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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.

Like cancer, its sufferers did not choose to have the disorder. Like cancer, it is horribly painful. Like cancer, 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 quite legitimately long for death or humane euthanasia to put them out of a degree of misery and pain that no one around them can even imagine because it’s so far beyond their experience and comprehension.

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. These observations are based on my personal experience of mental illness and what I’ve witnessed of others who dwell in it.

Unlike cancer survivors, survivors of bipolar disorder are not considered heros. Unlike cancer, those lost in the vortex of its agony are 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 affects behavior and choices, and they have no idea there is a sane soul trapped inside, able only to watch herself in horror. Unlike cancer, those who survive a near fatality from bipolar are not even considered to be “survivors”, they are labeled selfish, awful people who don’t care about the people around them. Unlike in cancer, 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 because he or she chooses to, in order to gain attention, like a four-year old throwing a tantrum. Unlike with cancer, 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 herself). Unlike with cancer, those who die of the agonizing disease after a lifetime struggle to overcome the challenges inherent in it are often blamed for their death, and accused of purposely inflicting sorrow and difficulty on the few who still loved them.

Unlike for cancer, there is no pink ribbon. No fund-raiser to raise awareness. No “Ride for the Cure”.

(Okay, well, actually there is. A walk for the cause. Check out the link Namiwalks ).

And when the disease itself seems stable, and the patient exhibits an inconvenient mood change that any normal woman would be expected to exhibit, the patient is dissed and asked if she took her meds that morning. And when the meds are working, the patient can never know when they are going to stop working, and her 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 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 factual recounting of experiences. Their purpose is to illustrate some challenges that are unique to a person living in bipolar disorder.

It is up to the patient to take the responsibility for how she responds to these challenges, and how she responds to the people who react unhelpfully and detrimentally toward her 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. Sometimes, she feels justified rage. Usually, she 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 other person 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-loationg 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 impact, depending on what innate personality traits or instincts lay in wait for the collision, determining which direction the sharp, shattered splinters will fly.


  1. Hi
    Wow!!! This says it better than I’ve ever read it before!
    I also have Bipolar I. It’s a bitch to live with but reading your blog truly makes me feel – I’m really not alone.
    I’m also a Christian – and a sober alcoholic – and have extreme PTSD from childhood and a rape – and have Ulcerative Colitis.
    Have you looked into “WordPress” as a possible platform for your blog? It has a great set-up and is very easy to navigate.
    my WordPress site is:
    Peace to you,


    • Hi Robin,
      Thanks for checking out this blog! Actually this is a WordPress site! Still, I have some trouble figuring out how to do things. Kind of why I started the blog was to see if I could connect with some other people living with bipolar disorder…It seems to be one of the most misunderstood illnesses, or the patients are misunderstood….or something. So thank you so much for your encouragement.


  2. HI Horsebackwriter.

    I’m not sure who you are, so I’m not sure if I know you. You commented on my poem at Poetic Bloomings today. Funny how disappointed I was in the poem, yet God apparently used it to speak to you. That makes my day.

    My oldest daughter has schizophrenia coupled with a mood disorder. It’s frightening and horrible, as I’m sure you would understand far better than I. Bless your heart. Please keep on blogging about your experiences, thoughts, feelings, enlightenment, etc. It’s a very courageous thing to do.

    With sincere prayer for God’s strength and healing for you –
    Marie Elena




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