The Trouble with Bipolar Blackouts and Amnesia

Earlier this week I had one of my blackouts. They’ve been going on for well over a year now and my doctors have yet to figure out why.


I have come to realize that there are some portions of my life that I simply cannot remember. And that no matter how hard I try to fill in those gaps of lost time I will never succeed. I can lose spans of time of as little as a few hours or as much as up to a whole day. Stress seems to be the most likely trigger, rather it’s stress of rapid cycling or external stress.


Blackouts are usually associated with alcohol. Then there are such things as blackouts from bipolar. I can disassociate from reality completely sober all the while functioning completely normal, or sometimes I can do some weird things. You might never know my brain has dragged me into another place out of reality.


Most occasions I come back normal, awoken unharmed with all my responsibilities successfully completed. But sometimes I’m at the mercy of my psychosis. I play a cat and mouse game. A follow the leader game. As if driven or lead by some strange force. Sometimes I awake after wandering off and in those times by God’s grace I come to and am able to find my way home unharmed. I once awoke over 40 miles from my home with no recollection of why I travelled that distance, or how unharmed Another time over 130 miles away almost in another state. If there were any intentions I have yet to discover why, but for now it seems I just got into my vehicle and drove.

Then there those blackouts where I become another person. As if someone else takes over. I’m a rapid cycler with my bipolar. Here lately I’ve had trouble with mixed episodes. In my counseling sessions the only conclusions we could come up with is that my blackouts are defense mechanisms. A way for my brain to protect me either from external stressors or internal stressors. But these blackouts are not so protective when it comes to societies norms. I tend to awake only to find myself in legal trouble. I awoke a couple of times to find myself in jail.


These are some of the parts of bipolar that aren’t fair. The parts that make you angry. The times when you are innocent yet you are found guilty. The real you that would never have done what you did.


Memory, attention and concentration can all be disrupted by the same neurotransmitter disturbances that cause mood swings. Of course it just as much undermines our ability to study, to work, and even interferes with our personal relationships.


Many people who deal bipolar are extremely bright, so memory or other thinking problems can be extremely frustrating and confusing. Coming out of a blackout state is accompanied with fogginess, blurred vision, difficulty thinking and for me difficulty speaking. It’s the closest thing to waking from the dead.

Bipolar affects various aspects of memory. One aspect of memory that is not lost is semantic memory; long term memory for facts. Another is procedural memory; remembering how to do things. But these acute moments of temporary amnesia can be the most damaging. They tend to occur in my mixed states. Time is lost as if it never happened.


Sometimes bipolar is manageable for me. I can remain stable for some time. For months now I have been stable. But when it’s not manageable, it’s scary. My mood can reach an ultimate high, a manic, everything goes so fast I practically feel dizzy. My thoughts are so imaginative that I put myself in various situations. When I’m low, I am slowed and numb. I am without hope or worth. I am unable to process my thoughts the same way I would ordinarily do it. And sometimes, I have a mixture of all the above.


I am the one who is shaded gray in a conversation that others want to keep black and white.

I’m the victim.

I’m the offender.


There is a nausea that comes with facing the silence that you just came out of. Like getting sea legs. Like re-entering Earth as an astronaut with the gravitational force standing like an elephant on my chest. Like walking out of a dark, quiet movie into the bright loud sunshine. It’s a shock. It’s foundering. It’s squirming.


All of a sudden you’re hit with reality along with a void in time. So many questions are to be answered. Much like a court case you need a debriefing, but that is the last thing you get. “What has happened to me out there in the noisy, fast-paced world?” More precisely, “What did I do?” “Where have I been?”


The noise echoes in my head, trapped, reverberating off the inner lining of my temples. It’s loud. It’s stress. It’s a bunch of “should haves” and “could haves” and “what-if’s.” But every time they are pointless because every time the blackouts arrive unannounced. They leave just as they came.


Is it any wonder we humans prefer self-medication? Is it any wonder we prefer blindfolds and earplugs and informative solutions? Is it any wonder we prefer endless parties, endless highs, endless escapes? Alone is scary. But the more we ignore ourselves the more we become our own stranger, and then, then we are even less likely to listen at all.


There is an irony to the blackouts of bipolar. They are one of the many ironic blessings of this disorder. In spite of any consequences, coming out of the dark the light is so much more brighter. We don’t just remember who we really are. We see who we aren’t.


Tragedy has a way of both numbing and awakening us. We make peace with the mere illusions of our control.


“There really is no protection from life. But why all the believing there is? Why all the acting as if?”– Sabrina Ward Harrison


Many people take freedom for granted; I promise you, I do not. Yet, am I truly free? Do I really believe that? I’ve been jailed before. (More than once) The cops know me in my town. I currently struggle with bipolar that seems to progress as I age. I currently deal with Parkinson’s. But I still fear a past that haunts me. And I fear the future, unsure what kind of approval I’ll receive. I fear inevitable depression of suicidal ideations. I fear inevitable manias. I fear future blackouts and loss of time with unexplained behavior.


2 thoughts on “The Trouble with Bipolar Blackouts and Amnesia

  1. Wow this brought tears to my eyes! I have experienced the same for most of my life. I also find that my concept of time is constantly skewed. Thank you for sharing this post, I connected with it completely.

    1. Thank you. And I thought I was alone. I have never heard of another experiencing the same. I lost half of Mon & all of Tues. I’m glad you were able to relate. I wish you didn’t have to go through this, but it also brings me comfort knowing I’m not alone.


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