To those who have followed this blog for a while, it’s obvious that I’ve had my share of struggles. Being bipolar is devastating and touches every aspect of your life. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness, but it’s an illness that’s a result of a physical condition. It’s not just chemical imbalances either; the brain of a person with bipolar disorder functions differently. It’s well documented that different parts of the brain are more active than someone without the disease. Synapses as different and there are chemical imbalances in play. It just so happens that these physical attributes affect mood and personality. It’s not the only illness that can do this either. Have you ever been around someone with Diabetes when their blood sugar gets too low? They can get really cranky if not downright mean. And so forth and so on.
The good news about this is that, being physical, it’s treatable. The medications are designed to affect brain function not just adjust mood. One very effective drug is an anti-epileptic treatment. One with epilepsy doesn’t suffer from a mood issue, it’s a physical illness. And the medications are designed to address the physical condition. That’s not to mean that being bipolar doesn’t have emotional components though. There is a facet of this disease that is purely behavioral. That’s why therapy is an important part of overall treatment. But the bottom line; it IS Treatable.
(I’m on a soap box today; can you tell?)
But back to what I was saying. I have had a lifetime of pain and suffering. I’ve caused myself a lot of self harm, and I’ve harmed many others as well. I have been completely incapacitated at times, and out of control other times. Over the course of my life there have been very few times when I was functioning in a healthy and symptom free way. I have experienced the absolute extremes of the highs and the lows.
I remember one time when I was hospitalized through the Christmas Holiday. I had taken an overdose of Lithium during an extreme depression. It should have been fatal; my blood level was over 3.0. But I survived, and ended up hospitalized again. It’s never good to be in the hospital, but missing such an important holiday is especially difficult. My children were still small, and it must have been just as horrible as it was for me. I did get a 4 hour pass on Christmas day, but I was still so distraught it might have been better if I hadn’t gone at all.
I spent almost 7 years when I was completely unable to work. The ‘official’ story is that I had sold a business I owned and was able to semi-retire. But the truth is I was just too messed up to continue running the business.
The mania has taken its toll too. There was the time I was out at 3:00am frantically trimming the bushes in the yard. Of course a police cruiser happened by, and it was only some really fast talking that kept him from bringing me in for a psyche evaluation. (Which I probably should have had) Or the time I rear ended another car, jumped out of mine screaming at the other driver for being an idiot, pounding on his car then getting back in mine and driving off. (The ‘hit and run’ was never solved) The insane anger, the self violence (I’ve never been violent with anyone else, thank goodness) and destructive, risk taking behaviors I’ve acted out.
There’s no reason I should be able to function at all. There’s no reason I should even be alive.
Yet I am. Somehow I’ve managed to recover from all the craziness and pulled myself back into a manageable place. Maybe it’s not been ‘normal’, but at least manageable. I’ve managed to earn a living and take care of myself and others, in spite of everything. I never expected to live past 40, yet here I am in my 50’s and still moving ahead.
And I’ve had a breakthrough.
For me, it was the admission that I was bipolar. I always knew that there was something wrong with me, but I wouldn’t acknowledge to myself that it was as severe or life controlling as it really was. I have been on a multitude of medications over the years, but they were mostly dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. Acceptance however changed that. My treatment is now focused on the source instead of just covering up symptoms. The medications I’m on are specifically for bipolar control. My therapy is learning how to deal with the disease.
For the first time I can remember, I’m stable and healthy.
I’m not naive however. I know there will be setbacks and adjustments as I go through the cycles that will always be there. But I have the power now. I have the understanding of the factors that are responsible for my feelings and behaviors, and the importance of maintaining my therapies no matter how good I might feel. This is a lifetime illness, and it has to be treated as such. I will prevail.
So what’s the point? I think the moral of this story is, no matter how severe the illness may be, no matter how many therapies have failed, and no matter how hopeless it might feel it can be beaten. It’s sure to take a lot of trial and error to find the right combination of medications and therapy, but it can always happen. You just can’t give up. But there is always hope.
If I can do it, anyone can.