“Just” Bipolar Disorder: A bit of perspective

I’ve been having a rough couple of weeks. A situation arose at work that has created a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. This situation also brought with it many exhausting and time consuming meetings. I have not felt like doing anything with my free time except sleep. Until a series of events today gave me a wake-up call.

I was standing in front of our offices having a smoke with my morning coffee when a colleague of mine came out. We work on projects together but she is my superior and we don’t know each other very well personally. I do know that her son has cancer and underwent an operation. I was surprised when she walked out towards me. When she got to me she just broke down. I held her and stroked her hair while she was crying uncontrollably. She told me about the complications with his operation and how she didn’t know if he was going to make it. She told me about her granddaughter who is suppose to be writing exams and her daughter who also has health issues. I waited with her until her husband came to pick her up. She told me how she couldn’t understand why this was happening. I was caught off guard. As she shared some of her life with me, I shared some of mine. Not to make her feel that what she was going through was anything less than horrific, but to reveal myself as a fellow sufferer.

This evening, just as I was about to head out the door to my church small group meeting, I received a message from a friend telling me that another friend’s dad passed away today. It came as a shock, and I am waiting to hear about he circumstances and what I can do to support him. I was caught off guard.

We had just gotten our meeting started and were chatting about our weeks when one of the girls walked in, late because she written a test. She had barely walked two steps when she had a seizure. No one could catch her in time and she fell and hit her head. Luckily someone in the group knew how to keep her cool under pressure and could give instructions. I have some experience with Epilepsy so I knew how to comfort her. After the fit had passed, I held her hand and stroked her hair and kept telling her to breathe while the others were looking for emergency contacts and phoning doctors. We managed to get her to a bed and she came out of it after about half an hour, and she was okay. I didn’t want her to feel too embarrassed as we don’t know each other that well, I didn’t want her to feel like I’m judging because I didn’t understand. She felt bad about the gaps in her memory, so I told her mine has gaps too, from episodes I can’t fully remember. I revealed myself as a fellow sufferer. I still got home shaking. I was caught completely off guard.

I know if I wasn’t on medication I would have been a total nervous mess by now. But it wasn’t about me and I provided support to these people to the best of my abilities. It did make me realise that I often feel very sorry for myself or like my life sucks when really being able to have an existential crisis is a luxury. I’m not playing down the seriousness of my own illness, not at all. I’ve experienced first hand the damage it can do. And I always say that we can’t compare ‘burdens’, because no matter big or small, life is difficult.

I guess what I realised today is that life can always be worse. Things happen that people are completely unprepared for and in a second life can change. I took my evening meds with a little prayer of thanks, that I have meds that work and have stabilised me and that my illness is one that can be managed. I have reached a point where I know it well enough so it doesn’t often catch me off guard. Although I’m sure it will again.

Having Bipolar Disorder sucks, a lot, and I’m definitely not denying that. But there are people, GOOD people, experiencing the same or worse suffering than we are, and I feel quite privileged that I could somehow just be there for people how deserve so much respect for the way they keep going despite their circumstances. There is a certain beauty that is revealed in that state of vulnerability, from both sides. I don’t know if I’m getting my point across effectively, but I suppose what I’m trying to say that suffering is an integral part of the human condition. No one can get away from it, and every person deals with their own form. If those who suffer, regardless of what they suffer from, can support each other, the shared burden will be much easier for everyone to bear.

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14 thoughts on ““Just” Bipolar Disorder: A bit of perspective

  1. Cancer, Epilepsy even death are serious issues. And yes we are in a better place than many other people. But with us not being in control of our emotions especially during episodes makes it difficult to empathise. Maybe I am generalising a bit too much. In my case ,I will be able to empathise but the focus will be on my symptoms assuming I am having an episode. i indulge in suicidal ideation.Most times i wish I were dead although committing the act is in another realm. It’s the many years of experience with BPD which makes me feel that better times will come no matter how far and few.However each time I am still unsure of the symptoms disappearing despite the meds etc..I feel that loss of control of emotions and wellbeing a major stumbling block. I apologise. I’ve taken you from another perspective to my own.

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  2. This is a very nice post. My husband has epilepsy and it is interesting to me that you speak of epilepsy and bi-polar in the same post. He is epileptic however if ANY medication he is on is forgotten (especially his insulin for his diabetes) he can have up to ten days of manic… They do not believe it is a actual bipolar disorder they just think he body does not manage change well. However; I do know what you mean when you say it sucks and I can relate. I wrote a story about one of our worse cases here.
    http://estoops.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/fight-the-power/

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  3. In my NAMI support group one of the tenets is : We do not compare one person’s pain to another’s. No one’s pain should be “judged” as more or less than someone else’s as it is true–You never know what is around the corner in even the next 15 minutes & really, how well do we know our acquaintances, colleagues, tennis partners, etc.? Does the word “Fine” answer the question, “How are you?” frequently? I would guess so. I said I was “Fine” the day of my last suicide attempt 5 years ago.

    The “just bipolar” doesn’t even touch the ramifications that this disorder can leave in its wake. I’m honestly glad that you are doing well & your “suicidal ideation” has never turned to action. I haven’t been so lucky w/my “just bipolar.” Neither was my mother.

    She had numerous suicide attempts & was in & out of mental hospitals since I was 3; I never knew her when she was well.

    She finally succeeded when I was 15 (coincidentally 3 months after my FIRST suicide attempt). When you grow up around that kind of “modeling”, suicide seems like a reasonable “coping skill” as does drinking into blackouts, using cocaine, etc.

    I had a couple more attempts until I gave birth to my daughter 2.5 mos premature due to my smoking & drinking while pregnant & knowing that I was harming her, but those were my only “coping skills” & that guilt caused me to quit all my destructive ways in order to not emulate for her what my mother did for me.

    But there still was the small problem of my untreated & undiagnosed bipolar. I kept going to Family Docs to treat “my depression.” I never went when hypomanic. I felt like I was back on cocaine then w/out spending the money or risking getting into legal trouble. I guess my binge spending of money took care of that!

    And, boy, those antidepressants the docs would try on me made me feel GREAT–so alive, not needing any sleep, joining every club in the universe & rising to the top of the heap in short order, running 6 miles a day & playing tennis 5 hours a day even though I was struggling w/very painful plantar fasciitis (which I ended up having to have surgeries on both feet & both knees from torn cartilage & both hands from carpal tunnel damage). But I was invincible until I wasn’t.

    I had vowed I wouldn’t do to my children (also had a son w/high school sweetheart & will be married 40 years this June) what my mother did–kill herself. I went to docs & tried every antidepressant FDA-approved & did my cycle of hypomania (oh, how I miss that) & then the SUDDEN plunge into a depression causing me to “white knuckle” it through the night locking myself in the closet to keep myself safe.

    Finally I went to an internal medicine doc & she took one look at me & my family history & told me she didn’t think I had unipolar depression, but bipolar & was currently in a mixed episode as I was crying, agitated, & bouncing around talking too fast & switching from morose to humorous w/no stops in between.

    That started the long journey of finding the right meds & meds provider & therapist (I had already had years of therapy but didn’t find it helpful; yes, I understood WHY I was depressed, anxious, had PTSD, etc. but that knowledge wasn’t helping me cope w/life any better or feel any better). I researched & found DBT & even though I was diagnosed as “borderline” I sure fit in w/my boundary issues, dysregulated emotions, low self-esteem, inability to “handle” life.

    My “just bipolar” was held at bay as far as my keeping my promise to not commit suicide, but after 7 years of being the poster woman for stability after hell getting there & kidney damage when on Lithium for only 3 mos. & I had never felt so good as on Lithium & haven’t since despite working hard for a year to develop a cocktail of meds I don’t even show my husband & now grown children. They would freak.

    After my stable 7 years I went into a 5-month hypomania & didn’t realize how dangerous it was to not sleep but 2-3 hours a night. I was loving life! Then a negative remark was said & my deranged brain (mostly from lack of sleep & I was taking sleeping meds this whole time!) decided that my “vow” meant nothing & it would be better for my children to not have me as a mother & off I went to swallow handfuls of meds while swilling a bottle of wine.

    I don’t remember anything else, but the next day felt the familiar sore throat from having my stomach pumped & had all these patches on me from the machines to check my vitals.

    My children have not escaped “just bipolar”, but at least we could recognize it earlier & get proper treatment. Still our daughter has decided to NEVER have children so as not to pass on the “just bipolar” gene & she would be a great mother.

    So far our son of 36 has not verbalized he will not have children, but he doesn’t stay in relationships long & doesn’t seem anxious to settle down.

    My sister’s 16-year-old son just committed suicide. She doesn’t have “just bipolar” herself, but I wonder if the gene was passed on silently to this dear boy. Losing a child like that is almost unbearable & may turn out to be. She is so distraught & devastated.

    Sorry, my “just bipolar” ramblings are showing here. Wish the best for everyone. Do you sometimes feel you are not strong enough for all the pain in this world? I can’t even go to movies as they have all sorts of evil & pain in them.

    Sorry for typos. Husband home; no time to proof!

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    1. Thank you for sharing. I hope you didn’t misunderstand me by thinking that I mean BPD is not serious by saying it’s ‘just’ Bipolar. That is not what I meant at all. Like you say no one’s pain is more or less than anyone else’s. I just meant that sometimes I forget that I’m not the only one suffering, and that (in my case) it could be worse.

      Good luck!

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    2. Oops–sorry. Meant to write that I HAVE NOT been diagnosed w/borderline personality disorder, but my bipolar 1 symptoms certainly made me feel at home w/the mostly young ladies in the DBT group. I was by far the oldest at 50-something. Anyway, I hate all those labels that we have to have placed on us for insurance reasons mostly. Who fits into a box (to fit perfectly the diagnosis)?

      We have symptoms (at least I do) that are interfering w/the quality of my life. I need help learning how to overcome my deficiencies so I can have some joy, some peace (get ride of the chaos in my head & that I created in my life), passion, love (& feel like it is REAL;after 40 years of marriage & being together since I was 15 & he was 16 I still can’t accept that his love is “Real”), just have that kind of like that doesn’t seem like such an uphill struggle.

      Sorry–AGAIN. I am a terrible rambler (no social skills). Please forgive.

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    3. I’m sorry that Suzanne has been furious with the use of the words “just bipolar” in the article.You have mentioned it 8 times.I don’t think that it was Scout’s intention to trivialise Bipolar Disorder. She may have meant that many people have different problems in different degrees of severity .Don’t get me wrong I would pay to swop BPD for any other illness, even a terminal illness. Buts that the way I feel.There is no measure of pain either physically or emotionally so it is senseless comparing.
      Suzanne,help me in my ignorance what does acronyms NAMI & DBT stand for?

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      1. Sorry! First off didn’t mean to sound furious or angry just saying it is so individual as to how “being bipolar” manifests itself in each of us & even sometimes on a daily or (rapid cycling) several times a day. Yet “stability” can be achieved, but does anyone else wonder which one is really me? I certainly prefer the hypomanic me, as does my husband compared to the other “states”-mixed, depressed, etc.

        NAMI is National (USA) Alliance on Mental Illness.

        DBT is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

        Apologies if I offended in my manner of “speech.” You can see my social skills are subpar.

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      2. I am sorry also, the use of the word furious was inappropriate. I feel that it is very difficult to explain the symptoms and the illness even to somebody close. There is always a doubt in my mind that the person might feel you are not trying enough. Like the annoying words ‘be positive’ or ‘pull yourself together’ Over the 30 years I have had BPD I cannot remember being stable. Mostly low and sometimes hypomanic. They say 4 moodswings a year would be rapid cycling. I used to have 16 + a year sometimes – ultra rapid cycling. However I would not want to swings several times a day. Exhausting and confusing besides frustrating etc. But like you said earlier a person’s discomfort and pain cannot be compared. I suspect DBT, like CBT is a method of treatment used by psychologists. Take care Deepak Date: Sun, 4 May 2014 05:16:16 +0000 To: kinsu@hotmail.com

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  4. Writing on phone. Hard to proof. Should be “rid” instead of “ride”, but I’m sure all you friendly folks figured that one out! Thanks for listening & not berating me for posting so much.

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    1. No need to apologise and you are more than welcome to rant here. Isn’t it strange how we need to be classified for health insurance. With a diagnosis of depression medical aid did not want toopay my meds on chronic, then my diagnosis changed to bipolar and suddenly all the same meds were covered in full. In the meantime nothing about me and what I was experiencing changed, it just got a different name

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