What a tough question to ask. As I become more and more familiar with my bipolar disorder and gain understanding every day on my past, present and future with bipolar disorder, I wonder where my story truly begins. I have memories that, with what I know, I question if I was being a typical child in these memories or if there was always more to it.
When speaking to a psychiatrist I always start my story around age 14, the first time I experienced agitated depression followed shortly by hypomania. The depression was a-typical, irritability and anger rose above sadness or emptiness, I ate more not less alongside the regular symptoms of depression, this experience is apparently common among teenagers with bipolar disorder.
However this is not quite true, I did experience a depression at age 11 but I would have never recognised this. I felt so alone, like nobody wanted to know me at school so I completely isolated myself. I spent my free time crying, feeling too lethargic to do much or cheer myself up. Being a ‘pre-teen’ it was put down to, but I wonder if this could be slight depression experienced even younger.
Mania in Childhood
You may be thinking 11 isn’t that much younger than 14 to experience depression and well you would be right, possibly, but this is not the extent to my questioning. Depression or no, it is the manic memories that cause so much confusion. These manic memories date back well into my childhood before adolescence.
One memory I have is being 9 years old sat on a swing set in my grandfather’s back yard on a sunny day, I was surrounded by flowers, trees, birds. I felt so happy, so euphoric, so at one with nature that I was grinning from ear to ear. I was bursting at the seams with joy, fulfilment, energy. I started spinning around in the garden with my arms out, feeling every sensation, being so in love with life and all the joys that nature brings. Was I manic then? If I felt now how I did then I would certainly identify as being manic, but at this age could this just be a happy childhood?
When I was a child, and still now I had times where I felt like reality wasn’t really ‘real’ and that I was on some kind of separate layer of existence to the world around me. I used to play video games in my mind as I would walk to school or town, turning the floor times into a platform in my mind. I remember once we missed a bus because I was so stuck in my own little game, I was around 5 years old. The reason I feel this indifferent is I truly believed that game was reality in those states, I would continue my games at school saying things like I had superpowers or something like that. Surely I was manic then, but at 5?
During my childhood, and again still now when I am manic, I go through phases of feeling a connection to god or at least the universes energy. I feel powerful, special, and omnipotent. I can make any situation a reality for everyone, I can control the weather. All of these beliefs started off at such a young age. From the age of around 6 I would go through phases of being so obsessed with going to church, praying, feeling at one with God. There have been times where I truly felt his power within me and used this to shape my own reality, such as setting off fire alarms (not physically, but through prayer) to not getting in trouble for things. I have felt invincible due to this power. These grandiose thoughts are so contrasted to my usual atheist mind-set and they started so young. Yes I was impressionable then, but this would count and does form a part of my mania now so did it count then?
I don’t recall these memories, I wouldn’t regardless of age but these specific events occurred at the age of 3. I used to sit at night on the top of the stairs chatting away every night until my mother eventually asked who I was talking to, ‘the lady in white’ I would respond. I would talk to this ‘lady’ every night and freak my mother out until eventually we visited my grandma and I pointed to a statue of the Virgin Mary and said that was her, the lady I had been talking to. Was that childhood imagination or bipolar disorder? At age 3?
My earliest memory ever is being around the age of 9 months, laying in my crib staring into a shadowy spot in the ceiling that I didn’t like much. It kept moving, especially with moving headlights from the cars on the road outside. Now I wonder if the shadows even really moved, or existed. I have the memory confirmed my multiple family members, I can recall the entire layout of the house upstairs from that age and my grandmother recalls the night as I wouldn’t stop staring at the ceiling and would not fall to sleep. Could I really have experiences psychosis at such a young age?
Diagnostics and Childhood
I am aware that bipolar is not diagnosed in children in the UK other countries without some serious evidence, most are diagnosed in their 20s although some are diagnosed in their teens and some in their later years. I don’t even know if you can be diagnosed as a child, are you born with Bipolar Disorder? Or does it develop? There is a genetic component to bipolar disorder that leads me to believe it must at least be there in some way at birth, but science hasn’t figured that one out yet.
I really do not know what to think about these memories any more. Are all my happiest memories just because of my illness?