Bipolar II and the Social Media Experiment
I’m bipolar. Very bipolar. Multiple doctors and a lot of science tell me that I’m bipolar. To be precise, I have type II bipolar disorder. At least, that’s the diagnosis. And bipolar disorder sucks! It sucks so bad! Check out these bullet points that illustrate a few reasons why it sucks:
- EVERYTHING IS AMAZING!!!
- … And then everything blows
- Sometimes I don’t sleep at all, or I sleep very little
- … Or I want to sleep all day long
- I’m a pretty nice guy
- … until I blow up and throw things and slam doors for no reason
If you want more information about type II bipolar disorder, the Mayo Clinic has a very nice write up about it.
For years, my disorder remained unchecked and undiagnosed. I didn’t realize I had a legitimate problem. I certainly didn’t realize I had a treatable disorder. The mind has an insidious way of rationalizing abnormal behavior, and in my case it did a wonderful job of hiding my own issues from me. Friends and family thought I was “crazy” and “needed help,” but what do they know?
They don’t know me.
Despite the misguided judgement of my own mind, I decided to heed the advice of those closest to me and trust my mental health to the services of a professional. After several sessions with a psychologist, I was put in the very capable hands of an excellent NP who prescribed a series of medications and vitamins to keep my mental health in check. It was trial and error for a while: An initial go at an antipsychotic medication, for example, caused visual and aural hallucinations. Nobody wants that!
After a while, though, I finally found a medication that worked for me.
Well, mostly worked: The manifestation of hypomania and depression are now much more manageable under the new medication, unfortunately they’re still present! If my old-self was a car without tires, my new-self is a car with flashy new tires but an annoying alignment problem.
I needed a tool, then, to help me identify hypomanic and depressive episodes so that I could act like an adult and communicate my mental well-being to those around me. Identifying an ongoing hypomanic or depressive state is challenging, to say the least, and I had failed on numerous occasions to keep my emotions in check.
Around 2013, I made a very deliberate (and very careful) decision to utilize Twitter as a tool to help me track the fluctuations of my mental state. For me, Twitter was an easy, unobtrusive mechanism to post my thoughts and feelings. I’ve been an active Twitter user since 2007, averaging about 342 tweets per year… until 2013, when I made the decision to use it as a tool. My average jumped to over 2217 per year.
Here’s a look at my tweet activity for 2016. As of 2016/04/13, I’ve submitted 2118 tweets, averaging about 20 per day. Between the 3rd and 5th weeks of the year and again between the 11th and 13th weeks of year, I experienced a sharp and sudden flurry of social media activity:
This is important. This is the data that I need in order to understand and anticipate hypomanic and depressive states. Presumably, something chemically happened to my brain sometime between January 18th and February 7th, and again between March 14th and April 3rd. This is when I experienced marked excitability.
Note, too, the slight increase between the 15th and 16th weeks. That is the precursor to today, where I find myself somewhere near the beginning of another hypomanic episode. I can tell. I can feel it.
It’s not just the frequency of the tweets that tip me off, however: With time, I’ve learned to identify the content of my submissions. Between the 8th and 11th weeks, for instance, my social media activity slowed. The content of my tweets became more conversational, less obnoxious, more career or event-driven:
But sometime between the 11th and 12th weeks, I started tweeting like this:
The content became more off-the-wall, more stream-of-consciousness. Obnoxious. Weird. Funny, maybe… At least, to me.
That’s not to say my timeline isn’t full of bullshit. Because it is. That’s just me. That’s who I am as a person. However, the frequency and absurdity of the content I post to my timeline closely mirrors the ongoing state of my mental health.
I’ve tried, with only moderate success so far, to incorporate some form of metadata in my tweets as I remember to do so, whether through hashtagging or personal notes or whatever. The above graph is an example of tracking sleep issues (the red line) on a monthly basis. Generally speaking, I have issues sleeping when I’m having a hypomanic episode. This is an area I’m still actively working on.
It has taken a very long time — and it has been a very, very challenging road — to come to understand the nature of my disorder. Once the diagnosis was issued, training myself to identify the peaks and valleys of its symptoms became a critical aspect of my day-to-day life.
This is not a treatment and I do not use it to treat my disorder. It is, however, a tool that I find exceptionally useful in assisting with my ability to communicate my feelings with my friends and family, and to overcome the pervasive and often crippling effects of type II bipolar disorder.