What it is
Bipolar Disorder is a condition that includes episodes of disabling depression and periods of uncontrollable energy. It is common for all of us to have some changes in mood; Bipolar Disorder however is a brain disorder that includes extreme depression and periods of mania. Symptoms of the disease can vary, but it is important to know that this disorder can be treated with mood stabilizing medication as a foundation. Psychotherapy is often an important component of full recovery and ability to manage the illness over time. (source: Substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
Outside of family, it’s important to consider telling romantic partners. There are many ways bipolar disorder may affect your sex life and ensuring your partner understands this can be key to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Although there is often a stigma associated with all mental illnesses, bipolar disorder can be especially stigmatizing. Individuals with bipolar are often portrayed as “crazy” in books and movies and quite often, these individuals commit crimes or can’t live independently.
A person who has been stigmatized on account of mental illness, real or even only perceived, often suffers discrimination at work, in school, or in other social situations such as churches or clubs. They may be shunned by acquaintances, friends, and even family; they may be laughed at behind their backs or to their faces.
Stigma usually stems from ignorance, prejudice, or fear. For example, when a person tells a friend or coworker that he or she has bipolar disorder, the response might be:
- “Oh, everybody’s a little bipolar, why are you so special?” (ignorance)
- “Oh, man, you’re one of them? Gee, that’s tough,” followed by shunning. (prejudice)
- “You mean you might flip out and start shooting people?” (both ignorance and fear)
Unfortunately, for some individuals with bipolar, stigma can cause them to hide their diagnosis or it may create a great deal of shame. Consequently, many individuals with bipolar don’t get the treatment or the support they need to manage their symptoms.
To fight stigma, it can be helpful to educate and inform others. Once people understand more about your medical condition, they will begin to see you realistically, rather than through the lens of their fears.
You also need to combat negative feelings in yourself: believe that your mental illness doesn’t define you, and the people around you will sense that self-confidence and learn from it. (Source: Very Well Mind.com).
I know for me, when I get upset or mad about whatever it is, people tend to blame it on the Bipolar Disorder. I tend to be more open and often joke about having Bipolar Disorder, that is my way of coping. However often, if I have a problem and wish to discuss it with certain family members, I am blown off or asked if I have been to counseling. Many of my friends shun me or treat me differently because of the disorder. (See Golden Girls below).
I am one of merely gazillions that have this mental illness, and like most there are other issues that one usually deals with as well. For me it is anxiety and panic attacks, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (Rape and Domestic Abuse). Yes, P.T.S.D. or shell shock, combat fatigue, the exact same thing our Military has been dealing with for centuries. (Please check out History of PTSD in Veterans).
Most people that are bipolar usually end up feeling like a guinea pig or a chemistry experiment. While there are numerous medications for bipolar disorder, everyone’s brain chemistry is so vastly different, what works for you may not work for me. I know for a fact it took a series of doctors and 2 in patient hospitalizations (and over 12 years) for me to finally be able to function somewhat normally.
Then you have to deal with side effects. One medication made my entire body vibrate (that is the only way I can describe it). Usually the doctors keep you on your medicines 6 weeks at least to “get it into your system”. I was vibrating so badly that I stepped out on my back steps and seriously vibrated off the steps and broke my arm. Another made me feel like my skin was crawling and that was the first and only time I have ever felt suicidal. However, there was 1 medication and its side effects that has affected me (& my relationships) the most, just a few years ago.
My Father had passed away (My dear sweet Mom had left us a few years previously) and I was left dealing with a big mess and everything including the family drama that goes along with it (trust me you find out who your real friends truly are). Doc, to help me out added a new drug to my mix as I was having a lot of problems coping with everything. Doc started me on 1 pill a day at first for a few months then upped to 2 a day.
Unfortunately, it was during the most difficult period in my life I had the opportunity to meet a man who would steal my heart forever. We have a lot in common and I could go on for days about this man, how smart, handsome, debonair, and the sweetest gentleman he is, but I won’t bore you with my admiration of this man, let’s just say “he put a spell on me’. We only met twice due to distance between us (we chatted daily online), but for me I felt like I had found my true soul mate after all these years. I finally told him about my bipolar disorder and PTSD.
While I was on this new medication, I started having side effects, major side effects. I became delusional, my behavior was completely erratic, I was either not sleeping or sleeping too much. I was completely out of control, stupidity had set in. To make matters worse I started drinking on the weekends quite a bit on top of my medications. To be honest I am not exactly completely sure what I said or did but, Mr. Perfect quit speaking to me. I am sure I scared the hell out of the him.
The saddest part of this little story is my behavior not only affected my relationship with him but my precious daughter as well. She no longer speaks to me either. Unfortunately, these relationships that were severed have not been repaired. I dearly miss them both and truly do not know how to fix the situation. As my friend Teresa says all the time; “It is what it is”. I am moving forward the best I can.
Luckily, I am no longer on that medication. As far as the binge drinking on the weekends, that has stopped as well. Yes, I do have an occasional drink with my friends, however I limit myself.
I consider myself quite lucky. Even though my son lives an hour away we speak every day. I am quite proud of him; he is a hardworking good father to my grandson. My Daughter on the other hand lives in Kentucky and she is several hours away. I am very proud of her as well. She has accomplished a lot. But I must brag about my “support group”, my dear friends. Or the “Golden Girls” as one of my son’s friends nicknamed us. Still not sure if we appreciated it being insinuated, we are old though, LOL.
I have the greatest group of friends the “Golden Girls” are myself, Debbie, D.J. and Teresa. We all get together occasionally and have a “Hen Party” as they used to call them. Sometimes we do Direct Sales Parties or go listen to my musician friends, most of the time we just get together and visit. These ladies are hilarious and even though we squabble amongst ourselves at times, we do have lots of fun. It’s nice to have someone you can lean on. These ladies are the best therapy anyone could ask for. They take me as I am and accept that there will be days where I just don’t function. I am very thankful I have them.
I belong to several groups on Facebook that are for Bipolar disorder and recommend these groups to help you understand; first you are not alone and second what you are going through is more common than not. Honestly for me I use this instead of counseling. Currently I do not see a counselor because I have been in counseling for years and apart from my very first counselor Becky, I have been unable to establish a rapport with anyone else. I don’t recommend doing without counseling for anyone but for right now this is what works for me.
I am going to end this by saying Remember you are NOT ALONE. There are many more out there in this big world with Bipolar Disorder. I hope my little story helps.
Mental Health Treatment Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov. For additional resources, visit www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp. (source: National Institute on Mental Health).