You may have noticed my absence from the blog and social media this past week. (Or maybe you didn’t.) Either way, it was because I was taking a bit of a mental health week for myself, if you will. Everyone can use one of those now and again, and I don’t think I realized I was doing it until it was over. Otherwise, I definitely would have let ya’ll know in advance.
As you might have guessed from the title, this week I want to discuss Bipolar Disorder. So many people use the term loosely to describe someone who switches between happy and sad rather quickly at some point during the day. But really, bipolar is so much more than that. And though I’m not really into being “politically correct” with terminology, hearing “omg, she’s sooo bipolar” actually stings a little when I hear it. Because they don’t know the half of it.
Dovid was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder about 3 years ago and it’s been quite a roller coaster since then. There are a few different types of the disorder, but as far as we know, he currently has type II, which is the less severe version; but his diagnosis changes occasionally. I’ve done a lot of research about it since then, and while I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have it firsthand, I do know what it’s like to be the spouse of someone with the disorder.
Some of you may be wondering what Bipolar Disorder looks like, practically speaking. Essentially, it’s where someone switches between (sometimes extreme forms of) mania and depression. These “switches” can occur several times in a day; but many can go years in one state. I believe I met him in a non-severe manic state.
Mania is that feeling where sleep feels unnecessary, like nothing can hurt you (“delusions of grandeur”), and like all the inspiration and “life changing” ideas in the world are flowing through you at an alarming rate (like moving to another state or country, quitting a job, changing careers, new inventions, etc). Often times, those experiencing a manic state feel compelled to spend a lot of money investing in these “fantastic ideas”. What’s interesting about this state is that those who experience it usually experience an incredible euphoric feeling along with it. And though a manic state can be extremely dangerous, the one experiencing it doesn’t typically want it to end. It’s a lot of fun, and pretty exhilarating from what I understand. This can be a big deterrent to seek treatment. And what’s even worse is that mania can quickly turn into extreme irritability, and like you’re crawling in your skin. Imagine 20 different orchestras all playing a different song at the same time. Then imagine someone’s trying to talk to you. It’s kind of like that.
Depression, the state I’m more familiar with myself, is when sleep, couches, beds, and negativity become life. Feelings of hopelessness abound and nothing sounds interesting anymore, even the things you love doing the most. If you imagined mania to be like running on adrenaline (think fight or flight mode), then depression is the exact opposite. Sluggishness, no motivation to get up or do anything, overthinking everything, and coming to the conclusion that everyone and everything sucks, is pretty common. Some experience crying spells, some don’t.
I think regardless of your condition, it’s going to manifest itself in different ways, because each person is unique and different. But across the board, Bipolar is extremely debilitating. Finding the right cocktail of medication is a roller coaster in and of itself. But once you find that perfect mix, the potential for the good times are great. But sometimes the meds stop working, or they need to be adjusted, or someone innocently forgets to take them one night. And then all hell breaks loose.
On different occasions, Dovid has battled irrational thoughts to do reckless, dangerous, and harmful things to himself. I can’t imagine if I constantly had a thought in my head telling me to do something. After a while, I’d probably just do it to make the thoughts stop. Delusions of grandeur get pretty scary pretty fast, and it’s unclear which state he’s in when he acts on these. I’m going to go with manic, but the reason I question whether they’re depressive is because they’re self-harming. Suicidal thoughts are not a foreign concept to me, and they are most certainly no stranger to him either. I’ve only experienced these once, whereas, he’s had to deal with these more than. The toll it takes on him is unbearable and unimaginable. So much so that, for a bit there, I took myself out of the equation. Because, how could I possibly complain about how emotionally draining being close to someone with bipolar is, when he’s the one actually suffering through its crippling symptoms.
But then I realized something very important. Everyone goes through their own struggles. You can’t compare one person’s struggle to another. A few years after he was diagnosed, I decided to start taking myself back into account. The sad part is, I can’t wrap up this post with a neat little bow or a happy ending, because there is none. We take life day by day; some days suck, some days aren’t so bad, and some days are actually pretty spectacular. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this post, it’s this: living with or being close to someone with a mental illness is no small potatoes. Everyone needs to focus on self-care, but for those of us in this situation, it’s particularly important. (Yes, please use this as an excuse to go get that manicure your cuticles have been yearning for!) The stigma of mental illness isn’t helping anyone. Typically, when someone in our community is sick or has some family tragedy, the community rallies together to provide meals, childcare, tehillim, funds, and so much more. But when someone is living with mental illness, or living with someone who has mental illness, those people need the exact same support if not more. If you’re going through anything like this, please know that you are not alone. It is us, the ones willing to speak up about the stuff no-one wants to talk about, who will hopefully bring about change, erase the stigma, and help those who are struggling to not have to struggle alone. Wishing you all the strength, love, and hope there is.
Dovid’s (very abbreviated) thoughts on being bipolar:
First of all, even after three years and countless “second opinions”, I still don’t believe I’m bipolar. I’ve just come to the conclusion that the evidence outweighs my beliefs, so I have to accept it, for now. Nehama’s description of mania is fairly accurate. I call it the good stuff. The hardest part of accepting treatment for bipolar, is accepting that what I might have described a few years ago as the best part of my life, is bad and needs to be avoided at all costs. What’s missing from Nehama’s description is the 90% of life; the part when the medications are working, and there’s no significant fluctuations in manic or depressive moods. What stings when reading Nehama’s words is her talk about spending a lot of money on a “brilliant idea”, quitting a job, changing careers, or wanting to move to a new town. It’s true that in a manic state all these things could happen in a matter of seconds, but not all ideas that come from manic states are bad (I would argue that the “delusions” part of “delusions of grandeur” only applies to things that are clearly not possible, like thinking you’re invincible) and not all drastic changes come from manic states. It’s undeniably difficult to be married to someone who is bipolar, just as it’s difficult to be married to someone who’s pathologically late (obviously not a fair comparison, but everyone has their challenges). But the point I want to make is that, when properly treated, none of the issues Nehama brings up are part of every day life. That’s hard to remember when something goes wrong, but it’s true.