What can be worse than bipolar? The prospect of living the rest of your life with the illness, that's what. Whether you suspect you may have bipolar or have been recently diagnosed with the illness, chances are your life is in shambles. You may have run up debts, you may have left your employment, your friends and loved ones may have deserted you. Life sucks.
You may be working up the courage to seek help. You may be walking out the doctor's office with your first prescription in hand. Or you may be an old hand at this, in which case your dominant feeling may be, here we go again.
What now? you may wonder. Am I ever going to be able to put my life back together? Or will it always be - like this?
My recent "mailbag" contains correspondence from a number of individuals living in an uncertain state of psychiatric limbo, and one who is experiencing a clear case of psychiatric hell.
Alikat7, age 23, writes:
"I was just recently diagnosed with Bipolar II a month ago after I had a period of episodes of poor judgments, reckless spending, and hypersexuality/promiscuous behavior spanning over the last 3 years that was so out of my character that my relationships with my family and friends were damaged. During this time I had periods of crippling depression where I wanted to just die. Before I had my daughter, I would deal with my severe mood swings by downing alcohol."
Alikat mentions suicidal thoughts and the fact that her daughter is her saving grace. "I am going to a psychologist and a psychiatrist," she concludes, "so hopefully they will help me get this under control."
"I had no idea what being bipolar really is." She reached her breaking point, left her career job, ran through her 401K, and is having no success at finding new employment. "I pray," she concludes, "and am trying not to be desperate."
Andrew Thompson, who has been staying up all night on manic-fueled creativity, and who seems to be alienating his friends, writes:
"Even though I now recognize all these symptoms, I find myself in denial about it, often thinking ‘oh, I just needed to capture that song in one session so it sounded uniform, so I had to stay up late', or ‘I'm just writing because I'm lonely'. Or ‘I'm just going through a very creative period, and my meds are keeping my mania in check" (which is still my favorite excuse).'"
Kittygrow, a year into her diagnosis, writes:
"Are there any tests out there to confirm [my diagnosis]? How do I really know??? After a year on a terrifying roller coaster on different meds, Lamictal has rescued me-literally."
CG73 wants to know:
"On this site, you can choose a role of ‘recovered' - would some of those folks please tell me how long it took and how many doctors and meds you went through to get there?"
Ihopeat40 has a question about lightbox treatment, but you can sense her state of resignation and despair in her opening sentence:
"I saw my doc today to start a new drug regimen - scary because I've taken the same drugs forever."
"Tell me I'm really normal," one can sense in these questions. "Fix it right now." The two statements are contradictory, but flow together naturally in the context of this illness.
The correspondents are in different stages of acceptance or denial. Andrew needs to stop kidding himself. Sleep is the quickest path to mania, confirmed by the leading authorities in the world. I've been there myself, Andrew, with the creative all-nighters, and it wrecked my life. Take my word for it, you can be creative on a schedule. You can return to your unfinished opus in the morning, with the advantage of a completely recharged brain and new creative insights.
Kittygrow appears on the cusp of acceptance. Her patience and perserverance with different meds trials has paid off, but one senses the temptation to quit. Stay with it, Kittygrow. We may have no biological tests to confirm our diagnosis, but you should interpret your encouraging response to Lamictal as the next best thing to a definitive lab test. You are in a strong position to put various recovery skills into play and move ahead to a productive and rewarding life.
CG73 seems to be bargaining for a conditional acceptance. "Tell me I can recover from this thing," appears to be his real question, "and I will gladly acknowledge my illness and stick with my treatments." I wish I could give you an unambiguous yes, CG, but if what you mean by recovery is your illness and all the shmutz that goes with it will completely disappear for the rest of your life then I can only say the odds are against you. This site allows patients to select the term, "recovered," but I hesitate to use the term. I regard myself as "living well." I've come to terms with my illness. I accept the limits my illness imposes. At the same time, I've opened myself up to the prospect of a life better than I ever imagined. I am in the process of exploring this apparent contradiction in my just-launched Recovery series for BipolarConnect.
Alikat, WhoAmI, and Ihopeat40 have reached a state of what I can only describe as "fatalistic acceptance." They fully acknowledge their bipolar, but right now their illness has the upper hand and they don't see a way out. I would like to tell them that sunnier days lie ahead. But the truth is when you are crawling through a tunnel this dark and deep you neither see any light at the end, nor can you imagine any.
I've been there. Honestly, I cannot tell you how I lived through it. Be assured. We are capable of enduring unimaginable amounts of psychic pain. Somewhere, somehow, you will find the strength to endure. From that strength, you will find the resolve to grow and prosper. It won't come overnight. It may take years, and you are likely to feel worse before you feel better.
In the meantime, reach out - to friends, family. Find a support group. Make spiritual connections. Know that this is a fight you can win.
Sadly, another correspondent is ready to call it quits. "Close to Giving Up at 23 ..." reads the title of Rose's sharepost
"I have bipolar disorder and I am hopeless," she writes. "I see no reason to live with this pain anymore. My life has never been easy, all I have are bad memories and experiences."
She reports a history of abuse, a suicide attempt, and the fact that she is unresponsive to meds. "I can't live with this horrible disorder anymore," she concludes. "I can't be strong forever. I'm sick of feeling crazy. Someone help me."
What do you tell someone who can't recall life as good? "Life is good," is an unknown concept to someone struggling with strong suicidal impulses, even if life had been good. Hang in there - and what? You can go back the same life that is the cause of your despair?
Okay, Rose. Here goes: You are in a state of crisis. You need to see a psychiatrist or go to the emergency room. A psychiatrist or a physician will determine whether you need to be hospitalized. You are in survival mode. The object of life in survival mode is to survive. Nothing more. Just make it through the day and into the next day. And then the next day, and so on.
Eventually, the crisis will lift. But that comes as cold comfort in light of your illness and life situation. You have to trust me on this: The day will come when you succeed in getting a handle on your illness and in being in a position to change your life situation. I won't sugar-coat this. You face a considerable challenge. You are not in a position to handle this alone. You need to reach out. If you have no one you can trust, you need to seek out a support group. Live is best. Online also works. Your sharepost is an encouraging start. You can build on that. And stay in touch. Let us know how you are doing. Remember - you are not alone.
Do you have questions about bipolar disorder? Every two weeks, I'll answer new questions and post the answers here, in our Ask the Expert Patient section.
If you would like to ask a question about bipolar disorder or living with bipolar disorder, please write a SharePost and be sure to select "a question" in the drop-down menu next to "I want to create a SharePost that is a," which is Step 2 on the SharePost creation screen.
Please keep in mind that I am not a physician. I cannot diagnose or give medical advice. This section is for sharing information and offering support as a nonphysician "Expert Patient."