I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the bipolar disorder. Well, as good a handle as you can have considering the nature of the illness. I think I’ve found a good combination of medications; I’ve learned to recognize signs of mood changes; I have new skills and techniques for responding to my current mood. Sure, the mood swings are still there, and always will be. But I no longer feel like my life is being ruled by my disease.
But there’s more; there’s so much more.
It’s a fact that in most cases, those who are bipolar inherited it from one of their parents. Generally, it’s the mother’s side of the family who are most likely to also be afflicted. That’s not an absolute of course, but a well documented tendency. My situation is certainly in this category. I’ll never know if my mother was ever diagnosed as bipolar, but there were definitely issues. There’s no question that she frequently had grandiose thinking and inflated sense of importance. She had bouts of depression. There was even a hospitalization in a mental facility.
My father wasn’t much better. I don’t think I ever saw him when he wasn’t depressed. He was very much a stoic. The only emotion he ever demonstrated was anger, and even that was a rare event. I never saw any affection exchanged between my parents. I can count on one hand the times I saw them hug. (With fingers left over)
Bipolar disorder aside, how can you grow up in that kind of environment and not be affected?
And now I’m a grown man. I’ve had 50 years to develop personality traits, obsessions and phobias. And in that time I’ve had countless hours of therapy trying to break down all the different components and understand the influences so I can best deal with them. Even though the bipolar symptoms are under control, there are still behaviors and thought patterns that bring up their own problems. There is a new level of healthy, but it’s not complete. There is still much work to be done.
As difficult as it is dealing with bipolar, it’s actually a lot more complicated to address the other behaviors. Bipolar disorder is predictable. Especially now that I have the knowledge of my own brand of illness I know what to expect and how to react. (Sometimes successfully, sometimes not I’ll admit) It’s very difficult to understand what influences have caused what behaviors, and even more difficult to change.
One of the issues I’m dealing with is self-image. I can accept the fact that I’m bipolar, and believe that it’s just an illness that I have, and not a weakness or flaw. In fact, in a very strange way, I see it as an asset. I can credit my intelligence and creativity to it, as well as the successes in conquering the beast speaks to my strength and perseverance. Being bipolar isn’t a detriment. Yet, my opinion of myself isn’t good. So what causes this? I have every reason to think of myself as a good and worthy person. The way I see myself however is substandard to everyone else. I can easily justify this though due to the years that I have failed so many things that weren’t directly attributed to being bipolar. For example, there are all the failed marriages. If I have committed to four different women, and they’ve all ended badly, there must be something wrong with me. I am the common denominator after all. I feel like people don’t really like me, but just tolerate me. I don’t seem to be able to maintain lasting friendships. I have got to have some major flaws in my personality that make me so unattractive. And there’s the physical shortcomings too that play a part. I’m not a tall man; in fact, I am considered short. I have seborrheic keratosis which produces scores of ugly wart looking things all over my back. My belly protrudes like I’m fat due to a congenital defect in my abdominal wall. My toenails are misshapen and ugly from a fungal infection that cannot be cured. It’s not a very attractive package, and I’m very self conscious with it all. None of this however should really cause me to feel so bad about myself; it’s my personality that makes it feel so bad. And this aspect of my personality stems from the feeling of inadequacy I have felt as long as I remember.
My interpersonal interactions are not the greatest either. I frequently say the wrong or inappropriate things. I open up my emotions to others, only to find that they don’t understand or even care. Many times I end up alienating the people I care the most about. That’s explainable too. I was always a little bit different from my peers. I am smarter than the average bear, and get very impatient with those who can’t keep up intellectually. In school I learned faster than my teachers could teach, leaving me bored and distracted. In spite it all though, I just barely made it through school. And all of this set me apart from my peers. And as a child, I couldn’t possibly understand why, and it got in the way of a normal progression of social skills. That’s completely understandable, isn’t it?
My need for affection is a real paradox. My childhood was completely devoid of any kind of physical connections. There’s no doubt my mother loved me, but she cared for me much like she would care for another’s child. When I fell and skinned a knee, she would give me mercurochrome and a band aid. There were never any kisses to make it feel better. When I got into fights at school, it was an opportunity for a life lesson to learn how to avoid conflict. There was never any sympathy or compassion for the humiliation of getting my ass kicked. (Which always happened). So I have developed a very deep need for affection and attention. I want to be lovingly cared for in a very physical way. I want my boo boo kissed. But here’s the switch. Because I never had this level of connection, I’m uncomfortable when I actually have it. I find myself seeking out others who can fulfill this need, only to push them away when it starts feeling too intense. I get it though; it’s how I grew up.
Then of course there are the relationships. There have been so many relationships, all of them failures. Whether wives or girlfriends I always end up doing something that causes the relationship to end. But what do I know about healthy relationships? My own parents never gave me any examples of what a successful couple should be. They may have had a perfectly fine marriage, but it surely wasn’t evident to me. There was no obvious affection, they never did anything completely together, and they never spent time alone by themselves. What kind of role model is that? My brother was married more times than I can remember. He was quite a bit older than I (17 years) so he had started cycling through women when I was at a very impressionable age. My sister was much more successful, and has remained married to the same man for most of her adult life, but with all the other influences I can’t really understand how. It’s no wonder I have such a hard time with lasting relationships, isn’t it?
My therapist has many opinions as to the factors that feed into my personality. Most of the time she agrees with my assessment, and has been able to offer ways change my situations. She has years of experience dealing with all kinds of people and their unique (and similar) conditions, and often provides helpful insight into the many experiences that shape my life.
But when it’s all said and done, who really knows? The brain is so complex and individual perceptions are so different it’s really difficult to pinpoint where the influences are manifested. I can rationalize all day long, but unlike bipolar disorder which is so easy to define it’s really just a theory. I can develop methods for addressing specific behaviors, but truly understanding the ‘how’s and whys’ can never truly be identified. I am very analytical, and figuring out why I do what I do is very important. My life continues to improve and grow every single day thanks to all the hard work I’ve done. But as to the root cause;
it’s anybody’s guess.