Living with Bipolar: Seeing Beyond the Label
With the dread of what the neighbors would think, my illness went untreated. Until at last, after a severe breakdown, I was diagnosed with bipolar.
My bipolar is something that has led me through my greatest personal journey. There have been many stops along the way, some breakdowns needing emergency work, some happy stations and some stops in the darkest towns, empty and lonely. And the journey continues, showing me new routes to take.
For many years there has been “something” always there, lurking. Whether it was being the class clown in school to being way over-sensitive as I grew older, from the times when I sat as a child in the corner of a room rocking back and forth having an animated conversation with my deceased grandmother, to the time I desperately tried to dig up the graves of children who had died a hundred years ago, convinced they couldn't breathe.
All of these “episodes” went untreated. They were viewed with horror and silence, with dread of what the neighbors would think. Until at last, after a severe breakdown, I was diagnosed with bipolar.
I’m not a great lover of labels, but getting the bipolar label has given me a lifeline.
I’m not a great lover of labels, but getting the bipolar label has given me a lifeline. I no longer feel alone. I no longer worry that I am a crazy, unpredictable person, someone to steer clear of. I accept who I am and acknowledge that even though hundreds of thousands of people are battling the same mental health issues as me, there is sadly a stigma attached, a stigma which will never go away, a stigma which will stop people living the fullest, happiest life they could be.
Being a person with bipolar (not a bipolar person – there's a big difference!) is like having a little extra part tucked away in my brain. It usually sits happily, quietly minding its own business, but it’s always there and it has an effect on the way you think as a person. Things that people may innocently say become mountains in your mind; you replay every word. In general you feel more, so your sensitivity levels tend to be much higher than other people.
For example, someone walking down the street and sees a parent yelling at a child would probably shake their head and have some empathy for the child and then move on, but my bipolar brain will become obsessed. I can see every detail of fear on that child’s face. I will go home and my mind will become full of possible scenarios: Will the child be ok? Is he being abused? What is happening to him now? And as these thoughts overtake me, that little blob sitting comfortably in the back of my mind grows, and keeps growing…. eventually leading to an episode.
So we need to be extra careful; we need to take care not to listen to horrific news, see disturbing videos and read highly emotive books. We need to watch out for triggers, and they're lurking everywhere.
On the other hand, this extra sensitivity gives us the ability to be more empathetic, more understanding, more caring and loving.
Bipolar episodes are different for every person. They can happen weekly, monthly, a couple of times a year or not happen for many years. They also all differ in severity. For example, over the course of the 16 years that I've had my diagnosis there have been a few hospital admissions, some for a few days and the longest for over 6 months, but some only an hour or two.
I tend to experience my bipolar with highs. I will go through a highly stressful time, and I will know (it takes years to come to the point of knowing) when an episode is coming, the free-falling, all consuming, erratic thoughts, the inability to concentrate, the fantasy that becomes my reality of being the queen, a secret agent etc. are all warning signs. Sometimes I can stop the episode before it consumes me. I go to a safe place, I sleep, I take extra medication, (medication is essential), but sometimes there is no stopping it, and I am in my ”happy place” in no time at all.
When I'm convinced that I'm a Mossad agent and those around me are my soldiers, I know who my safe people are.
For the people around me it is very difficult. When I steal the car keys from my husband and try to climb out the bedroom window to drive down the motorway, or when I'm convinced that I'm a Mossad agent and those around me are my soldiers, I know who my safe people are. Those few who know from the tone of my voice that I am on the verge of or in the midst of an episode, those three or four people are thank God always there and they know what to do.
Bipolar is NOT a choice. There is no point telling us to stop, to pull ourselves together. We can control it with medication, but still, at times the medication will stop being effective or will not be a strong enough dosage and a manic or depressive episode will occur.
Please know, despite media reports, we do not commit terror attacks or drive planes in to a mountainside because we have a mental illness, and when such an event happens we are saddened when the media will immediately fall back on the ”mental health issues of the perpetrator”.
We are you, we are me, we are your family and friends.
If someone you know has a mental health issue, do not be ashamed. It's an illness; not a personal choice. Make sure they are on the correct medication, that they know they are loved and that you are there for them, no matter what.
Therapy is incredibly important. I feel everyone would benefit from having a therapist, but for the person with bipolar it is even more important as we have all the anxieties, stress and unknowns that come with it.
My journey is ongoing. I hope to somehow help open the eyes of those blind to the reality of mental health issues and how it affects all of us in one way or another.