In my previous post, I reported on seven people close to me, plus myself. Even though the eight of us shared a bipolar diagnosis in common, the point of my post was that we faced a wildly divergent set of challenges in our daily lives. For instance, one of us had to contend with co-occurring anxiety issues while another dealt with ADD and another with PTSD and another with substance use, and so on.
Okay, do the eight of us share any similarities? Yes, and at first blush the results are quite distressing:
A Life-Threatening Illness
My circle includes one individual who very recently committed suicide and another who has made at least one serious attempt. It is safe to say that all of us have wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. Needless to say, every one of us has required hospitalization or serious intervention.
Despite the high educational achievement of our group (six with at least a bachelor's degree, three with a professional degree, one with two professional degrees, one with a masters), only two of us are currently employed full-time. Moreover, higher education has been a challenge. As a direct result of our illness, at least three of us experienced major interruptions going for an undergraduate degree, another cannot keep it together long enough to pursue a two-year technical degree, one was temporarily suspended from a professional program, two have dropped out of doctor-level programs, and one opted out of entering a PhD program.
In addition, although the two full-timers enjoy highly satisfying work, their income places them only slightly above the economic waterline, far below what others with their education and talent and qualifications would expect to receive. Another, who is employed nearly full-time, is pumping gas.
One of us is working part-time for a low salary in a position he is way over-qualified for. Another, who has worked most of her life, has been collecting disability for the last five years and has pretty much given up hope of ever working again.
All of us have huge gaps in our employment records, have experienced our careers being seriously derailed, and have been unemployable for long stretches of our lives. All but maybe one of us have either been on disability or welfare or filed for personal bankruptcy.
On the positive side, one individual's job prospects are excellent while another is doing very well in a program that promises a satisfying career.
Only one of us owns the house they live in, though another most likely has a conditional claim owing to a recent marriage. One is currently living with his parents while the rest of us rent. To the best of my knowledge, all of us have been fortunate enough to avoid homelessness, but it has been a specter that we have all had to contend with. The disruptions in our lives have created situations of psychological homelessness for probably all of us (such as camping out at a friend's or holing up in fleabag lodgings.) A single hiccup in our illness or financial circumstances, we know, will find us on the street.
Not one of us has experienced an enduring (10 years or more) loving relationship. Three of us have been in relationships of about five or six or seven years (one of these would have lasted longer were it not for a tragic physical illness). Three of us have experienced at least one broken marriage (two of us with each other). One has just entered a marriage, and another has just left a widow.
Four of us are currently in a loving relationship (two of us with each other), all very recent in origin and thus probationary at best, especially considering our track records. Nearly all of us have been through long (more than two years) periods of not dating or being in a relationship. Two of us are currently experiencing extended dry spells, three have recently come out of one, and another's prospects look dim.
All of us would score way above average on any people meter, at least half of us highly so, and three are outright charismatic. We're talking smart, funny, articulate, caring, and often exuberant. Yet, some days you would never know it. Think zombie, fool, road rage, Dick Cheney.
We've all had the confidence knocked out of us, and we all have our own ways of tuning out the rest of the world, sometimes to the point of extreme and extended isolation.
Significantly, only one of us has a child. If we were the last people on earth, our species would be extinct in one generation.
Physical health poses a challenge for all of us. Three of us clearly meet the criteria for obesity, and all but two of us contend with excess weight. Possibly associated with the extra poundage are back problems and sleep apnea (in at least three individuals).
One individual's weight is clearly related his meds, which also places him at diabetic risk, makes him sluggish, not to mention sexually problematic.
Speaking of meds issues, not long ago, an unforeseen drug interaction resulted in temporary paralysis in one individual, which involved an extended wheelchair-bound hospital stay and a long period of physical rehab. At least one other person is contending with troubling meds side effects issues. Two of us are down to micro-doses, so side effects are not an issue, and another is working toward the same goal.
In addition, one person is currently dealing with alcohol and drug use, two others have have battled alcoholism in the past, and one is veering dangerously close to crossing the line. One is a heavy smoker, another is trying to kick light smoking, and another used to be a heavy smoker.
All of us have serious issues with sleep. Typically, we have trouble getting in eight hours of quality sleep at night and we struggle to stay awake during the day. Not surprisingly, this affects our energy, our cognitive function, motivation, moods, personalities, and feeds into our illness.
Three of us who get regular exercise are in reasonably good shape, all things considered, but one has no health insurance. This individual would rather be running his own business than collecting disability, but he is literally betting his life on his choice to pursue a life with meaning.
Fortunately, only one of us has been a guest of the criminal justice system (which resulted from a psychotic episode). Still, every one of us knows that there, for the grace of God, go I. Meanwhile, some of us tempt fate. One places himself at risk of arrest every time he procures a street drug, while another has rolled the dice on mixing drinking with driving. As for two individuals on high meds doses that are constantly being adjusted, there is always the risk of driving (and possibly crashing) while impaired. Another is so seriously disorganized that he is a legal case waiting to happen.
So is pity an option? Probably only one in our number would answer yes to that, and her attitude could well change. Nevertheless, a very recent suicide gives pause for sober reflection.
In the meantime, the rest of us have reached varying states of acceptance. Just to give you one example, one individual had been written off as hopeless as a youth, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This person is proud of how he has fought back, and the challenges he has taken on, and how in the process he upgraded his diagnosis to bipolar/schizoaffective.
We may hate our illness, plus all the extras that come with it, and we all have our "why me?" moments. Nevertheless, we appear to embrace what our illness has made of us - namely, stronger people closer to our own divinity and humanity. Do I wish things could have turned out better for me? Of course. Would I want to be the type of person I imagined I could become prior to my illness? No way.
What piece of work is a man? I'm not sure. But I've reached an understanding of sorts with the piece of work that is me.
Published On: October 31, 2008
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