Someone recently told me that my mental health condition was ‘terrifying’. Okay, I get that. I get pretty scared myself sometimes. But for my own sanity I have to step back and look at the bigger picture. Sure, there are times where I get overwhelmed by my illness. There are other times where it’s not an issue at all, and I have long periods of stability and peace.
Before my diagnoses a year ago, things were really hard. Not accepting that I was in fact bipolar made treatment and control of my illness almost impossible. I knew I was prone to depression; that was obvious even to me. Over the years I was treated with one anti-depressant after another, with varying success. But I never really treated the root cause, and I struggled to find some sense of balance. I went through periods of long unemployment. I was hospitalized multiple times. I had major depressive episodes that took me to the depths of hell. I also had mania, but since I was in denial I looked on those as events as being ‘normal’, even though it came with a lot of consequences that had to be cleaned up once the mania had passed. I was miserable, even more miserable than I understood.
That changed with my diagnoses. I am now able to recognize that so many of the problems that have plagued me for years are a result of my illness. It explains all the failed relationships, all the job changes, all the highs and lows that define this disease. And as I’ve said before, acceptance leads to understanding, understanding leads to control. Now that I know what was driving all the misery, I am able to face the monster and fight back. Sure, it’s a long process. It’s such a complex disease there is no easy fix. Everyone has their own symptoms, different brain chemistry, how the body reacts to the different medications, and who is susceptible to the various side effects; this is unique to each individual. Out of all the mental illnesses, I believe that bipolar disorder is one of the most devastating. Not only does it have a profound impact on day to day living, there is the awareness of the disease and the difficulty to control the cycles. You know that there is something wrong, but are near powerless to stop it. Other illnesses can be worse, but without knowing that there is a sickness, there isn’t the awareness that something is wrong. That’s one of the reasons I believe that bipolar disorder has the highest mortality rate; you know what’s coming, you can’t stop it and just can’t face it again. But bipolar disorder is the most treatable of mental illnesses. Since it is a physical disease there are medications available to address the symptoms. No, it’s not curable. But it is manageable. It’s just a matter of patience and trial and error until the right combinations of medications and therapy are found.
But there are other factors too. Just like everyone else, there are day to day issues that impact your life. Even those not suffering from a mental illness can find these problems overwhelming, and there are varying abilities to respond. Being bipolar only makes it that much harder. Dealing with these ‘normal’ issues is greatly complicated while dealing with the effects of the illness.
I am currently in the situation where I’m dealing with both my illness and outside influences. While I’m very grateful that I’m gainfully employed, my job is extraordinarily stressful. Not only do I feel like my job is at risk because of the lack of work, trying to look busy and not letting on that there’s just nothing to do. And it leaves way too much time for me to think about outside issues. Then there’s the problem of insurance. I was getting my health insurance through my ex, and when she lost her job I lost my coverage. I’ve been going from insurance company to insurance company being denied because of my bipolar preexisting condition. There is a state program for people who are uninsurable that will eventually provide coverage, but it takes a lot of stressful effort and time. And in the meantime I have to continue my treatment of medications and therapy. But without insurance it’s completely out of pocket, depleting my savings that I know I’ll need once my job is gone. I lost most of my friends with my last marriage. As usually happens, they were friends with us both, and nobody wanted to choose sides, so neither of us carried any over into single life. I won’t say I’m completely without friends, but the few I do have, even if local, are somewhat remote and only available by phone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have that support, and depend on it to help get me through. But not having friends to actually do things with leaves me pretty isolated. I spend my days at a miserable job, and my nights and weekends by myself. I have way too much time to think. My relationship with my children is strained at best. I want to be a good father, but there have been so many things over the years that have impacted us all that we just don’t have the closeness we should have. I don’t blame them, it is what it is. But it is a loss nonetheless. I’ve got a divorce pending the end of September. I never wanted the separation and I know the divorce is going to hit me hard. Then there’s the recurring Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s always a challenge going into the fall, and only gets worse as it transitions into winter. The insurance change is impacting the medications available to me, and I’m going through a period of adjustment that brings varied success and new side effects to overcome. And if that’s not enough, there are other issues I’m dealing with as well that just don’t belong here, but are just as difficult to handle.
Sure, I know that there are those dealing with a great deal more, and I don’t mean to minimize anyone else’s struggles. But no one’s pain is greater than their own. Any one of the things I’m facing would cause some level of distress; combining them together with my illness could easily become overwhelming. Yet, I’m persevering. I refuse to let any and all things get the best of me. I will embrace my time alone and focus on keeping myself healthy. I will cherish my friends, and I will make new ones. I am strong, and my strength will not fail. I will come out of this with new lessons and better skills that will just continue to improve my abilities do conquer my disease. I defy anyone to experience the combination of stressors and problems any better. Yes, this is a terrifying disease. But even more terrifying would be not having the ability I have to conquer this beast that is bipolar.
I am a survivor, and I will survive.