In my blog post “Writing with Bipolar II”, I detailed a little bit about my own struggles with mental health. I also mentioned that I accidentally gave one of my main characters the same form of bipolar that I have.
Bipolar has a lot of symptoms, and not all of them are well-known. In this post, I’m going to go over just a few of them.
(One disclaimer: I have rapid-cycling bipolar II and these are based on my own experience. Bipolar presents itself differently on an individual basis, and bipolar II is a different creature from bipolar I).
1. Mood Swings
Let’s get the obvious, stereotypical one out of the way first.
Yes, I have mood swings. They can be sudden and violent. One minute I’m cheerful and laughing, then 5 minutes later I’m biting someone’s head off or weeping for no reason.
This isn’t an everyday occurrence. Meds and coping mechanisms help me keep a fairly even keel most of the time, but there are still occasional bad days. My main character shares these, and yes, sometimes it comes out of nowhere.
During a manic state, bipolar people can be more likely to engage in impulsive or reckless behaviors. Sometimes that’s just a small shopping splurge, but it can also be more serious.
My main character often makes poor split-second decisions, and has a problem controlling herself when she wants something. (Usually that something is a someone.)
For me, my hypomanic states often result in a persistent state of low-level anxiety. This can leave me on-alert for hours, give me nightmares, and affect my physical health. It can make me snappish and irritable.
Throughout my novel, my main character struggles with a constant sense of dread and nervousness, and can often get overly frustrated with small things.
4. Lashing Out/Self-Sabotage
Bipolar people can sometimes be downright mean. When I was completely untreated, I could be vicious. I didn’t want to say awful things, but some impulse in my brain caused me to lash out at anyone who got close. I’d push them away with cutting words where it hurt them the most. Some bipolar people can become physically violent. I would watch myself saying and doing these terrible things, and it was like an awful out-of-body experience. Once it started, I couldn’t stop it. This was one of the biggest “rock-bottom” traits that made me seek treatment.
I actually toned this down for my main character, but it’s still there, particularly verbally.
5. Feelings of Worthlessness/Intrusive Thoughts
Sometimes, on a really bad day, I just feel like a garbage waste of space. There’s this tiny voice in my head telling me I’m worthless, that everything I’ve done is a failure, that I should feel overwhelming guilt about even minor things like not doing the dishes.
My main character has a few of these incidents in the book, where she just breaks down. To a neurotypical person, this can look like overreacting, but it’s just part of the bipolar package.
But Wait, There’s More!
There are actually a few other bipolar traits I accidentally passed on to my main character: histrionics, hypersexuality, occasional use of alcohol as self-medication. However, I only have room for 5 in a single blog post, so perhaps those will be another list for another day.
Have you ever found yourself accidentally giving your protagonist some of your own traits, good or bad or anywhere in between? Share in the comments below!