Fear of Bipolar Symptoms Coming Back
When bipolar symptoms quell, I tend to fear bipolar symptoms coming back. That's right, the absence of bipolar symptoms can actually bring about fear and anxiety. I know that might sound self-defeating, but if you've been on the bipolar rollercoaster for as long as I have, and have seen as much bipolar devastation as I have, you'll understand that fear of bipolar symptoms is actually quite rational. It's a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop feeling. So if you fear the return of bipolar symptoms, what do you do?
Fear of Bipolar Symptoms Is Understandable
Bipolar disorder symptoms can devastate a life. In fact, bipolar symptoms can devastate a life over and over. Every time you experience mania, for example, you might destroy your credit rating and relationships. Every time you experience severe depression, for example, you might destroy your career. It depends on the person, of course, but those are possible ramifications that really happen to people every day. It feels like you're Sisyphus and you push the boulder up the hill when you're stable only to find it crashing down to the bottom of the hill again when you experience a severe bipolar mood. And if you've experienced cycles where bipolar symptoms return only to destroy what you've built during stability, then fear of those cycles is quite understandable.
And even if the cycles don't destroy your life, but "only" bring about pain and suffering, that is quite enough to induce fear.
Fear of Bipolar Symptoms Is Common
And the thing is, people with bipolar disorder know mood episode reoccurrence is coming. This cycle of stability, instability, severe mood, and then back to stability again is very common in people with bipolar disorder. This is because recurrent mood episodes in bipolar disorder happen all the time. According to the "Meta-Analysis of the Risk of Subsequent Mood Episodes in Bipolar Disorder,"1 the median time to subsequent mood episodes in bipolar disorder is 1.44 years. The risk of a subsequent mood episode in the first year of stability is 44 percent alone. The risk of subsequent mood episodes was higher in bipolar II than bipolar I and people with subsyndromal symptoms (bipolar symptoms not severe enough to constitute a full-blown episode) during their stable period had the highest risk of all. Alas, I have always been part of that last group.
So, if you experienced life-changing episodes just under every year and a half, you likely would fear their appearance too.
Fear of Bipolar Symptoms or 'Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop'
Once, about 11 years ago, I had one of the best periods of my life and it happened like turning on a light switch. Suddenly, I could feel happiness again, after not feeling it for years. But every day I was scared it would go away. In fact, I didn't tell people I was feeling better because I didn't want to get their hopes up. I didn't want to have to tell them when it all disappeared. I didn't want to even admit it to myself because I was scared of getting my own hopes up.
But day after day, things were okay. I continued to feel happiness. I continued to feel pleasure. It was a miracle.
After about two months of this, I started to trust it to some degree. I started to wake up and expect to feel like a whole person. I started to expect to not cry during the day. I started to expect to see color instead of black and white.
And then after three months, it disappeared. The switch flipped off. The new medication ceased working. And it ripped me apart from the inside out. Not only did I have a new bipolar episode to deal with but I also had the crushing disappointment of losing so much of what makes us human -- the ability to feel pleasure.
Fear of Bipolar Symptoms Is Okay
Your experiences with this may vary, of course. Some people experience long periods of stability. I suspect the longer it is, the more you trust it. And that's great.
But if you're feeling scared of bipolar symptom return, I want you to know it's okay. I've been there. I go there. I think there are two important things to remember:
- Your fear is okay, rational, and understandable.
- You need to make sure your fear doesn't ruin your experience of stability.
So, in short, if you're scared, it's okay, but don't let that stop you from enjoying a good place. Breathe in the pleasure. Breathe in the joy. Breathe in the happiness. Feel it as much as you possibly can.
True, it's likely it's not going to be permanent so use this good time to plan for the bad times. But don't let the possible bad times on the horizon ruin where you are today.
- Radua, J. et al., "Meta-Analysis of the Risk of Subsequent Mood Episodes in Bipolar Disorder." Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, February 2017.
Tracy, N. (2021, December 12). Fear of Bipolar Symptoms Coming Back, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2021/12/fear-of-bipolar-symptoms-coming-back
Author: Natasha Tracy
The two points you make (fear is okay, and make sure it doesn't ruin your experience of stability) are both so spot on and so important! These are two things that are especially true when we're talking about something like the fear or bipolar symptoms coming on. I also think it's worthwhile to note that this is valid advice when facing a fear of anything. It is valid, but do not let it get hold of you and your stability.