Saturday, July 19, 2008

Being Bipolar

I was diagnosed a long time ago, back in the early '90s. My boyfriend at the time and I were in for couple's counseling and (probably because raving bonkers) the psychologist asked to see me alone. Now, when we are in our '20s, I believe we are least receptive to criticism of any kind, even imagined. So I did nothing.

Having children made it more important to get help. The post-partum period is very dangerous for women with mental illness; it tends to exponentially exacerbate depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. I had three children in five years and suffered each time, silently. Pride and embarrassment at work there.

After my divorce I began rapid-cycling: moving from mania to depression in a short time, sometimes within the same day. When depressed I stayed in bed and prayed for death. When manic I destroyed relationships, lost jobs, and squandered money. Still I resisted treatment.

It wasn't until I entered into an abusive relationship that things changed. I knew what he was doing was wrong, but was in too much a fog to resist. He broke through the restraining order, picked my comatose body out of my bed and took me back to his house, where I was a prisoner for several months. It was during this time that he dragged me to the County Clerk's office and we got married, although I don't remember it. When I started violently hallucinating he had no choice but to take me to the hospital. I quickly responded to Lithium treatment and on release got an Annulment and got the fuck out of Dodge.

That there are easier routes to treatment in this world does not escape me, believe.

Back at home in PA, I continued to adjust to Lithium (WEIGHT GAIN! BRAIN GONE NUMB!)and went to therapy, yoga, and all the other things recommended to me. I filed for and received Disability status based on my mental illness.

I don't feel disabled, truly. But I recognize how the disorder manifests in my brain, what it means for me to be bipolar.

Hostility is my main challenge. I'm prone to conspiracy thinking and obsession. Lots of obsessive-compulsive behavior and oppositional attitudes. Lithium has done wonders in providing balance in my mind in all these areas. I am profoundly grateful.

So what does that have to do with being able to work? Why should I get Disability?

I've been fired from almost all of the dozens of jobs I've held. Usually I would fixate on someone, become hostile and obsessed with them. Or would calmly tell the boss exactly what was wrong with them and what they were trying to do. Also, I showed up generally when I felt like it and picked fights on a regular basis.

The truth is, you can only get away with these behaviors if you are the boss.

So I work on a freelance basis, from home, where I am the boss.

Still taking Lithium and the much-ballyhooed side effects are no longer an issue for me. I go to therapy and my psychiatrist tells me things like I am one of the lucky few who respond beautifully to Lithium, or that I am one of the highest-functioning Bipolar I patients he's seen. Which I will go ahead and take as compliments.

I don't wear a "Hi! I'm Bipolar!" sticker, or propose that my life is typical of Bipolar people. Everyone is affected individually, it seems. I do what's right for me and I do most of the things my doctors tell me to do.

I hate taking pills: two in the morning and one at night. But I never want to go back to that person cowering in a mental hospital bed. I exercise and eat well. My mind is clearer now than I ever remember, and my relationships are repaired and credit rating restored. My personality makes this possible; I know plenty of Bipolar people who struggle every single day because of theirs.

There are no defining traits of Bipolar Disorder. There is a diagnostic tool which parses behavior and past issues common to Bipolar sufferers, but it is no means an end-all, be-all for rooting us out of a crowd. It is not a personality disorder, as some believe. The area of the brain affected is the same as MS, almost more of a neurological disorder than a mental one — but the "symptoms", if you will, are all about bad judgments and decision-making problems.

I don't feel any shame about being Bipolar, I didn't choose it and I'm doing my best to live with it. There are so many writers, bloggers and activists out there fighting stigma and pushing for better treatments for the mentally ill, I don't feel qualified to throw my hat into their ring.

I'm Trouble, and the reason I got that nickname is probably because I'm Bipolar.

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