Here’s a new post I submitted to The Mighty. Thought I’d post it here too, in case it helps someone in my small circle.
I was diagnosed late in life–just three years ago, at age 44–with Bipolar Disorder. I had suspected for most of my adulthood that something was greatly amiss in my mind, and Bipolar often seemed to fit, but I was under the mistaken impression that I could overcome the wiring in my brain by sheer tenacity. After a major manic episode followed by a spectacular spiral that ended with a suicide attempt, I began to seek much-needed treatment.
What follows is a list of things that may or may not be revelations to those who do not suffer from mental illness. It is my fond hope that it may help those who want to understand better the inner machinations of the Bipolar brain.
1. I won’t always know what I need. Do I need to be left alone? Or do I need company? More talking? Less talking? A therapy session? Medication adjustment? Time? Chocolate? Although most people might know exactly what they need and when, it is not the case when you are Bipolar. Often it is trial and error to find out what will work during a particular depressive or manic episode. Patience is key.
2. I am a really, really good actor. So good, in fact, that I fool myself sometimes into thinking I am not as sick as I am. My suicide attempt was an almost out-of-body experience. The days leading up to it I was faking happiness and well-being, so well that I fooled myself into denying I needed help, and quick. The whole time I was carrying out my plan it was as though I was standing aside and watching from a distance. Encourage frequent and deep self-examination and regular psychiatric visits.
3. It’s a whole different world inside my brain from what I let on. Sometimes the struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy requires every bit of energy I have. I don’t always have much left over for cooking and cleaning. Your patience and help is, as ever, appreciated more than you know.
4. I worry constantly that I passed my faulty genetics onto my beloved children. My eye is always on the lookout for symptoms in my own children that signal any dangerous mental aberrations. I grieve deeply that they are at an increased risk for inheriting Bipolar Disorder, and depression, because of me.
5. I worry that I may neglect my own loved ones by my need to check out occasionally, and that they will wind up resenting me.
6. I worry that people will think I’m a fake. Do I *really* have Bipolar Disorder, or is it just an excuse for acting crazy and getting away with it? Can I *really* not control some of my actions when I have a manic or depressive episode? Surely this is all just a ruse. These thoughts cause heaping loads of self-inflicted guilt, which nobody needs or wants. Reassurance is extremely important, and regular visits with a psychiatrist will help reinforce the truth that this is a disease that warrants careful management.
7. My heart is not bipolar, only my brain. If you stick with me, I will love you passionately and eternally. My appreciation for you will increase exponentially when you bear with me during the difficult moments as I wrestle mightily with my disease, I am capable of deep and abiding affection. When I tell you I love you, don’t question my motives or sincerity, and I long to be accepted and loved in return, flaws and all.