Dealing with loss AND bipolar disorder

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but I didn’t really know how. I wanted to write something that would be relatable, but not just a story of what I’ve been going through. Something that makes to others and hopefully prepare them a little bit. I apologise if I didn’t achieve this, but I’m sure you’ll bear with me.

Today, four weeks ago, a very dear friend of mine passed away at the age of 32. She died from natural causes, but in unnatural circumstances. She still had all this potential to unleash on the world, and now she’s gone. We’d been friends since university days, but it was only really in the last 2 or 3 years, where both of us went through some very unpleasant life experiences that we grew really close. And when I say really close, I mean talk on the phone every 2 or 3 days for at least an hour, and sending texts almost every day in between. I still spoke to her on the Monday, and when I wanted to text her about something we had spoken about on the Thursday, I thought that I would wait until the evening before sending it because she had an important day at work. I didn’t know she was already dead.

Most of us know about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have lost loved ones before, I’ve been through them. But it being a person so young, with whom I shared so much with, somehow makes it very different. The good news, if there can be good news in a situation like this, is that I have not completely fallen apart. I’m devastated, I cry basically every night, reality hits me in the face over and over again when I don’t expect it. And yes, I was more or less unable to do anything productive for about five days, but somehow I’ve gone on with my life. At first it felt like a massive betrayal, moving on without her. But then the reality of ‘if I don’t work, I don’t get paid’ set in, and I had to get moving. I cycle between denial, anger and depression (I’ve never really understood the bargaining part), but I manage to come up for air every now and then. It’s true though, you don’t get over losing someone. You just learn how to live with it. I’m definitely not there yet, but I want to share what has helped me in the meantime.

Suffering from bipolar disorder, my first thought was that this was going to completely derail me and be a huge setback. I knew that I couldn’t deal with that too. I didn’t want to make this about me, and I think I managed to achieve this more or less:

  1. Be with people. I found this to be very important. Because I don’t live near the city, I couldn’t be with any of my friends who were also grieving, but I moved back to my home town exactly for a situation like this. I immediately packed my bags and went to stay with my parents until after the funeral. I didn’t necessarily interact with them, but it was good to have people around to distract me, to just check up on me and to make sure that I at least ate.
  2. Withstand the urge to numb the pain. Not surprisingly the first thing we want to do when we get sad news like this is reach for the bottle, or take a pill to numb the pain. I know from experience that drinking makes me more depressed, so when I did have a drink, it was just one glass. Another advantage of staying with my parents during that time; I didn’t exactly want to get completely trashed in front of them. I was also relieved that I didn’t have any benzos left, and felt to awkward to ask my new psych, so in the end I left it. It was a kind of bitter sweet, I almost didn’t make it through the memorial service, but I’m glad I didn’t numb myself. I also owed it to my friend to really feel my loss.
  3. Don’t go it alone. Whether it is making arrangements or going to the service or whatever you need to face, don’t go it alone. A friend of mine drove me to the memorial and back, handed me tissues, held my hand and just generally checked that I kept breathing. She knew the friend who passed from university also, but they weren’t really friends and she was much less emotional and more rational than I was at that point. There were so many old, familiar faces and so much emotion, it really helped to have my own little beacon who was there just for me.
  4. Share stories. The first week or so I was terrified that everything about our bond was going to fade away and that I would completely forget the small little things and moments that made her who she was. I post stories, memories and photos on social media. Whether it’s the ‘right’ way to do it or not, I don’t really know. But other people have commented that they appreciate it and that it keeps her memory alive. Some may feel and prefer to keep their grief private. In that case, write stuff down. I don’t think there really is a right or wrong way to do it. It just helps to keep the memories alive.
  5. Try sticking to your routine and med regime. This is a ‘basic bipolar rule’, but even more applicable when you are dealing with a loss. I forgot to fill prescriptions or just couldn’t bother getting myself to a pharmacy (not sticking to routine), so I missed more than one dose of more than one medication at different times, and it really isn’t ideal. It just causes side effects and more of an emotional roller coaster. I did take something to help me sleep (25mg Seroquel) for about 2 weeks which I don’t do anymore, but I check it with my doctor and realised I really needed it. My sleep was okay-ish after 2 weeks.
  6. Sleep as much as you need if you can. This isn’t exactly something ‘prescribed’ for bipolar, but necessary under the circumstances. Once the dust had settled, I realised that I was (am) extremely tired ALL the time. I’m busy with a big project so I can’t exactly afford to sleep a lot, but luckily I make my own hours. I basically work until I can’t anymore, power nap, rinse and repeat. I spoke to a few people who have also lost loved ones and they reassured me that it wasn’t my body giving in, but that grieving is hard work and so you have to rest as much as you can.

 

I’ve been feeling like I’ll never NOT be sad in my life ever again. At least the sadness has become a bit less intense, but I will always miss my friend terribly. So often I want to tell her something and can’t. I’ve become slightly obsessed with finding every photo, text, email, anything that we shared in the past 10 years. It is incredible and also ridiculous what reminds me of her. Silly things will spark a memory and have me in tears. But I am very grateful that I’ve somehow managed to focus on my loss without my bipolar interfering. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to deal with both.

 

If you have any advice, please share. I will take any help I can get!

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