I delayed seeking help because
I was worried about the stigma and
because I thought that it would just go away.
It never did.
Bipolar Disorder is not an illness which goes away of its own accord but one which often needs long-term treatment. If you have experienced an episode of mania or hypomania, it’s best to seek professional help as soon as possible. It may indicate that you have Bipolar Disorder, which, if left untreated, will likely involve further episodes.
Resisting a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder…
Here’s how it is. I don’t suffer from bipolar – I am bipolar. Basically, this means that my emotions and Melbourne’s weather have a lot in common. Or, to the uninitiated, when I’m fine to high, I feel great, and when I’m low to lower, I often wish there was another way out of this place.
My first episodes began when I was a kid and they haven’t stopped. Before I was diagnosed, thanks mainly to the interesting antics I got up to while I was high, I was seen by all those I had damaged as a difficult and destructive wanker. After I was diagnosed, I was reassessed within the blink of an eye and reclassified as a difficult and destructive wanker with a questionable diagnosis. A diagnosis that fixed nothing. Instead, it made matters worse, as now, many of those who felt damaged also experienced a degree of guilt.
Being diagnosed though, shuddering as it was, was also the first step I took towards understanding and attaining some control of my life. No doubt there are people stronger than me, who were and are able to begin their post-diagnosed lives upon the remnants of their pre-diagnosed, but a year after my ‘cranium malfunction’ had been labelled, I realised that if I was to have any hope of attaining a clean foundation, I would have to leave and start again.
This is not advice. This is just what I did. Also, since I had no children to support, and with my first marriage lost, there was nothing to hold me. Now, separated from my past, I began the long process of sifting through its wreckage. I began to find patterns of behaviour, blatantly clear clues, and finally I came to understand some of the craziness.
My brother once told me that he and my sister had taken it for granted that I would kill myself before I was twenty-one. At the time, I thought the same, and yet had no idea why. Now I knew, and this was freedom too.
One of the reasons my high periods always saw me creating one messy situation after another was that I wasn’t a bad looking fella. Not only that, but when high, I was funny, charming and quite often exciting to be around. Magnetic. In these periods, falling in love, spending money I didn’t have and gaining employment was easy. A few months later though, once the moods had changed shift, I’d find myself unemployed, heartbroken or both. More often than not I was also in debt and desperate to be alone. This was what I always found odd about the ‘black dog’ metaphor. A dog craves company, but when I’m down, I don’t. Whether I am next to you, in bed with you, even making love to you, I am an island.
These habits of creating emotional catastrophes are common to many bipolar folk .In fact, it is the culminating effect of them, added to the knowledge that you are destined to create more, that becomes too much for many of us. This is why I’ve always been proud of myself for making it this far.
Alone, and taking enough lithium to power a tourist bus full of digital cameras, I began a second life in Melbourne. This time though, anyone who came into my life was, after a short period of time, informed of my condition.
Two jobs later, both of which I was retrenched from shortly after I’d revealed my secret, taught me that perhaps it was better if not everybody knew. In my private life though, with the medication keeping me fairly stable, I found people weren’t that bothered. Most knew someone else who was bipolar (or someone who suffered from depression) and, caught up in their own lives, they left it at that. This was freedom: the freedom of being accepted for who I was and not what I had done.
When I met my second wife, I informed her, almost immediately, about the other aspect of my head. If she chose to stay, she should know the risks. At first I was fine, so secretly she thought I was exaggerating the problem. If there was a problem. But then I got sick and she changed her mind. Being half crazy herself, she chose to stay.
After the birth of our first child, our son, I experienced a crisis. I didn’t want my boy to grow up with a dad who had to be medicated. Oh my, the stigma of it all. So, with the wife willing to take the chance, I stopped taking my pills and instead tried a healthier diet, plus exercise. Unfortunately this didn’t work. I got sick again. But I am still glad we tried. Hard as this was, knowing where my boundaries lay gave me a sense of freedom too. Freedom from doubt.
Down deep enough to mine for coal, I visited my local general practitioner to get back on lithium. It’s a pain in the arse sometimes, but that’s the compromise I am willing to make to try to maintain the life we have built and, hopefully, are building. Sadly, in the future, we know that there’s a good chance that one of our children may show symptoms. But if and when that occurs, we will deal with it. At least we will know what it is. Then again, who knows what will happen? Maybe even something good. Because, contrary to how you feel when you are down, the odds are always even.*