The will to live. As humans we are born with self preservation that takes over whenever we are in a life threatening situation. We all have the ‘Fight or Flight” instinct that is deeply embedded in our very core. Charles Darwin defined it as “A heightened state of nervous arousal, (which is) a mechanism that aids survival.” Just like an animal that turns toward danger barring its teeth preparing to fight for its life, or turns and runs away we have the base impulse to do whatever we can to save our own life.
Being bipolar can override this instinct. There are many different times when there just isn’t that will to live. When I’m sinking into a depression, the anger and frustration and fear drive me into such a despair and hopelessness that I want to die. Like Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet said, “’Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,” The Hopelessness takes away the incentive to try to push through the pain. The fear of the impending hell of depression destroys wanting to fight. The anger gives the energy to actively seek out relief from the frustration. There seems to be no way out other way out.
When I’m in the depth of depression the energy needed to fight for your life just isn’t there. I really don’t care if I live or die. I don’t have enough strength to actually pursue my death, but the apathy towards life would do nothing to protect me if faced with a threat. There is no plan, or active thoughts of pursuing an end; there’s only emptiness.
Coming out of the depression does have the hope that the cloud is lifting and that life will go on. Even so, the anger returns and my thoughts turn to “I cannot, I will not go through this again”. I know that being bipolar will eventually result in another depression, and I feel like I just can’t face it again. The inevitability of the next mood swing makes me angry to the point of self destruction.
The loneliness and isolation of this disease can also drive you to a death wish. Nobody understands just how bad I feel. People tell me that my moods are just a weakness and a failure to take responsibility for my own actions. I’m told it’s an excuse for my behavior, or an attempt to get sympathy. I just want to show the others, especially the ones closest to me that it is as bad as I say it is. I will receive no sympathy if I’m gone. I’ll prove that my illness truly is too much to bear. They’ll be sorry that they didn’t try to understand the agony that defined my life. I’ll show them.
Mania produces a completely different situation that equally endangering. I take risks that could easily result in instant death. When I’m manic I have a feeling of invincibility. There is never a thought that my behaviors could come with the ultimate consequence. It may be subconscious or active, but there is something that drives me to seek out the most dangerous activities. It’s not suicidal if I die an accidental death. The death wish may be extreme, or may be more subtle. Excessive drinking and mixing alcohol and prescriptions may or may not bring death. But I just don’t care either way. Discontinuing my medications can bring on the depressions or the manic episodes that end up putting me in that self destructive state of mind. Making poor life decisions that can eventually result in hopeless situations with no way out. Giving up can lead to the apathy and the lack of desire to continue the fight.
That’s not always true for everyone; yet bipolar disorder has the highest mortality rate of any of the mental illnesses. The reason for me is severity of the illness combined with the awareness of the disease and the lack of ability to control it. I know I’m sick, yet I can do nothing about it. Sometimes the overwhelming emotion will outweigh the inherent need for self preservation. It’s truly not anyone’s fault. All of us afflicted with this illness have a differently wired brain that just works in ways that aren’t like everyone else’s. There truly is no way to control it. It’s just the way we’re built.
Yet, in spite of it all I continue to push through. Maybe there is a tiny little bit of that base instinct that keeps me from the final act. Somehow, somewhere there remains a small shred of hope that I will get through it all. There have been multiple attempts to end it all; some of them very close to being successful. But maybe there was that subconscious instinct after all. I’ve heard of people who have completely committed to their own destruction that somehow survived say that at the very last second there was the realization of ‘what have I done?’. I saw a TV Show once that interviewed survivors who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Certain death, but somehow it failed. None of the people interviewed expressed any regrets that they didn’t die in the attempt. I suspect that in the end there is always that moment of regret and fear that it’s all a mistake. I have to believe that in spite of the overwhelming emotions at the time, deep down I can always have the instinct to survive.
When it’s all said and done, I just have too much to live for. I may not always feel that way, but there’s always a dawn after the darkness, there are people who will be devastated at my loss, there is always the promise that one day, through medication, therapy and self improvement this horrible illness can at least be maintained. It may be very small; it may not be realized at the time; it may be overwhelmed by the moment, but there is always hope. Always.