In March 2021, CandleX director Xiaojie interviewed Kelly Yang on her experience with bipolar disorder. A year later, CandleX decided to present this interview in five chapters to commemorate World Bipolar Day. This is Chapter 2 of the interview. Check out Chapter 1 if you haven’t already!
In Chapter 2, Kelly talks about how her depression turned into bipolar disorder, a common situation for people who have bipolar I disorder. Kelly describes the feelings she encountered during different phases of bipolar disorder – she experienced the highest highs and lowest lows, which is a signature feature of bipolar disorder. Finally, they wrap up the discussion with Xiaojie asking Kelly for advice on how others can help people with bipolar disorder. In Chapter 3, they will cover more on Kelly’s hospitalization experience.
Interviewer: Xiaojie | Director of CandleX
Time of interview: 2021
Kelly: It's just this constant draining of energy. I wouldn’t sleep or eat. My father described me as someone with infinite strength. At that time, all I thought about was how much I didn't want to live, and I thought there was nothing to live for. So, I tried to do things like jumping off a building, and during those times I had so much strength that my parents and brother combined couldn't even pull me back. My father said he was stunned at the amount of strength I had to pull free. It was like I wanted to use up all the power in my body. Previously, I mentioned the time when I didn't sleep for five whole days, and that time, I suddenly used up all my energy and fainted. When I woke up a few hours later, I felt like my entire body collapsed.
Xiaojie: Like you used up all your battery?
Kelly: Yes. I finally felt exhausted, and I didn't know what I was doing before. That was the process for me.
Xiaojie: What I find curious is that, for many people, they become more innovative during manic phases. They think they're at life's peak, the world's amazing, and they can do anything (like going five days with no sleep). However, in your case, you have high energy but negative emotions. Is my interpretation correct?
Kelly: Actually, before I was hospitalized, my emotions were... How should I put it? They were negative and sort of insane emotions. So I would act a bit mad and look "not normal." But after I was hospitalized, I received treatment and was on medications. That was when I felt the feeling of others during bipolar states. I did some things I would never have tried before, like dying my whole head a vivid shade of pink that really stood out. And when I went shopping, I would buy bags worth 30-40K(RMB). At the time, it was like that and I was so happy. I thought, "I'm completely healed and normal now." However, every time I went back to the hospital with my pink hair and new bags, my doctor would increase my medicine dosage. I couldn't understand the reason for that because I felt so fine and so happy. My father told me later on that, at the time, the doctor told him I was in an abnormal state that was part of the manic episode, and my mood was unusually high it needed to be lowered. It makes sense now because I was insanely happy in that period of time. I had the habit of writing in my diary every day, and before I would write about how much I wished to die. Then, after I was hospitalized, I wrote about where I went every day and how extremely happy I felt using multiple exclamation marks. During the time, I was gleeful every day. Afterwards, I realized that that period was indeed when I felt the upside of bipolar disorder.
Xiaojie: Right. At the hospital, were you diagnosed with bipolar I or II disorder? There are actually 4 types of bipolar disorder. Did the doctors tell you?
Kelly: I think it was bipolar I.
Xiaojie: I thought so, too, because we have mental health support groups at CandleX, and quite a few people with bipolar disorder come in with stories similar to yours. That's how I could tell. OK, let's summarize again. The first episode was in your last year of undergrad?
Xiaojie: Throughout the years, I feel like you went from depression to bipolar, since the first two times were depressive episodes, then you slowly turned bipolar. This is quite a common situation, to my knowledge. How long was the entire journey? From the first episode to the bipolar episode, which was also the last episode, right?
Kelly: Yes. It was around 4 years, from 2014 to 2018.
Xiaojie: Okay, I have a few more questions regarding events we advocate at CandleX. We really want to help the family and friends of those with bipolar disorder to know what they should do to help that person with bipolar disorder.
Kelly: When I was depressed or bipolar, what I wished to hear least from others was how I just needed to get over it and stop overthinking because I was fine. They are denying your current state, which makes you feel even more dispirited and feel like your actions are useless and wrong. It will make you sink deeper into negativity. So, I think it's important to not deny their current state. I was really grateful for my boyfriend at the time for staying by my side. Even though he knew he couldn't do anything to really help me, he was there for me. I think approaching people with depression or bipolar disorder as the role of a listener will make them feel more warmth.
Xiaojie: I really like the two points you mention. One is that we need to first validate all of their emotions, and then be there for them. If they want to say anything, no matter how embarrassed or guilty they may feel, they can tell you. So, more of the time, they wish for family and friends to act as this supporting body like a boat, instead of helping them to solve any problems. You are there, and they know that they can step aboard if they need it.
Kelly: Yes, that's what I mean.