These are the exact words used by my friend with bipolar disorder,”Mental Illness Hurts Horribly But You Just Cannot See IT!” Today I will share my conversation with this 50 year old woman who has struggled all her life with bipolar disorder and co-existing issues. This is her very sad, troubling story and the worst part is that all these fears and emotions which started as a young child are still crippling her 50th year of life! But first, what is bipolar disorder?
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder (historically known as manic–depressive disorder or manic depression) is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It affects a person’s mental well-being, physical health, relationships and behaviour.
Wikipedia says, “It is a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder in which people experience disruptive mood swings. In bipolar disorder people experience abnormally elevated (manic or hypomanic) mood states which interfere with the functions of ordinary life. Many people with bipolar disorder also experience periods of depressed mood. The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be complicated by coexisting (comorbid) psychiatric conditions.”
What Illnesses Often Co-exist with Bipolar Disorder?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) web site says, “Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social phobia, also co-occur often among people with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder also co-occurs with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has some symptoms that overlap with bipolar disorder, such as restlessness and being easily distracted.
True Story of a Friend with Bipolar Disorder
I can never remember being normal. I have always felt different and shunned by my friends and their families. Lorna, I still cry my heart out when I think of the cruel ways I have been treated since childhood.
When I was old enough to be allowed to go to our neighbor’s house to play, many days I was simply turned away. I would go to the house and ask the mom if I could come in and play. Remembering her answer still pierces my heart,”No, no one is here to play with you today.” And in the background I could hear all the whispering and snickering from the hidden kids who thought I was too weird to play with. They did play with me from time to time but chose the time when it suited them. It hurt me so much then and it STILL hurts today!
I always hated school. Every morning my stomach hurt so much, I could not eat and I felt really sick. At school I was constantly in a panic and I was so scared because everyone who dealt with me was so angry “with my foolishness”. I felt out of place and so odd next to the popular, normal kids. My stomach ache never subsided. At noontime in the cafeteria, the kitchen staff and teachers supervising lunch time growled at me to EAT when it was the last thing I could do with the stomach-churning HURT even clutching my throat.
ALMOST NO PROFESSIONAL HELP
Finally my parents took me for professional help. It was very complicated just getting to the office in town. It was an hour’s drive away. My mother could not drive and my father was away fishing for long periods of time. My appointments were not very helpful. In the end it was joked about that I simply had “Schoolitess” and I would eventually grow out of it.
I was hurting so bad, MY ONLY WISH WAS FOR MY MISERABLE LIFE TO END and I was not yet ten! I remember when I was just a little girl in the first years at school, I would purposely throw myself on the ground or hurt myself physically in other ways just for the BIG HURT to go away.
I have never been able to sleep normally. When I was just a child, I would curl up in bed, scared stiff and not wanting to sleep, not wanting another terrible night to start. When I saw the light of another day through the curtains, a wave of panic and hopelessness flooded over me and I dreaded even more getting up to face another miserable day than going to sleep.
I have lost all my friends. Usually when someone is sick, friends and family rally round to comfort and help. This is not so if you have mental health problems. YOU MUST SUFFER ALONE.
Since the day I was first admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital, my whole social life has never been the same. After it became common knowledge that my mental state had hospitalized me, I was never invited to reunions of the old school gang and even a chance meeting on the street resulted in a stiff, unnatural conversation. I had previously worked at the same hospital where I was hospitalized and even the nursing staff I knew very well circled around me as if I was invisible. Can you imagine how it feels when even close friends do not want to look you in the eyes!
FEEL LIKE A FAILURE
I am so tired. I see no end at all in sight. I cannot fight anymore. I feel like such a failure. None of the people I am seeing for support seem to have time to coordinate my meds or my care. Some health care professionals even contradict another’s way of treating me so I have lost all faith in the whole system. Some days my best advice comes from the friendly pharmacist who sees me across a counter with customers lined up behind me.
BIPOLAR DISORDER ROBBED ME OF EVERYTHING
My bipolar disorder has robbed me of my marriage, my home, my many attempts at keeping jobs, my enjoyment of any kind of life, my friends, my hobbies, my health …I am a disaster, a complete mess. After years of fighting “LIFE” and the “SYSTEMS” I was given a disability pension because I simply cannot keep a job even though I have tried many different ones. I went back to school to study a different type of work hoping it would be better…it is not the jobs it is ME. Most months I do not even have enough food after I pay my rent.
No one can say I did not try. I tried so many medications and suffered through so many side effects. Once when they removed me from one medication, I was so ill they admitted me to the psychiatric unit and for days I thought I was going to die.
SIDE EFFECTS OF MEDICATIONS
Look, long term use of one of my meds has made me loose many teeth and left the others in very poor shape. One medication caused a tumor on my Pituitary gland and my whole system became so out of sync that I was lactating while I was dealing with menopause. I went from 125 lbs to 185 lbs AND now back to about a 100 lbs which is underweight for my height.
Some days I am in such a depressed mood that I feel like sleeping and crying all day and cannot remember anything or where I put things. I cannot even take a shower or bath because it seems like too much work. I am so scared and anxious when I have to take a shower or bath that I cannot put one foot in front of the other.
Other days, my manic phase, I go like a bat in hell. I do not sleep either day or night. My mind and body are like a revved up engine. I bulldoze through my day with no rime or reason trying to do a million things at once…without thinking it out first nor thinking of the consequences of my actions.
LIFE SHOULD NOT BE THIS HARD!
Four days ago I finally had an appointment with my doctor. Lorna, listen to this:
Doctor: Are you feeling suicidal?
Friend: YES! I am so, so tired. It can’t go on like this. I don’t know where to turn.
Doctor: Do you think often of killing yourself?
Friend: YES! More than ever because I have lost all hope that I can get better
Doctor: Will you promise me you will not take your life.
Friend: (Too dumb founded and almost stunned) Ahhh , yes I guess.
Doctor: Good we have a contract. Nothing will happen and I will schedule our next visit in 2 MONTHS!!!
Who can help me now when even my doctor won’t? I can understand when I was a child 45 yrs ago that there was no help but why is it still like this now?
Helpful Mental Health Resource –
Read Special Needs Book Reviews and Interviews:
- Defying Mental Illness 2013 Edition: Recovery with Community Resources and Family Support
- Review of 1st edition of Defying Mental Illness
- Interview with Andrea Schroer about Defying Mental Illness
- Interview with Paul Komarek, Co-author of Defying Mental Illness
- Schizophrenia: A Blueprint for Recovery by Milt Greek