Crazy Mom - Living With Bipolar
As a child, I remember my dad being diagnosed as Manic Depressive. The medical community now calls it Bipolar Disorder and it turns out many more of us in the family have it. The media tends to scare people when talking about this particular mental illness because it only seems to pop up when somebody goes on a crazy killing spree or something. Many people with bipolar are able to live reasonable normal lives and never make the evening news. In fact, some traits of people with bipolar lead them to be very successful. Actors like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey have made a lot of money from their zany behavior and the manic pursuit of perfection drives a lot of successful people in business. Celebrities with Bipolar.
I had no idea what to call my own personal roller coaster of emotions when I was growing up. Risk-taking behaviors and suicide attempts were part of who I was in high school and college. After an episode in the hospital where I had my stomach pumped and was confined to my room, I realized that I might have the same problem my dad did. Treatment helped immediately and I could finally "feel" life like an average person. The highs and lows mellowed out and I was so much more aware of how I was interacting with people.
Unfortunately, I got comfortable with feeling "normal" and stopped taking the medication. I don't think I really thought I was "cured." It just gets tiring to keep taking the medication and it's easy to forget when you finally feel better. A few years into my marriage, my illness cam back full force. Panic/anxiety attacks popped up every time I felt stressed. I knew I had to deal with it again. Fortunately, I had my husband there beside me and he made sure I kept taking my medication. With the proper treatment, people I meet have no idea that I have a mental illness. I am married, have raised two children, have a full-time job, and even went back to college to complete my degree a few years ago. Extra stress definitely triggers some things and I have to work extra hard to keep them under control, but for the most part, you won't be seeing me going crazy on the news.
How Do I Do It?
So how do I live my life with Bipolar? I can't really say it's easy. There are many times while I was a teenager and early adult where I almost didn't live with it. The constant urges to end my life were very compelling back then. I think the biggest first step I made was being completely honest about my bipolar. Telling people around me (that I trust) about my bipolar means that they can tell me when my behavior gets a little wacky. I don't usually notice that I'm getting easily agitated or grouchy until it's too late and I've made people mad at me. It's also hard for me to nice when I'm getting really manic or depressed. Having close friends and family who understand the disorder has helped me a lot. They clue me in to odd behavior and I can get a grip on it before things get really bad.
People in my family have differing points of view on this next point. Get treatment! Bipolar disorder is a biological brain disease...something is actually physically wrong up there. You can't just will it away with wishing, hoping, and praying. I'm a very spiritual person, but I believe that you are responsible for doing everything you can on your part when you ask God for help. Combining appropriate medical treatment with spirituality is the perfect mix for me. Medication has helped me to cope with the impulses I'm dealing with. It has taken a lot of working with my doctor to figure out the right combination of medicines for my brain. Contrary to popular belief, the meds don't turn you into a zombie. If you feel like one, it's time to talk to the doctor about other options! The type of medicine, the amount and timing of the dose, and the combination with other medicines....all these are important conversations you should be having with your doctor.
Living with bipolar will probably always be a battle. I feel the emotional roller coaster at times of stress and have to work a little harder to keep things under control. I have developed my own set of coping skills to use when things start to get out of control. Talking is my best coping skill. I have a few dear friends who I can talk to about absolutely anything and everything. Getting it out of my system is usually all it takes. Physical exercise is another way to cope since the endorphins released from exercise help me to stabilize. When I have an anxiety attack, I try to think of the worst possible ending for the situation and figure out how I would deal with it. That seems to take the panic out of the situation since I'm already prepared for the worst. It's amazing how that small exercise has saved me at work when things don't go perfectly. It's the unknown that seems so scary and figuring out how you would handle the worst case scenario takes the sting out of it.
Never underestimate the value of a good cry session. Crying is a natural response to emotion. Sometimes you just have to experience the emotions and get them out. It doesn't hurt to have a spouse, friend, or teddy bear to hug while you cry.
None of these solutions are a cure. Bipolar disorder is incurable. None of this will work until you're committed to making it work either. As happy as I am to share my advice, I know that it will do no good unless the other person is willing to actually deal with their disorder. I had to hit rock bottom in order to deal with mine. It took the extreme bluntness of a friend to face certain parts of it. Having friends or family members who make it easier for you to attempt suicide or other types of self harm just makes the problem harder to handle. I only dealt with mine after being told by someone I loved that they would no longer participate in this self destruction. That got my attention and I stopped trying to hurt myself.
The stigma of mental illness is starting to diminish and more and more people are getting the help they need. My hope is that one day society will truly regard something like bipolar the way they do heart disease or diabetes - diseases which are serious and need our attention.
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