I think people might get confused a bit when I say things like “I’m symptom free” or use the word “remission”.
The truth is those things don’t exist. I am never totally ok.
I haven’t experienced the crushing extremes of bipolar in about 10 months. But just a couple days ago I was reminded that exactly a year ago right now I was in a crippling depression and was avoiding people and drinking heavily. And, truth be told, I avoided people and felt depressed at times during this summer as well.
I still have the mood swings, even the extreme ones. I still experience anxiety, insomnia, irritability. I still find my mind racing, or find it difficult to get out of bed.
What I mean when I say I’m symptom free is that those things now only last a couple days or a week at most. I am able to deal with them very reasonably. They are not impacting my daily life as much. I am no longer cycling between suicidal lows that last for months and make doing any kind of activity literally physically painful, and the mixed states of extreme energy and rapid fire thoughts coupled with self-loathing and despair that can last for weeks as well.
My experience is much more normal now. I imagine it isn’t that dissimilar from yours, however slightly more extreme it might be. But my psychology is still a mess, right? Either as a result of my condition, or a cause of it, or something completely ancillary, I still deal with issues.
I’m still mired with self-doubt, I still deal with obsessive thoughts that are difficult to corral, and I still have my triggers. Those things don’t go away when the mood swings become less aggressive and sustained.
I am never totally ok. That is just a reality of my current situation, and maybe my permanent situation.
Living with a mental illness is a lot like living with a toddler. You never really know when everything will go sideways. You never really know where the booby-traps are. And once things seem out of control it is hard to imagine how long you can maintain everything. You constantly wonder when the next phase will come and what it will bring with it.
When times are good, it is hard to remember how bad it can be, and when times are bad it is hard to remember what ‘normal’ really is. But no matter what, once you have a kid, you’re always a parent. Even when you are granted the ability to act like not a parent for a night out or a vacation, you’re never totally not a parent.
Not only will reality snap back into focus at some point, but your perspective is permanently altered.