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Painted Brain | My Constant Carousel Ride: Bipolar Disorder
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • July 21, 2016

My Constant Carousel Ride: bipolar disorder

A lot of people who suffer from bipolar disorder compare their experience to being on a roller coaster. It’s easy to compare the two because of the intense ups and the terrifying downs. At the top of the roller coaster you hold your breath just to lose it again on the way down, much like waiting for a manic or depressive episode to begin. Bipolar disorder is most certainly comparable to a roller coaster, but for me, it is like being on a carousel.

A carousel is a favorite ride of children at county fairs and carnivals. The music and the bright, cheerful colors delightfully pull people in. The hand-painted horses are decorated with ribbons and bows, and have intricately painted braids in their manes and tails. Carousels are fun and enchanting to most, but when I think of a carousel, I think of my life and my experience with bipolar disorder, and how my illness has affected me for so long.


I was diagnosed bipolar disorder in 2011, but even before then, I was riding the carousel. Since my early teens, I’ve been riding the painted horses, going up and down and around in an unending circle; an unending cycle of depression and hypomania. The constant round and round is dizzying, and makes it hard to see the world around me clearly. I feel like I am stuck on the carousel, glued to the horse, and sick of the music that is playing. The first few rides on the carousel, like the first few of my hypomanic episodes, were fun. But soon that hypomania dips low into depression, like the carousel stopping and going dark in the middle of the ride. The constant spinning gets old and the endless up and down is tiring. At the end of the day, I stumble off the carousel only to get back on the next day.


On carousels, the riders don’t control when the ride starts or stops. That power is given to someone else, so it is easy to feel out of control. That is exactly how I feel about my bipolar disorder, out of control and powerless. I feel like I have no say over whether I feel up or down, and feel like I can’t stop spinning. But I know that when I feel this way is when I need to work hard to gain back control of my mind and my life. Even when it seems like I don’t, I have full control over when I want to get on and off the carousel, and how fast or slow I want to go. After all, I am not my illness, and my illness is not me. It can’t keep me glued to the horse, stuck on the ride to spin round and round forever. I have the power to step off the ride and continue to the rest of the carnival: normal life.


I compare my bipolar disorder to riding on a carousel because of the constant ups and downs and the relentless spinning around. My illness is confusing, dizzying and unpleasant, much like being stuck on a carousel would be. I agree that bipolar disorder is like a roller coaster ride; the ups and downs are so similar. But what makes a carousel like my bipolar experience is the endless spinning around to the sound of obnoxious music and the view of gaudy lights. It’s important to note the spinning of bipolar disorder because it shows that it is an illness that makes it hard to stop or slow down. Even though it is hard, I can control the ride I take on that carousel, and I choose to slow it down and get off of it by managing my illness with medication, therapy, and coping mechanisms. I am, and will continue to be in control of this bipolar carousel.

Madelyn Heslet is a 24-year-old single mother who writes about mental illness to advocate for mental health and do her part in ending the stigma that surrounds it. She not only lives as a writer, but as a loving mother, and dedicated full-time student.This is her first appearance in Painted Brain News.

  • Categories:

  • Mental Health

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