I started this post a few weeks ago. I got half way into it, got lost, and couldn’t find my way through it.
Now, I’m happy to remove it from the drafts folder and out to all of you.
I’m going to be driving north at the end of the week to visit family and a couple of friends. But, I have really just started the process of explaining how bipolar affects me and my moods to my parents. Because, quite frankly, my mother can trigger me better than anyone in the entire world. She’s been doing it for 47 years. And when you practice something for that long, you become amazing at it. Producing rage and floods of uncontrollable tears are her speciality. I’ve held off discussing this with her for a long time, but now, as disability looks like it will hit in the next couple of months (fingers crossed), I will be going public with my fight, under my real name. So I figured it was time to give them some sort of an idea of what has been going on all these years. Last week I told my therapist that in preparation for the week-long stay I wanted to write out an explanation of what happens, why it happens and why I can’t always help it.
Interestingly enough, at the same time I’ve been pondering this post, I’ve read many many blogs by people who are having the same problem getting others to understand what we go through with bipolar disorder, or at the very least, accept it.
The first thing to remember is that the emotions we feel are often valid. But, the intensity of those emotions is often distorted. Sometimes by a lot. Something small may make me angry, and it might be valid, but bipolar turns that anger into rage, and now I’m screaming at the top of my lungs that the cups weren’t loaded into the dishwasher properly. I know while I’m screaming that this emotion is completely overloaded, but knowing that rarely stops the rage. And the shame that follows being so volatile can be crippling. No one wants to be driven to that level of rage by something so small. If we’ve been screaming at someone we love, the embarrassment could be severe. But, now, we’ve taken an emotion that is very high, rage, and turned it into something very low, shame.
But the shame often makes me question the validity of the emotions I have. OK I get that the anger inflamed to rage, but now I question the validity of the anger. Because I’m questioning the rage, the anger naturally comes into question as well.
“Calm down” the well-meaning (and sometimes just flat-out annoyed) say to us. Well why didn’t I think of that? Except that I did. And I can’t. And I don’t know why, so trying to explain it is taking up vital energy that I’m trying to use to not plummet into depression.
From depression to mania, we experience an entire spectrum of moods. And sometimes those are all expressed rapidly over the course of days or weeks. The lucky ones don’t rapid cycle, but it doesn’t make their struggle with these moods any less real. Often, we can’t find the trigger for these moods. Well-meaners will tell us that there is no reason to be depressed. But, we already know that. Other times, the triggers are clear. But, like the emotions, the mood gets away from us. It swells too large. It can’t be contained. How is it possible to be so depressed over something so small? We don’t know. We can’t explain it. And there is a reason for that.
Yes, I said it. The kernel at the core of the problem. We have a disease in our brains which causes our brains to malfunction.
Depression drops by and tells us that we can’t even get out of bed. We can’t shower. We can’t make ourselves something to eat. Or we need to die. Mania comes along and entices us to spend money, have sex and move move move until we collapse into depression.
And everything in between.
And all because some receptors in our brains aren’t working properly.
Medication helps. If you’re one of the lucky people who are taking medication and have leveled out for an extended period of time, medication may be the perfect solution. Others, like me, don’t do as well on the medication. If a med has a side effect, I get it. My body gets used to medication too quickly, so prescriptions need to be changed often.
But, I can’t get a new brain. Livers, kidneys, corneas, lungs and even hearts can be replaced. Even skin. But not brains.
Disease is my new word for this condition. Bipolar disease. A disorder implies that I can fix it or clean it up. I don’t know why people are so afraid of a mental illness. But, a disease? That’s more easily understood. It gives you a few extra precious seconds, maybe minutes depending on who you are talking to, to explain things before stigma and stereotypes kick in.
And sometimes those seconds are precious to getting our point across.
It’s hard to understand bipolar disease if you don’t have it. It’s hard to understand if you do. But it’s crucial to remember that we don’t understand the way “normal” people think either. Occasionally, my husband and I will be sitting on the front porch quietly together and I will ask him what he’s thinking. And he will say ‘Nothing’. Aghast, I will list all the possible things that I think he could be thinking about and he will say ‘No. Nothing.’
Blank brain?? How is that possible? At any given moment I’m thinking about so many things that there is a permenant din in my brain. And he doesn’t get that. Just as I don’t get how he can actually be, literally, thinking about nothing.
The seconds I get by calling bipolar a disease allow me to explain that. Or how a part of my brain is damaged and there are no brain transplants. Or how I’m resistent to medications, so I can’t just settle in on one of them.
Those seconds can be crucial. No one who doesn’t have bipolar disease is ever going to really understand what is going on in my mind. But, I’m never going to understand what’s going on in their’s either.
And maybe that’s the thing that is the most crucial. No one ever REALLY knows how another person is thinking. Yes, our thinking may be a little left of center, but even if I was “normal” I still wouldn’t understand how my husband thinks. And he still wouldn’t understand how I do.
Maybe the goal should be acceptance, not understanding.
My last point before I sign off is this:
I took this picture at the aquarium when hubby and I went with his kids and grandson. I always assumed hippos could swim, because they basically live in the water. I was wrong. Hippos don’t swim. They can’t swim. They walk along the bottom, pushing off to make headway.
Don’t let someone assume you are crazy just because you have bipolar disease.