No, not that closet
(not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
It’s my sixty-sixth birthday today and it’s finally time to be free.
I’ve been in the closet for too long because I’ve been gripped by stigma and shame. Only two friends and a small number of bloggers know about my illness because I am careful with my trust. Because I know we are still in a society that heavily judges and and condemns and ostracizes.
I remember first considering suicide at the age of ten.
I look back on my childhood with a wisdom, forgiveness and peace that comes from being yoked to Jesus, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in me. I recollect it with a love, grace and compassion that have come with experience, research and a diagnosis that came long overdue.
As far back as I can remember, my life and perspective have been affected by bipolar disorder (or manic depression, as some still call it) and depressive disorder. My father, who was never diagnosed, was doubtlessly bipolar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was fifty-two. Fortunately, I was diagnosed at fifty-two. Since then, I have received appropriate medication and conducted enough research to understand the bipolar II (2) and persistent depressive disorder illnesses I live with.
I remember first considering suicide at the age of ten. Several factors contributed, and you can read more about that on my About Page, Part I. Bipolar disorder is due to a combination of physical, mental and environmental factors. Genetics plays a part in over 60% of bipolar cases. Environmental stressors, called risk factors, can add to and are seen more often in people who already have that genetic link.
People with bipolar I experience depression three times as often as mania. For bipolar II the ratio of time spent in depression vs. hypomania is a whopping 40:1. (Donna Jackel, bp Magazine, October 2010, citing a 2002 study by UCSD in the Archives of General Psychiatry)
The adult hypomania side of bipolar II – at least for me prior to medication – looked like intense spurts of energy, productivity, impatience and irritability, shopping splurges that lasted until the high wore off and landed me deep in debt, and reckless and immoral sexual choices that took me years to forgive myself for.
Those of us with bipolar II have likely inherited the illness from an immediate family member. We have symptoms which can cause either insomnia or too much sleep; loss of appetite; a severe aversion to being around more than one person at a time; memory loss; uncertainty about our place in the world; and a general feeling of incongruity. We also have many more depressive episodes than hypomania episodes. For those of us with bipolar II, it is 40 times more likely for us to experience depression than it is to experience a hypomania episode.
As I began to conduct my own research, I found several blogs that helped me learn more about my illness and how to manage my own particular symptoms. I found myself in the company of people like former Olympian Amy Gamble; politician Patrick Kennedy; actors Stephen Fry, Robin Williams, and Richard Dreyfuss; singer Demi Lovato; and anchorwoman Jane Pauley.
Folks who have bipolar are generally not the people portrayed on T.V. or in movies: serial killers or other off-the-bend caricatures of real people. Those caricatures continue to feed the shame and stigma of those of us who have a physical brain illness we work hard to manage every day. That is why coming out and saying, “I have bipolar,” still has such a negative stigma attached to it. That is why it is still scary to say out loud or write in black and white.
Folks who have bipolar are generally not the people portrayed on T.V. or in movies: serial killers or other off-the-bend caricatures of real people. Those caricatures continue to feed the shame and stigma of those of us who have an illness we work hard to manage every day.
Before medication, I attempted suicide twice. Since medication, all thoughts of suicide have disappeared and I have only experienced two hypomania episodes that have presented as overspending. The only other symptoms of hypomania are rare feelings of irritability.
However, I still have a strong aversion to being around more than one person at a time. I still have memory loss. I sleep too much and sometimes experience insomnia. And I do experience a general feeling of incongruity, of not fitting in, of always being a little out of harmony with my surroundings. In addition, because I have bipolar and depressive disorder, I experience a chronic ache – from a disturbing sense of physical pain to an incessant feeling of loss – all the time. I want to put up barriers so I don’t experience additional, external distress. When I remove those barriers, I feel vulnerable and naked – yet another reason to avoid being around people.
One thing people mistake about depression is that people experiencing depression always feel sad. That’s not necessarily true. My depression shows up as exhaustion and deadness. It is exhausting, particularly when coupled with bipolar because I use coping skills nearly every minute of every day and it is fatiguing. As Natasha Tracy, in Lost Marbles: Insights Into My Life With Depression and Bipolar says, “This is beyond fatiguing. This is soul-suckingly, bone-grindingly exhausting.”
The biggest factor in managing my symptoms aside from life-saving, daily medication is my walk with God. I know He is the biggest reason for the eradication of any thoughts of suicide. I am thankful for His healing hand. I am humbled that I have been forgiven for my previous unchecked behavior and brought into my Father’s arms by the grace of Jesus. I feel safe as I abide in the guiding heart of the Spirit. And I have hope because in His unconditional love there is no shame.
I will give thanks to You, for I am beautifully and wonderfully made. Miraculous is Your workmanship, and I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. (Psalm 139:14)
Below I’ve listed resources and websites I have used in my research and education about bipolar illness. I hope these links will help and inform you if you manage, or know someone who suffers from bipolar. These links are now added permanently to my right-hand sidebar.