Author: Dayna J.
Of course all women are not bipolar, but this writing prompt (in honor of International Women’s Day) asking how my experience as a woman has affected my mental health really made me think. Perhaps this disorder is easier for women. As a woman I am allowed to cry without raising too many alarms. I can also lose my cool, freak out, scream, and totally lose my temper for a variety of reasons with many individuals attributing my outburst to my hormones. Many people do not hear warning bells when a woman acts out. We can be dismissed and marginalized for experiencing exaggerated emotions at home and in the workplace.
Is society too quick to assume these emotions are normal for all women? I believe mental health is about the ability to remain in control of our actions despite our emotions. The ability to stay balanced, to not become easily overwhelmed. A mentally healthy person should feel their emotions yet adjust their behavior in a manner that is socially acceptable and situationally appropriate. Bipolar disorder can make it difficult to do that when I am in the midst of a depressive or manic episode. Being a woman makes it easier to hide behind the monthly changes in my hormone levels and blame my mood fluctuations on my cycle.
Sometimes when a woman commits an atrocious crime, her actions can be quickly attributed to her time of the month. There is a lack of understanding of the difference between mental illness and hormonal changes. Now that I am properly medicated I very rarely cry. Before my diagnosis it was normal for me to cry at least once a day, everyday. Why didn’t anyone in my life recognize that was a part of a mental disorder? I continue to have a hot temper at times, but I am exponentially more balanced and in control now that I am treating my bipolar disorder.
Being a woman made it harder for me to get the help I needed for my bipolar disorder because I and the people in my life just assumed I was emotional. I am a feeler – that hasn’t changed, but there is now a distance between what I feel and how I let it influence my mood and my behavior. I no longer get stuck feeling terrible about situations I cannot control.
I cannot find many resources to identify the difference between mental illness and menstruation. In The Truth About Periods and Mental Health the author says, “hormonal changes that trigger a menstrual period can worsen the symptoms of mood disorders. Relationships can suffer from the emotional symptoms of depression, anxiety, and irritability, leading to additional stressors on mental and emotional health.”
Perhaps it’s that simple. As a woman my undiagnosed mood disorder made my monthly cycle symptoms more exaggerated. Since I could always align my emotional breakdowns to my very regular hormone fluctuations none of us, myself included, ever thought to seek professional help for my tears or anger. Perhaps being a woman stole years of healthy functioning from me. Could I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was younger, begun treatment, and found balance and mental health earlier in life?
I don’t know how to tell or what to look for. I know for me it was psychosis brought on by weeks of untreatable insomnia that served as the first clue there was something severely wrong with my mental health. Being a woman and living with hormonal changes throughout the month can make it more difficult to identify and treat mental illness until it is wildly out of control.
As a heart broken high school freshman after my seven month relationship with a junior who was my first love ended, I probably experienced my first symptoms of bipolar disorder. I was obsessed. I called this boy’s house endlessly when he wouldn’t answer. This was in the mid-nineties before everyone had a cell phone.
Finally his mom picked up and strongly discouraged me from ever calling their house again. Every night I played Mariah Carey singing I Can’t Live if Living is Without You on repeat as I sobbed into my pillow for hours. This heartbreak lasted for over a year.
The obsession and fixation is certainly symptomatic of bipolar disorder. A healthy teenager would simply date other boys. There is an article about bipolar obsession entitled Bipolar Disorder and Grappling with Obsessive Thinking. It describes such an obsession in detail:
“People with bipolar disorder often report that there’s an obsession of the day or the week, and as one problem gets resolved, it can easily be replaced by another problem,”
“There’s something in the brain that needs to ruminate and worry and obsess about different topics. It could be a real problem or a completely irrational problem—it almost doesn’t matter what the topic is.”
No one thought to explore this, take me to the doctor, or even really knew about my obsession because I hid in my bedroom behind a closed door soaking my pillow in tears and experiencing my first suicidal thoughts in private misery.
My sister, mom, and friends knew I was a heart broken girl. Yet they were not concerned because I was able to maintain straight A’s, participate in my extracurricular activities, and have an active social life — yet I still spent hours each night sobbing myself to sleep and hoping I wouldn’t wake up. Suffering like this in silence is common in many mental illnesses.
Women experience monthly fluctuations in our moods. Don’t assume your feelings are normal. Talk to your friends, family, and doctors to explore options for treatments to make your monthly moods more stable. Depending on the severity, they could be signs of a more significant mental illness.
Dayna was 27 years old when she first experienced a two year spiral of mixed manic and depressive episodes, including six inpatient hospitalizations, a suicide attempt, and the threat of a three year commitment if she did not become medically compliant. Today, Dayna maintains a close relationship with her psychiatrist and is thriving in her career and home life with the help of prescribed medications. Dayna lives in the Washington, DC metro area with her partner of 18 years. Together they share their home with two cats, Latte and Donut, and Butters, their corgi. They love to travel the world and have spent time exploring three continents and over two dozen countries.
Dayna writes about her bipolar journey and story on her website,
Connect with Dayna on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaylightandDarknessDayna
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