I want to talk today about something I didn’t even really know was a part of bipolar until I read an article about it today (yes, I still constantly read about bipolar). I joined a Facebook group for those with bipolar, and it seems like there are the same 5 questions asked over and over in the 50k+ group. One of the most prevalent questions have to do with medication. Another asked about is always “is this a part of the illness as well?” The symptom/side effect of bipolar I struggle with is the cognitive impairment. These issues that come with bipolar is another super fun present, besides the mood swings.
There are a few ways these impairments can manifest. One is often called “brain fog,” when you can’t pick the word you’re looking for. You can SEE the thing you’re trying to name. You can think of any other word, just not that one. This is the most annoying one for me. It feels like there is a huge comforter over my brain that the words can’t squeeze through. They just aren’t accessible. It drives me nuts sometimes, especially when I’m around people I don’t know. I hate looking like an idiot, and it makes me feel like everyone thinks I am an idiot when I can’t think of the word chair. Brain fog can also show as a slow or sluggish brain. You usually have a certain speed that you think in or can recall information. During brain fog, it drastically slows down. You can’t access information or think. The deepness of the fog (for me) depends on how down in depression I am. When you’re manic (for bipolar 1) or hypomanic (bipolar 2), your brain speeds up and you can have a million different thoughts seemingly all at once. Some people will say things they don’t mean. Others will become angry and lash out at loved ones. It’s nearly fun to have a brain that feels as speedy as Einstein (except the rage), but it is terrible and exhausting when you inevitably crash.
Memory lapses are also hugely common. It becomes so hard to remember exact wording said during a conversation, or if you even HAD a conversation. I find myself forgetting simple things like what I went into a room for, more commonly than I see others do. Just today for example, my sister asked for a hair tie so I went upstairs to get it. Somehow, I got distracted with something and completely forgot to get it. Connor had to take out his hair tie and give it to her. Brain fail. When I woke up at 2am today, that was the first thing I thought of, as it just popped in my head. Kind of like when I was a server and would wake up in the middle of the night remembering I was supposed to get table 3 a side of ranch. It sucks. I finally am so desperate to remember everything I have going on, I have two calendars. I have a physical one hanging next to my refrigerator (which is color coded depending on type of appointment, of course) and then I put every single thing in my phone too. Unless I forget one or the other, which has also happened. I’ve also put the wrong time for a physical therapy appointment in my phone and showed up 30 minutes late. I was so embarrassed.
It’s also hard for me to remember to do things. I constantly have a running list of chores or things I want and need to do but will constantly forget things. I have to make shopping lists now, or I’ll forget half of what I needed to get but come home with a million things I didn’t. I’ll tell someone I’ll do something for them and then forget to do it until they remind me. This happened a few times over the last couple of months. For my HOA, I’m the vice president. I told a board member I’d write an article for him and just couldn’t remember to do it. Eventually I gave up and said to publish without me, I couldn’t get my brain to work. Then, I told the president I’d do a review on something by Sunday, and Monday came around and I hadn’t done the whole thing. I had to wake up early that day and make sure I got it done for her. Thank goodness she reminded me. Sometimes when I do remember to do something I said, I get really proud of myself, and that’s borderline pathetic. But, what can ya do? When you’re limited, you’ve gotta work around it.
There is a lot more that comes with the bipolar diagnosis than I initially expected or what shows up on WebMD. I’m still learning every day what it means for me, and how to work around each thing. Thank goodness for therapy helping me find out and thank goodness for support groups and the internet to show me more. I’d otherwise just write it off that I’m losing my mind. But not in the same way that I guess I already have!