Last October I wrote for the first time about having bipolar 2 brain disease, otherwise known as manic depression. Writing about this has become more and more important to me. Why? For three reasons: The older I get the more changes I see in the symptoms and cycles of the illness and how it affects my life. The more people I talk to about my own experience with this illness, the more people I discover are affected by it. The more I write about it, the more online connections I make.
I find the word ‘bipolar’ strangely…obscure and minimize[s] the illness it is supposed to represent. The description ‘manic-depressive’ on the other hand, seems to capture both the nature and seriousness of the disease I have rather than attempting to paper over the reality of the condition. Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind1
On the downside, the older I get, the more severe and deeper are my depressive cycles, and the more lengthy are my hypomania cycles. Cycles present differently than they did 15 or 20 years ago. I seem less able to predict or control the cycling and find them more difficult to manage.
On the upside, I recognize I’m in a cycle more rapidly than before. I’m quicker to surrender to each cycle as it comes along; I don’t fight them like I used to. I’ve learned to pray through the days, and accept the new symptoms as I learn new information about the disease. For instance, I’ve learned insomnia is a symptom of the end of my hypomania cycles. Instead of considering insomnia a negative that starts a cycle, I can now view it as a positive sign which ends a cycle, and take action to alleviate the symptom in a positive way.
As I learn more about my own cycles and my reactions and responses to them, I am more willing to be honest with the people I know. I’m more willing to say, “I’m not up to visitors today,” or, “I really don’t feel like going shopping” or “out to dinner,” when I know my reaction will be negative to being around people.
Sometimes, we simply can’t be there, and while that disappoints you, it disappoints us at a much deeper level, and that disappointment hangs on like a millstone around our necks. We desperately need your grace and forgiveness.
With close friends who know I have bipolar, it’s become easier to simply say, “It’s a bad day today,” or even, “I think I need some company.” Most times, friends have risen to the occasion or at least talked with me or texted until I feel better. I do my best to return the favor, though sometimes when I’m in the throes of a cycle, I can’t be there for them, and that hurts.
I want friends and loved ones of those with bipolar to know we do our best to be there for you. Sometimes, we simply can’t be there, and while that disappoints you, it disappoints us at a much deeper level, and that disappointment hangs on like a millstone around our necks. We desperately need your grace and forgiveness.
For those of you reading this in my online living room, I pray you gain sustenance and lose all the shame this disease has caused you over the years. I didn’t come out of the closet until I was sixty-six. That’s far too long to carry the burden of stigma. I invite you to talk openly about being bipolar. I invite you to cast of the anonymity you surround yourself with. I invite you into freedom.
Attitudes about mental illness are changing, however glacially, and it is in large measure due to a combination of these things – successful treatment, advocacy, and legislation. Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind2
Above all, if you have bipolar – and by the way, you are not your bipolar diagnosis – I strongly recommend you never make the decision to spurn your medications. If you think your medications are too strong or are not right for you, by all means get a second and third opinion. But understand medications are there to help you navigate and manage your illness, just like diabetes medication. If you go off them, tragic symptoms and circumstances can occur. And I can tell you from personal experience, medication saved my life.
Bipolar is an illness of the brain, but it affects not only us – it affects our families and our friends. It can control you if you’re not vigilant. Even if you are, it feels as though it controls us sometimes. But there is always hope – in connection, in medication, and for me, in my faith.
So hang in there, through the down times and the up times. You have people who care about you. And I’m one of them.
For additional bipolar websites and links, visit the * sites listed in the right-hand blogroll.
1©1995 Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind p. 181, Vintage Books, NY, NY
2©1995 Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind p. 183, Vintage Books, NY, NY