February 11, 2006

Question about Living with Bipolarism.

Recently, I had somebody contact me with some questions about Bipolarism. Janell is a mental health provider and was looking to learn a bit more about bipolarism than what could be learned by observing people in an institution. Here's an abbreviated version of the response that I sent to Janell:

Janell,

Thank you very much for your questions. You seemed to have put a lot of thought into them. I especially appreciate that you asked me for my specific observations instead of asking me to generalize all people with bipolar disorder by describing what my wife does.

The idea that all bipolar people are the same is a horrible stigma. We must always be careful not to promote that kind of thinking. Every person is unique and special. That doesn't change just because they are hurt or sick.

I hope you find these answers illuminating. If you have any other questions, please feel free to send them along.

-Dan

"Why did you choose to live a life of what seemed to be so disappointing, abandoned and isolated?"

When I made my decision to be with my wife, it didn't seem to me to be any of those things. My wife was bipolar when I met her, but we didn't know it.

You have to understand, that my wife spends her every day searching for that special something that's going to make her happy for the rest of her life. The problem is that shortly after she gets whatever she's after,
she realizes that's not what she was looking for and moves on to something new.

Well, while we were dating, I believe that she thought I was it. I was the thing that was going to make her happy forever. So, she never let me see that dark unhappiness that lives inside of her. And whenever it did surface, I believed it was because of a tough life that she had lived. I thought somehow, if I could get her out of the environment she was in, she'd be even more happy. I didn't understand the true cause of the conflict inside her.

"What was your goal in the beginning of your relationship?"

Well.. I suppose the same goals as any other couple starting out. I was going to finish school, get a good job, live the American dream. That sort of thing. As I said, I was not aware of my wife's bipolarism at all.

"What is the hardest part about living with your wife's disorder?"

I suppose the hardest thing is just knowing that there are so many precious moments that we could be having that have just been robbed from us. So much time wasted over things that really don't matter. So many days where we could be growing closer, but instead we grow further apart. I am angry at her disease for the beautiful moments in life that it continues to steal from both of us. I am also angry at the disease for the childhood my daughter deserves but can't have.

I love my wife. And I know she loves me, except for that barrier inside her that won't allow her to love, or even be happy.

"I had a bestfriend who swore she was not bipolar. She had every sign possible. One day she snapped and was put on a 3 day hold at an acute psychiatric facility. She, at the time, seemed so "sane". What do you believe keeps your wife from being institutionalized?"

What I'm about to say is neither expert advice, nor is it first-hand experience. The best that can be said for it is that it's a theory that seems to fit what I've seen:

Saying that every bipolar person needs to be locked down is like saying that every drunk is going to get behind the wheel and kill a family of four. Some drunks are violent, and some make poor decisions (like driving). On the other hand, some fall asleep, and others just giggle a lot. I'm not trying to say that some drunks are safe or that drinking is ok, I'm just trying to point out that people have many different ways to cope with stimuli.

Bipolarism is a painful disease. It puts an enormous burden on a person. It even pushes their moods in a direction they don't want them to go sometimes. But bipolarism doesn't force people to think specific thoughts. It doesn't force people to say "I'm going to go be a danger to myself or others today".

I think those kinds of decisions are made at an entirely different level of
consciousness. I think the brain is saying to itself "I give up. I hurt and I can't make the hurt go away. I've run out of things to try. Something has to give, now!" I do not think bipolarism alone controls how a person reacts to that.

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