A good friend sent me the following quote the other day - Having Bipolar Disorder means waking up not knowing whether Tigger or Eeyore will be making your decisions for you.
That one quote/picture resonated with me more than anything I've read or seen before. It is so unbelievably true. And so blimin hard to get my head around, even though I have been living with this for quite some time now.
No one really ever sat me down and said "Okay Becs, you've got Bipolar II, and this is what it means / will mean for you. Your husband. Your family. Your friends. Your work. Your LIFE."
Don't get me wrong, I've had some version of mental illness for a number of years now, and Bipolar has been mentioned a few times, so it wasn't a complete surprise. My grandmother on my father's side had it, back in the days it had the ever so charming name of Manic Depression, and it wasn't talked about. Hard to believe there was more stigma then than there is now. But there was no internet. No mobile phones. No easy way to communicate. No one sitting up in the wee small hours blogging about it.
It makes me so unbelievably sad to imagine what life was like for her, attempting to live life with such a 'dreadful secret'. Medicated to the eyeballs. Regular shock treatment. Where was her support group? Online forum? Google search? Books on the subject, just sitting out there, in the Health section of her local bookstore? I remember her sitting there, not saying much at all. I didn't know her. I don't believe her Husband knew her. Or her children. What about her friends? Did she have any? I wish I could go back and talk to her. Reassure her that it is okay. That she is okay. Give her a hug. There are days where I feel like the loneliest person living on this earth, and this is at a time when this illness is much more recognised and accepted, and the stigma is reducing. I can't imagine living with this at another time.
Lets define Bipolar Spectrum:
"a band of colours, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength". (Sounds.....quite lovely)
"a characteristic series of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed by a substance". (Sounds....WTF??!)
"the components of a sound or other phenomenon arranged according to such characteristics as frequency, charge, and energy". (Sounds.....confusing)
"used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points". (Sounds.....simple)
"a wide range." (Sounds.....so unbelievably simple, and yet, almost insulting when used in the mental health context)
There we have it. Lots of different explanations for Bipolar Spectrum. Broadly speaking, I'd say it sounds fairly simple really - opposite ends of the same spectrum; depression, and mania in the same illness. Although, anyone living with or exposed to Bipolar knows that it isn't simple at all, so let's delve a little deeper and see what the dictionaries tell us.
What is Depression?
"feelings of severe despondency and dejection."; "self-doubt creeps in and that swiftly turns to depression" Synonyms: melancholy, misery, sadness, unhappiness, sorrow, woe, gloom, gloominess, dejection, downheartedness, despondency, dispiritedness, low spirits, heavy-heartedness, moroseness, discouragement, despair, desolation, dolefulness, moodiness, pessimism, hopelessness
"a mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep." (which is why I got up and started writing this at 3am!)"
Mania is described as:
"mental illness marked by periods of great excitement or euphoria, delusions, and overactivity." Synonyms: madness, derangement, dementia, insanity, lunacy, dementedness, psychosis, schizophrenia, mental illness, delirium, frenzy, hysteria, raving, violence, wildness
"an excessive enthusiasm or desire; an obsession." Synonyms: obsession, compulsion, fixation, fetish, fascination, preoccupation, passion, enthusiasm, desire, urge, craving, craze, fad, rage.
"a mild form of mania, marked by elation and hyperactivity."
See all those wonderfully descriptive words? Notice how many of them had a negative connotation when you read them? Especially on their own. Without context. Moodiness. Pessimism. Despondency. Derangement. Raving. Violence. To me, it makes it sound like something someone needs to snap out of, get themselves under control, get on with things. It sounds like we have a choice. If only it was that simple.
Now that we've got some form of definition, or at least some information about Bipolar, I'll turn to me. For my particular version of Bipolar, Bipolar II, this is often referred to as the 'milder' version of Bipolar. This means that I don't experience the full blown mania that is out there in the media and sadly, seems to define Bipolar. I have depression, and I have hypomania and not a lot in between. I don't gamble or spend excessive amounts of money, I don't have grandiose ideas, thinking I'm invincible, thinking I can save the world, (each of these in mania is to the extreme; in hypomania I actually do have some of these thoughts), I don't generally have psychotic episodes, or cause potential risk to myself or others (and, at the depressed end, there is a potential risk, especially to myself). People with Bipolar I may only experience one manic episode in their life. Although hypomania is a less extreme form of mania, it is sometimes harder to treat as the episodes happen much more often. And the "elation" and "hyperactivity" in the description above don't take into account the irritability and mood swings (yes, just within the right hand side of the spectrum, the manic side). Add to that rapid cycling, and we've got a whole different illness!
The brain is complex. Everyone is different. How do you treat something that is so devastating for those it affects, and so complicated? And treat it so quickly so as to put the person going through it, at peace? Enable them to get back to living life as normally as possible? Quickly?! Ha, good question!
Medication is normally involved, and for me it is currently key. I am currently on four different types of medication - an antipsychotic, antidepressant, a benzodiazepine and mood stabiliser. Such attractive names! Honestly, what went through your mind when I said 'antipsychotic'? Even 'mood stabiliser'? Like I'm "a moody tart who can't keep her emotions in check and may well come after you and rip your throat out for looking at her in the wrong way? Best we tiptoe around her; don't want to set her off'?" It's okay, we've all thought it. I have been on approximately 18 different types of medications since the end of 2014, and I have lost count (although am trying to chart it at the moment) of the different combinations and dosages at a time. A + B + C + D; A1 + B + C + D; A + B1 + C + D; A + B + C1+ D; A + B + C + D1; etc. Then tweak the dosage of each of these. Then change medication A for another medication within the same group. Then tweak that. And so on. I think you get the gist. One psychiatrist I saw, the wonderful Dr B, described her job as more art than science. I wish it was pure science, but know we're not there yet, and appreciate her artistic abilities.
Medication cannot manage Bipolar on it's own. It has been shown that talking therapy, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, lifestyle changes, are all extremely important to a stable and more balanced life.
This is turning into the Bipolar version of War and Peace, which was not my intention, but I thought it important that if we're getting to know each other (or, you're getting to know me), that I put some information out there. For context. I think this is enough for today.
One last thing - if you have any question at all, ask. I want to destigmatise this illness, and mental illness in general. I was always told 'If you don't ask, you don't get'. I'm not embarrassed by my condition. I get upset that people may feel embarrassed around or for me. That they might not know how to 'be' around me. In a lot of ways I'm no different than anyone else. The only way to get to know someone, is to ask questions.**
This illness does not define me, but it is a part of who I am, and by getting to know it, I am getting to know me. One of the most important things any one of us can do is get to know yourself. In my opinion (those who watch The Good Wife will understand that distinction!).
Wishing you the best day possible, love Becs xxxx
**Please note: I am not a medical professional and nothing contained in here should constitute medical advice. The definitions have come from the dictionary, the rest is from my experience with my doctors and therapists.