Coming Out of the Bipolar Closet And Understanding Bipolar Disorder

 

You have a secret. A secret you’ve been keeping for years if not forever from your family, your friends, your boss, and maybe even yourself. A secret so secret that if people knew, it might change your relationships. They might judge you. They might hate you. They might even fear you. You’re different. You’re weird. You’re sick. You’ve tried to change it, but it’s just who you are, and you can’t keep it inside any more.

You’re bipolar.

Bipolar. Bi-polar. Manic Depressive. It doesn’t get easier the more you say it. You try to use “mood disorder” or “depressed” instead because you think it will have less stigma, but you know the truth. At the moment of diagnosis, you went from being that person — the eccentric-but-sometimes-sad creative — to that person: the crazy one. You know, the person on the subway who you avert your eyes from because you don’t want them to talk to you or get too close. You’re unpredictable. You’re freakish. You’re scary.

Pretty little cocktails of yellow, pink, and blue pills abound. One to bring you up, one to take you down, one to keep you in the middle. One to wake you and one to put you to sleep, because you sure as hell can’t sleep right. Sometimes you stay up all night shopping online, taking photos, or writing for hours on end, creative energy and ideas pulsing through your revved body and mind, and it feels great. Until it doesn’t.

Enter the inevitable crash. You’re suddenly knocked over by a massive wave of sadness, isolation, self-loathing, and hopelessness. You’re left on the floor of the shower trying to breathe through your tears. Sweating, trembling, heart palpitating.

You stop answering your phone, and eventually it stops ringing. Your friends are no longer your friends, except for those select few who won’t let you push them away no matter how hard you try. Your family is tired of dealing with it all, and you can’t blame them.

You stop going out. You stop taking care of yourself. Can you even remember when you last showered?

Soon you’re stuck in your room. Your computer and your TV are your only true friends, an ever-present distraction from reality. You Facebook. You Tweet. You blog. Pretending all the while that you are doing great. You smile for pictures, if you can remember how to smile. Or you use old pictures from times when you were thinner and happier, at least in appearance. If your Facebook world doesn’t know, perhaps it isn’t real. That’s the biggest closet of all these days. Perhaps you are still the smiling go-getter everyone else sees and thinks you are. Perhaps this bipolar thing is temporary or a joke. But you’re not laughing.

Things deteriorate. Not leaving the house turns into “a thing.” Anxiety, panic attacks, the whole deal. You stop working. You start making bad decisions and staying up through the night again. You’re erratic. Impulsive. Possibly even hallucinating or delusional. Are you really being followed?

You stop driving. You stop taking the train.

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You stop caring about anything and everything.

You start to think everyone would be better off without you. You feel broken and unfixable, so why go through it all? Why? Things are hopeless. You begin to feel numb or dead inside, so you drink or take drugs, or hurt yourself just to feel something. You think you deserve to be scarred or bruised on the outside to match your damaged insides. You contemplate the ways in which you might find release from the torment of this life.

Then you see your perfect little daughter, your partner, your mother, or your friend, and you remember that you are not alone. You think of how screwed up their lives would be if you made your “great escape.” How much your actions affect others. You start to feel guilty for even having the thoughts, which only makes you feel worse.

Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Sadness. Repeat…

Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Sadness. Repeat…

Then comes the psychoanalysis and everything else they throw at you — dietary changes, magnetic and shock therapy, hospitalizations, more meds… You see modest if any results. You’re ready to throw in the towel, until one day something happens — you’re listening to Pandora while feeding your kid or walking the dog, when Sam Cooke comes on and sings to you… “It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die, ’cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky. It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”

You feel a shift, and realize you can choose to live. Or at least try. It’s not easy. You’ve been flooded by emotional ups and downs, crying and then laughing maniacally, throwing things, feeling totally out of control. But in this moment, you finally realize that a change might possibly come. Not today, but some day. You were not given a death sentence. You can find a way to own your recovery, stop ignoring advice and stop hiding in that damn closet — take your meds, see your doctors, and be more self-aware — you can actually take some control, and start moving in a positive direction. One baby step at a time.

You look around you at the shambles that your life has become, and you see that there are still a few people in your life that find you worth fighting for, and that perhaps you should fight through this for them, and maybe one day you will even do it for yourself. You are strong. You are capable. You are talented. You are worthy of a life worth living. A change will come.

So you get your butt out of bed and make a sandwich. It’s a start.

Please note: This account of bipolar disorder does not represent everyone’s experience with bipolar. Every experience of mental illness is different, and in many cases more than one illness can coexist. This piece, while primarily about bipolar disorder, also contains elements of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Please join Danielle in the fight to raise mental illness awareness and eradicate stigma. From the depths of her personal struggle, she started a non-profit called Broken Light Collective to help people living with or affected by mental illness through the use of photography and the arts. Photography was one tool that helped her get out of bed and back on her feet. If you are interested in participating in the online or live gallery exhibits or making a much needed donation to help Broken Light Collective get up and running as a non-profit, please visit BrokenLightCollective.com. Together, we will make the change come!

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Before Scotty’s death, I never really understood this disorder. In fact, his death didn’t serve to enlighten me either. Sure, I lived with him, fought with him, and loved with him. We created a family. Still, I never truly understood how ill he was.

I never knew his thinking was skewed at times.
I never knew that he had no control over his emotions.
I never knew how intense those emotions were.

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I just never knew.

No, I can’t tell you why I never learned. I read whatever brief explanations there were in medical and psychiatric texts. I read what little is mentioned on the internet. But I never truly knew anything about the disorder at all.

I understand now.

Raising children means we learn all there is to know about whatever illness they have. At least it means that to me. If my child had diabetes or cancer, my depth of knowledge would not end at a prescription. No. I have to understand the illness. I have to know all the symptoms, what causes them, and how to treat the causes. I have to know.

This is especially true when it pertains to my children’s minds. Several of my children have this disorder. I want to know why my child says this or lashes out like that. I have to know so that I can understand and offer help. Maybe I can change something to make it better. Perhaps if I do this, she won’t suffer that.

In all of this, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would know about bipolar disorder. I have to know because I want to make life better for my kids.

The Sadness that Dominates People with Bipolar Disorder

There is a sadness in people with bipolar disorder that the rest of us will never understand. We can sympathize, and even empathize to a small degree, but we will never truly understand the sadness that dwells in their hearts and takes over their spirit every second of their lives.

So many times my child has said to me, “You don’t understand! You will never understand! Even when I’m happy, even when I’m having fun, even when I’m laughing, there is a sadness that is in me. It never goes away, Mommy! I am never really happy!”

Do you know what that does to a mother’s heart? It’s as if someone has reached into my chest, taken hold of my heart, and is squeezing until the pain is almost unbearable. It hurts because there is little to nothing I can do to save my child. I cannot save her from the sadness or whatever that sadness may bring. I am helpless to protect her from her own mind.

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I can’t know her sadness. And no one besides another mom in my position can know mine.

A World with No Happiness

I also know that, during the depressive phase, the person with bipolar disorder cannot recall any happy times. There are no memories of good times available to them. They only recall every negative thing that has ever happened, real or imagined.

They cannot even see happiness.

They don’t see it in their future. They can’t see that they’ve ever had it in their past. They remember every slight. Every disappointment. Every harsh word said, real or imagined.

But what they do not imagine, or see, or foresee, is happiness.

They do not believe they are loved. They do not believe they have ever been loved, or ever will be loved. You can ask them “What about today when…” and they will insist that whatever display of love or affection you’re referring to was purely pretense. It was not real.

People are not truly happy.
People do not genuinely love.
There is no happiness in the world. 

It’s all a show.

Put yourself there. Imagine being in a world where heart-wrenching sadness is constant, happiness a pipe dream, and people only pretend to love you.

Who would want to live in that world? 

I’m not saying suicide is OK. As a survivor of suicide, I am here to state that it is absolutelynot okay.

I am also here to say I understand, from the viewpoint of hopelessness, how a person can see it as the answer. I can understand it.

The thing is, if they can get through the depressive phase, their thinking will return to ‘normal.’ They will see happiness again. They will feel the love around them again. They will see hope again.

IF they get through that phase.

Why I Cried When Robin Williams Died

And this is why I found myself crying at the death of Robin Williams. Not because he was ‘somebody’ to me. Not because I imagine his death will impact my life in any real or permanent way. No. I cried because he was in that place.

He couldn’t see the love that anyone had for him. 
He couldn’t imagine a world in which happiness exists. 
He couldn’t see that any good had ever befallen or would befall him. 

He couldn’t see it. It didn’t exist in his ill mind.

That breaks my heart like almost nothing else can. This was a human who could not see that he was loved and adored and cherished. He was incapable of seeing the love that surrounded him.

To me, there is no sadder thing a human could suffer than to die feeling unloved.

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