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Bipolar Disorder is a loaded phrase. Most people don’t really know what it practically means. Of course it literally means two poles, two extremes, two ways of being in one person’s head — but Bipolar Disorder has more than two faces. My Bipolar symptoms usually take one of four forms; depression, mania, mixed episodes and rapid cycling.

I’d like to think of my Bipolar symptoms as different fashion moments. Actually, I approach most days, new challenges, vacations, first dates and nights in front of the TV in terms of “what to wear.” And so here it is, your essential guide to Bipolar fashion.

Please note, outfits described below are real things from my closet.

Depression: Stained XL Brown Sweatpants and a Wool Dad Sweater

My depression looks like apathy with a dash of insecurity and a big helping of shapeless lounge-wear. When depressed, it’s hard to figure out what I contribute to my relationships or the world around me. I find it difficult to ask for help because when I feel this way, I don’t really think I’m worth helping. It’s a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. And those brown sweatpants are a security blanket I can’t tear myself out of. I can tell things are serious when I don’t know if the stains are chocolate or tomato sauce, and I know I’m near the bottom when I don’t care.

Mania: Lime Green Mini Dress and Four Inch Purple Heels

My mania looks like confidence wrapped in obscenely bright colors. I used to think I never fully “left reality” when I was manic. I mean, I’ve never thought I had super powers or that the sky was orange. But when I’m manic I honestly believe that I’m destined for greatness, that I’m smarter and stronger than the rest, that I’m… special. In this state sleep is not essential, my mind races and my laugh booms. When I’m manic I’m the life of the party, I make new friends, I’m charming and funny and I know it. The manic half of my closet contains more neon and floral prints than I would like to admit.

Mixed Episodes: Little Black Dress and Gym Shoes

My Mixed Episodes look like the Hulk. Mania and Depression in combination is a scary sight, just like a classic black dress with blue Nikes. All the negative self-talk of a depressive episode is heightened by racing thoughts and heart pumping anxiety. For me, this usually translates into blinding rage. No one believes me that I get angry, but trust me, you won’t like me when I’m angry. My sense of time gets slippery; others seem to be moving too slowly and yet I cannot protect myself from constant perceived slights and insults. Impatience colors all my thinking. I have a sense of urgency for change, but I can’t begin to describe what that change should look like. The sense of discomfort is physical too, like heels at the end of a day at the office.

Rapid Cycles: Jeans and a T-Shirt

My Rapid Cycle Days look eerily calm, like I’m trying desperately to fit in. A Rapid Cycle is when some combination of the above three states happen in quick succession. Sometimes I go through all three and back again in one day. In a word, it is exhausting. So exhausting, that on those days, I don’t care about my outfit. (Blasphemy!) It’s hard to have one outlook on the world at breakfast and a completely different one at lunch. It saps all my energy just to keep up with my emotions. Strangely enough, it is on these roller-coaster days that I most question the legitimacy of my illness. If a mood only lasts an hour or a snap of the fingers, is it real enough to be a sickness? Days can feel like weeks in this state and so it is about survival. Jeans, a t-shirt and maybe some sensible shoes… gross.

Bipolar Disorder has more than two faces. Just like anyone’s personality, mood and symptoms change with circumstances, stresses and a good night’s sleep. Sweatpants, a lime green dress, running shoes and jeans all have their place in my closet. In the same way, my different poles have a place in shaping who I am and how I look at the world. And I don’t think I would change the variety even if I could; uniforms are so high school.

For on the funny side of illness, please visit my blog.

About Sarah Lindsay

Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com

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