branding; negative is much more accurate.

So I took the meds, and wouldn’t you know it I got better!  Everything was great – until it wasn’t.  The depression came right back, the meds didn’t make a difference.  But then a month later I felt better again… so maybe it did work after all!  But then it came back.

I attempted to reason with myself: maybe my depression was just a reaction to the normal circumstances of life – I mean, that’s normal… right?

It wasn’t until about a year later when I finally hit a particularly low point that I decided to see a therapist – not just my primary care doctor.  That’s when the diagnosis came: I was suffering from bipolar disorder.

Oddly, this is the most accurate depiction of bipolar disorder I’ve ever seen.

And really for the first time everything made sense.  I’d been displaying symptoms since at least the 6th grade when I overheard my history teacher tell another student, “That’s Matt.  Matt’s an underachiever.”

I’d give my all to something just to give it up a month later.  I’d learn some new skill, some new job, some new task, just to abandon it.  I’d lose 30 pounds, then gain 50.  Every period of achievement in my life has been followed by a period of despair and regression.

Science has helpfully devised the following chart to illustrate this:

Interactions with a bipolar man
Science called – they’re pissed that your axes don’t have units.


So that’s how I “became” bipolar.  Turns out I had been all along.  And that’s a crazy revelation.


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Bipolar husband, father, and professional. Author of blog - a place to learn about mental illness and yes, maybe even laugh a little.

5 thoughts on “Becoming Bipolar

  1. Great post, not that it would be of any consolation but knowing rather than not, is so much better! I’m on meds for anxiety and depression, they take some time to ‘work.’ I hope you find one that works for you.

  2. I can totally relate to this. I had the Major Depression diagnosis for about 5 years before they figured out it was Bipolar (II). But then all my previous behavior made so much sense!

  3. I figured out I was bipolar at age 19. I don’t remember how but I started doing research and figured it out after being diagnosed with depression two years before. I was formally diagnosed at 21 when I had my second manic episode and ended up in a hospital for that one, I’m bipolar I.

    I relate to your statements about starting things and stopping so much. I did just fine in school but in my adult hood I’m like that. I consider what I do to be going through my “phases” and sometimes I mourn them. I’m 29 now, phases I miss most are loving music, doing art, and having a job. Current phases are reading, watching hallmark, and actually trying to get a very specific job. We’ll see how this plays out.

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