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Choice, responsibility, and survival: Living in Bipolar One

What does it mean to be in bipolar disorder?

No one knows except a person who is in it.
For some people, it is a challenge to be bravely met and survived. For others, it is impossible to live with. For me, it has continued to be both, for decades.

Everyone’s experience of mental illness is different, because the disease is in the brain, where our personalities, thoughts and emotions reside, unique to every one of God’s children. The following observations describe some negative aspects: some difficult challenges and stigmas associated with people suffering from bipolar disorder. They are based on my personal experience of this illness, and what I’ve witnessed happen to others who dwell or once dwelt in it.

Everyone has moods. Everyone has their ups and downs, their times when they are at their best, and their times when they just can’t be the “Me I Am Proud To Be.” Everyone suffers from lapses and embarrassment, everyone struggles to become more mature, more self-confident, and more socially aware. This is just as true of individuals in bipolar disorder; and though our ups and downs, our successes and failures and phobias, and our inevitable periods of self-involvement can be more pronounced, we strive for self-improvement, to be positive, upbeat, mature compassionate, and wise, as much as anyone can.

My Cancer Analogy

Like cancer patients, bipolar sufferers did not choose to have the disorder. Like cancer, it is horribly painful. Like cancer patients, sufferers often die in terrible agony. Like cancer, it can grow out of control, while the patient and those who love her watch in a helpless gulf of despair that yawns wider and wider. Like cancer, the treatment makes the patient sicker in other ways. Like cancer, the treatments aren’t cures. Like cancer, it cannot BE cured and is often fatal. Like cancer, the fight against it never ends. Like cancer, hope and faith can make it easier to endure, but can seldom make it go away. Like some cancer patients, some bipolar patients long for death or humane euthanasia to put them out of a degree of misery and pain that no one around them can imagine.

Unlike cancer survivors, survivors of bipolar disorder are not considered heros. Those lost in the vortex of its agony are often avoided and ostracized. Few people want to gather around and lift the patient up. Rather, most are repelled, angered and disgusted because of how the disease impacts them by affecting the afflicted’s behavior and choices, and they have no idea or care for the fact that there is a sane soul trapped inside, able only to watch in horror. Unlike cancer patients, those who survive a near fatality from bipolar are not even considered to be “survivors.” They are labeled selfish people who don’t care about others around them. Manifested symptoms of bipolar mania, depression, and mixed mania are considered to be the choice and responsibility of the patient, who is simply labeled an asshole, an idiot, or a crazy bitch who is acting out in order to gain attention, like a four-year old throwing a tantrum. Sufferers can be driven by their illness to make poor life choices for which the world holds them responsible (and the patient does too, by the way, regretful and angry at oneself). Unlike cancer patients, those who die of bipolar disorder after a lifetime struggle to overcome its challenges are often blamed for their death, and accused of purposely inflicting sorrow and difficulty on the few who still loved them.

There is no pink ribbon.

No fund-raiser to raise awareness.

No “Ride for the Cure”.

(Okay, well, actually there is. Check out the link NAMIWALKS )!

And when the disease itself seems stable, and the patient exhibits a normal, but inconvenient, mood change that any “normal” woman would be expected to exhibit, the patient is asked if she took her meds that morning.

And while the meds are working, the patient can never know when they are going to stop working, and his doctor will begin experimenting with a different cocktail of drugs.

Because every patient is different, every case is a new challenge for the doctor, and every bipolar patient is a lab rat for life.

Those loved ones who DO accept and stay with the person living in bipolar disorder are the real heroes.

All of this can be interpreted by the reader to be a list of whining complaints, if desired.

I intended it to be a list of observed phenomena, which are based on a factual recounting of experiences. Their purpose is to illustrate some challenges that are unique to a person living in bipolar disorder.

However, it is up to the patient to take the responsibility for how he or she responds to these challenges, and how they respond to the people who react unhelpfully to the illness, often triggering worse symptoms as a result of their ignorance or insensitivity. Sometimes the patient can sink into bitterness and resentment of the world. That is the easiest and least constructive response. Sometimes, the patient feels rage, hurt, depression, and guilt.

But usually, the patient can and must excuse the people who twist the knife deeper, because they don’t know any better, and apologize to them because, let’s face it, she did in fact do or say a thing that resulted in hurt or offense. Whether a hurt was inflicted intentionally from clear-minded malice, or inflicted unintentionally from an abyss beyond the patient’s control, it hurts the recipient just the same.

The Three Lights

I came up with the image of the triangle of three blinding lights advancing through a dark tunnel myself, because that is what I used to see clearly, a hallucination, when a suicidal breakdown was imminent. A train, I would explain to the doctor, a freight train is coming and I can see it coming and I know there is no way to stop it and something terrible is going to happen.

A couple of years later I heard the Metallica song.

“And it comes to be that the…light at the end of the tunnel
is a freight train coming your way…”

As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is no new thing on earth.

The bottom lights of the triangle on the front of the locomotive represent the things that will be lost:
Self-respect, family, career, life as one knew it.

The top light is the blind third eye, the uncontrollable surge of darkness that reduces the universe to a place where there are no people and no God, and even one’s own soul shrinks to nothing in the constricting whirlpool of despair, while simultaneously expanding in the grandiosity of its pain to squeeze out the rest of the world. This is suicidal. There is no intent to harm anyone else, because no one and nothing else is extant. Nothing else but self-loathing and the need to escape the pain through self-harm or self-anhilation.

That is the best explanation I can give for suicide and self-harm.

I have no experience of the other thing…the abyss from which a person must intentionally hurt or kill others. That is outside my experience of myself or observation of others living in a mental illness, and so I have no explanation for them. My theory is that perhaps there is a divergence of values at the train’s moment of impact, depending on what innate personality traits or instincts lie in wait for the collision, determining which direction the sharp, shattered splinters will fly.

But it might be useful to realize that just because some poor sick bipolar woman somewhere drowned her children, it does not necessarily mean that the “crazy bipolar psycho” you work with has any real sociopathic component to his or her personality.

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