I’ve decided to publish this article in most-likely-three parts, after seeing how long just the preamble was, then how much length the now-lost (thanks, iPhone) second part added to it, and knowing how much I wanted to talk about in the final section. The overall piece is on the literal and figurative costs of bipolar disorder: getting to sanity, staying sane while parenting, and raising a child with a high likelihood of inheriting the tendency. Part one is the preamble, which gives a glimpse of my history and offers some of my perspective on recovering from and living with this disease.
As previously mentioned, I have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type II, Rapid Cycling, with Mixed States. There are lots of other places that talk about mental health and emotional disorders and bipolar disease, although if you hang around here long enough you’ll doubtless get a good picture of what it’s been like for me (since it’s a different experience for everyone; just in my immediate family, there are three of us with more or less the “same” disease, and three vastly different experiences). But what you really need to know to understand my story is:
- Psychotropic medicines suck. They are a kind of bandage: sometimes they are a well-placed Ace bandage over a sprained ankle, which is great and effective; sometimes they’re a dirty wad of guaze over an arterial hemorrhage, which is not not so great but might be better than nothing; and sometimes they’re the Disney (R) Princess (TM) Bandaid (TM) that gets lodged in your throat and on which you choke to death, which is, y’know, bad. For me they were probably dirty guaze: they kept me, barely, from bleeding to death, but gave me a raging infection to struggle with as well (if you will excuse the overextended metaphor).
- Bipolar disorder sucks worse. Mixed state, which I basically lived in for several years, especially sucks horrifically gawdawfully bad; think of it as high energy self-hatred. You know, the self-loathing of depression but with the energy to actually do something about it. This aspect of this disease is not only not enjoyable, it is highly lethal, with suicide attempts (already ridiculously high in the bipolar population) being even more likely in those with mixed states, and possibly more “successful”.
- Bipolar disorder is a highly complicated disease, with biological and psychological and environmental components (as though the three can ever be separated); it is, however, fundamentally a disease, like diabetes, or fibromyalgia, and deserves no more or less infamy or stigma or survivor-blame than any other disease, which is to say none at all. I think we’d all appreciate it if you understood The Spoon Theory, but we are, basically, just plain persons, just like you. It is not catching; you do not need to avoid us like the plague, or as though we were beset by demons.
- And yet, I get why people with mental illness used to be (and in some areas still are) considered possessed. I do feel at times like the disease is an It, a thing with a life and a mind of its own, and what it wants more than anything else in the world is for me to be sick, so it can be strong. Feeling inhabited by a dark, inimical Other that would, if its will be done, bring about your destruction is a curse I would not wish on anyone.
- At the same time, bipolar is part of my identity. It is a part of the indefinable me. I would not choose to not be born, or to be born without it. (I would not be me if I had been born without it.) I obviously did not choose to avoid having children to avoid passing it on, as some psychiatrists have infamously advocated, and the thought of a genetic test with its resultant “therapeutic” abortion for fetuses carrying the genes horrifies me. I don’t romanticize the disorder, but nor would I rid humanity of it even if I could; if the problem is in part that we are at risk for premature death, then it is the world that must change so that we can survive, not we who must be made not to exist in the first place.
- Being a rapid cycler with mixed states, I don’t think (much) in terms of “up” or “down”, I think in terms of being stable or not. I never knew stability in my adult life; I went straight from childhood to adolescence and instability, with the instability growing ever stronger even as the wild hormonal ride of adolescence receded. Truly it could be said that I did not know who “I” was. Struggling toward sanity was searching by feel in the darkness for something I had never known and had only the vaguest descriptions of from others. When one has never known normalcy, how does one know whether one has it? When every mood swing has been a potential disaster, a symptom of illness, how does one know what a “normal” or “healthy” range of mood feels like? When each change of mood brings anxiety over what it might foreshadow based on what it’s brought in the past, how does one settle into the contentedness of now?
The things it took to bring me from hell to now (not heaven, but the glorious mundanity of earth) were: talk therapy; psychotropic medications; massage therapy; acupuncture; lots and lots of fish oil; and lifestyle and thought pattern and dietary changes too numerous and subtle to list here (arguably the biggest and most important of those: regular and regulated sleep, which is one of the many reasons new parents whether biological or not are at risk for PPD and other postpartum disorders). It took several years, and a hell of a lot of work, and ultimately required moving across the country out of a psychic-black-hole cesspool of a house and to a city where my heart sang “Home!” to get to a real, lasting, joyful stability.
And it cost a lot of money.
cont. in part II…