That mind-numbing moment when a doctor tells us that we have bipolar disorder.
Fresh hell! It’s like being sucked into a black hole—no air, no light, no hope—no direction. Mouth dries, can’t swallow. We are now labeled—tagged—might as well write mental reject or maniac or lifeless loser on our foreheads with red permanent marker so everyone can be as afraid of us as we are of ourselves. In the abyss, we’re reeling aimlessly. Head rush. We don’t even hear the doctor explain to us what exactly it is. He or she is telling us is, “Take this medication.” We hear the seemingly amplified scribbling sounds of the prescription being written.
For some, a GP will paste this new identity on our forehead after we were brought in by family, a friend or partner—for being “crazy,” the sharp word they used.
Perhaps we have been hospitalized, observed, micromanaged… then the dreaded news comes from a psychiatrist. Now a nurse holds out a tiny paper cup with our pills; sour apple juice. Friends don’t come to the hospital to visit—because we are too ashamed to let them. We may or may not remember what we did to end up in a crisply made bed in a room with no area carpet, no computer, no stuff we recognize as our own. The bathroom mirror is missing. Gone from the ugly rolling table, too. No sharps, not even nail clippers; that’s the rule.
Either way, we have a mental illness diagnosis. Really?
Bipolar, the two-headed Beast. It scares the hell out of us, because we know nothing about it when we’re diagnosed except the standard one-size-fits-all Oxford Dictionary definition: adj. 1 having two poles or extremities. 2 characterized by two extremes. 3 (of psychiatric illness) characterized by both mania and depression. No wonder the general public assumes that bipolar persons are “happy one minute and sad the next.” If only our episodes lasted a mere minute, and if only it was merely happiness or sadness…. Anyone who has bipolar knows that it is so much more than that—it’s anxiety and panic attacks, uncontrolled, scary, weird, negative or delusional thoughts. Inability to fall asleep or concentrate. Hyperrealistic sensory faculty. Lack of or too much confidence, anger episodes, weeping, death wishes or grandiose plans. We float up to extreme highs and regret what we say and do. We are pushed off a cliff and feel dead.
Perhaps we despise this label, bipolar disorder. Yet like a can of food, without a label, we don’t know what it is—what’s in us. Bipolar disorder is manageable—because of the label—believe this.
I was diagnosed in 1984 when they called it manic depressive disease. I lived in a psychiatric hospital during a severe manic episode, psychotic and terrified, then utterly depressed. Upon release after a few months with medications, and settled in at home with my young child, I utilized the library to research my illness. Computers weren’t readily available. I had to own it and educate myself, for me, my boy. I fashioned that section dust free. Discovering I have bipolar type 1 answered my “what’s in me” questions. This gained knowledge is my weapon against the Beast. I never did kill it entirely, but it has been tamed considerably.
The foremost strategy in managing bipolar is to understand it. Learn why people get ill with it (genetically predisposed; severe childhood trauma; nasty drug and alcohol additions in family history etcetera), discover the symptoms in detail as to recognize what’s happening so we can thrust a sword into the Beast before it takes our heads into its jagged-toothed jaws.
I learned what the triggers are, and I learned strategies to help myself—because the doctors talked about medication, gave me more, but never told me what researching helped me understand what I know today. Triggers are persistent distress (like an unhealthy relationship/toxic people, or jobs); missing medication doses or not having a medication schedule and sticking to it; finances not properly managed. Worrying is deadly, and not having a proper sleep schedule is equally detrimental. Negative self-talk has absolutely no purpose.
Added medications from a doctor can be helpful for controlling moods and the many other symptoms I described earlier. If they are not, never give up, try something different. Be assertive with doctors, tell of feelings and moods, research bipolar medications and ask about them. More often than not, medication combinations will help a lot along with wellness strategies. Looking up medications also helped me to understand their purpose, side effects and benefits. I had to be diligent about helping myself, because if I didn’t, who would do this for me?
With internet we are able to research, but make sure a source is given to follow up. My rule is I need to see information three separate places before I consider it to be accurate. After all, the internet is convenient and loaded with information, but realistically, any “know-it-all” can post answers or create a paying website.
I’m proposing a few sites I know to be authentic. First, I found an engaging documentary on YouTube. The introduction reveals what the general public thinks bipolar is; disturbingly, the lack of education isn’t surprising. However, the documentary (video) is highly relatable to persons who have bipolar disorder and, if family members and friends will watch it, they’ll gain insight since it is a series of interviews with people who experience the multifaceted symptoms. Beneficial characteristics are mentioned by the interviewees, too. Intelligence and creativity are hallmark traits. Never forget this. Famous bipolar persons are also mentioned—and our world would be lacking without them. Medications which persons find helpful are also mentioned. It’s worth watching for an hour and 23 minutes. Thus far there are 37 videos one can subscribe to, it’s copyrighted (2013) and likely to available long term, so, Google, “Up/Down” Bipolar Disorder Documentary. There is also, The Black Dog. It is a creative, insightful animation describing depression. An exceptional site is, Psychcentral.com. This site is loaded with various subjects pertaining to bipolar and other mental illnesses as well as medications. Explore it if you will. But! The most gratifying thing I ever did was to google “famous bipolar people.” Best way to get a fat head—try it—I’m left with a lasting impression. We bipolar humans are in a genre of people who are undoubtedly intelligent, entertaining, expressive, creative, and either successful or have the potential to be accomplish much.
There is nothing to be ashamed of. Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance. Stability can be found through lifestyle, educating ourselves, healthy eating, medication(s), and our “I’m going to tame the Beast” attitudes.
Be well, stay well.