your job is to just be a friend

So, you have just found out that someone you know, or even love, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  You might feel confused, you might feel worried.  I try to remember how I felt before I was diagnosed how it felt when a good friend told me that she had bipolar.  I know for sure that I had no idea what it was and it did kind of scare me.  What should I do with this information?  What is the expected response?  What is the response she needs?   What kind of attention do I need to give to this, in order to ensure that our friendship didn’t change just because she happened to have a little extra ‘something’ that lots of others don’t?

Mental illness is taboo.  There is no other way to put it.  Nobody wants it and those that have it are most likely to hide within their diagnosis.  Usually they will be very wary and careful about who they share this news with.  There are underlying reasons for this – the first being the most obvious.  People don’t understand, and what people don’t understand can scare them.  The many other reasons pretty much stem from that very one reason.  It is taboo.  It is scary.  You might feel like you never really knew this person at all.  However, chances are that they are still the same person they were the day before they were diagnosed.  Chances are that they’ve been living with this all of their lives.  The only thing the diagnosis does is give that person the chance to get well, the access to medications and services that they haven’t had access to in the past.  They have been given the chance to finally, maybe, stabilize.

Don’t offer unsolicited advice.  Don’t diminish their feelings.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is happening to us so therefore it is a reality.  It may sound irrational to you but sometimes, some things sound so completely right and rational to us that it is better to just open your ears and shut your mouth.

Up until I decided to share my truth with the world (sounds dramatic eh?  Well, if you know me you know that I have a knack for the drama) I was so terrified that I would be judged.  Actually, not judged – misjudged.  That people would back off and I would be left all alone.  News flash peeps.  The absolute opposite has happened for me.

So now you know this very personal thing about the person you know, or love.  What should you do next?  You could ask questions.  Listen.  Ask them about it.  Ask how they feel.  Tread carefully.  Most of all, don’t be scared.  The person who has this condition has trusted you with something that most people probably will never know about them.  Don’t tell other people.  Keep it to yourself.  If you are worried about them, talk to them.  Be straight up.  We have a sixth sense when it comes to this kind of thing usually and let me tell you, while I am more than happy to put myself out there in order to bring more awareness, 99.99999999% of others are not.  It is not your news to tell.  It doesn’t need to be the next 6pm news headline.

From time to time, if you are really close to the person who has shared this with you, you will notice different behaviour patterns.  This is normal and to be expected from bipolar.  Everyone who has bipolar is very different, so don’t put us all in the same basket.  If you do notice a behaviour that is out of the ordinary (increasing spending habits can be a big one, withdrawing from social events, there are a gazillion things that can be warning signs that things are on the up or down), don’t ignore them.  Talk about it with the one that trusted you.   Once again, tread carefully and no no no unsolicited advice.  The person who has trusted you will hopefully have a team of educated professionals that offer medical assistance to them to aid their rocky road to stability.

Your job is to just be a friend.

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Stand as a Mountain for you

Yesterday afternoon saw me feeling the most ‘level’ I have felt in a long time. I feel the same way this morning. Nothing has changed!! It is so exciting to see that this is all working out. It feels bizarre too because I am hoping (and praying) that this feeling sticks around and I am able to continue as I feel right now into the future.

There have been confronting times in here though I have learned a lot. One of my favourite lessons was learning how to set realistic goals, how to break them down into bite size pieces and then actually undergo the process of making my goals a reality. Setting goals has always been so daunting. It all seemed too big, the task far too huge. Overwhelming. Traumatising. It might seem so simple for most people to set a goal and follow through, perhaps even automatically, to fulfil the tasks required to achieve the goal. My brain works differently, setting goals increases pressure on me. It heightens my anxiety and makes me feel like I am going to fail before I begin.

Mood disorders are an animal of their own. Sometimes they are lions, ready to pounce and attack. Sometimes they are easily scared and flee so quickly like a bird or a lizard. It can feel like those of us that have bipolar are in constant fight or flight mode.

As mentioned in previous posts, I tend to rapid cycle. Very rapidly. So on any average day I can go from feeling ahhhhh-mazing and powerful to feeling dull. And low. The part that I am so scared of now is that the persistent smile on my face, bounce in my step and happiness in my chest can be mistaken for a shift of mood. This is where I start learning about my self. Start logging these feelings and physical reactions. Am I thinking with reason? Am I irritable? Do I have amazing ideas? Can I save the world? Am I irrational? Am I genuinely happy when I see something funny, or am I laughing to fit into the crowd? Did I really like that ladies hairstyle, and why didn’t I compliment her? Are my energy levels normal? Am I regulated, a little high, or medium high or over the top high?? This is all going through my mind right now as I try to learn more about myself and give myself the chance to finally understand where I am at.

Coming out of the daze I feel very vulnerable and meek. I should have complimented the lady who had nice hair. It might have been just the thing she needed to hear today. I should listen to myself when I feel like being kind – the same way as my friends listen to me when I cry for help.

One of my truly amazing friends told me something today. It really shifted my soul to a degree, and made me feel so nurtured, cared for and loved. She said ‘I will not judge you if you ‘flip’ on me. I will stand as a mountain for you and know that its forces are beyond our control’.

That comment alone has made me feel so incredible. I have lost touch with many people through my cycling, through my ‘flipping out’. I’ve been lied to, I have been avoided. Yet here is someone who I know will stand by my side always. Having a true support network is key for me. I remember my mother telling me as a child that if you can count your true friends on one hand, you are doing pretty ok. I am going to relate that to friends in real life because hey, the interwebz didn’t exist back then. And guess what, I am doing pretty ok.

You can’t know all the time

I have been having a tough time.  A really tough time.  About eight months ago I decided that I didn’t have bipolar and that I needed to get off the poison meds.  I did so, very quickly, and kind of coasted along for about six months.  Then it all came crashing down around me.  Fast.

I felt strong, like I was invincible.  Like I could do this.  On my own.  I felt like everyone was wrong, and I was right.  That I knew myself better than anyone and I didn’t want to be disabled in the brain anymore.  I rejected what I should have accepted.  I rejected it all.

I spoke with a very close friend, who knows me probably better than I know myself.  And I asked her if she thought I needed to go back onto the medication.  I asked her if she saw me slipping.  I asked her to be honest and not hold back.  I was expecting (or hoping) that she would say ‘NOOOOOOOOOO.  YOU ARE DOING AWESOME’.  Instead, she just looked solemnly at me like her own life depended on it and said quietly ‘yes’.

In the minutes, hours and days after that conversation I questioned myself.  My own ability to judge my state of mind.  My own self knowledge.  My own SELF.   How could I be so wrong?  How could I have missed this?  How could I tell everyone in the world that I knew myself, that I knew where I was at in my mind?  How could I have lied to myself?  Am I actually a liar?  The worst thing in the world to me is lying.  How could I have betrayed myself so badly?

So, I put myself back on medication.  My psychiatrist laughed when I told him what dose I put myself on.  He said he was proud that I had put myself on the pediatric dose.  I have to laugh at that, because yeah, it was the pediatric dose.   Then I asked him how I could have possibly missed this.  HOW?

He simply looked at me and said something along the lines of ‘well, you are living it, so it is real and your reality.  You can’t be expected to know all the time’.   True.  I guess.  I don’t like it but I don’t have to like the truth.  This world is full of truths that I hate.

So I am back ‘on’.   As the dosages ramp up I will try to be easy on myself.  I will try to just accept the strange feelings in my body and mind.  I will try not to question, for now, because at this point, I need this rollercoaster to stop going downhill.  I don’t ever want to feel like I need to get off this ride again.

What is bipolar?

At this point, from what I can see, bipolar has varying degrees – like a spectrum.  There are at this point three terms that are currently used in the diagnosis of bipolar.  Bipolar 1 and 2, and Cyclomythic disorder.  They are all basically intertwining in essence, and all can present the same way, only in varying degrees.

I am not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist.  This is only my basic, very basic understanding of what bipolar ‘is’.  In basic terms, there is ‘hardcore’ and ‘not-so-hardcore-as-hardcore’

BIPOLAR 1 – the big kahuna.   Bipolar 1 typically means drastic mood changes, without control, between ‘mania’ and ‘depression’.  Those that live with BP1 can endure periods of deep depression, sometimes resulting in suicidal thoughts or motivations.  They can swing from those emotions (moods) to elation, feeling on top of the world, creative, motivated, unbelievable sense of self confidence.  Those that live with BP1 can often swing between these feelings quickly (rapid cycling is defined by the Australian terms for psychiatrists as swinging between these moods at least four times per year.  Though, in my personal experience and with knowing those that I know that do actually rapid cycle, it can change on at least a monthly level.  Sometimes weekly).

BIPOLAR 2 – in no way is any lesser than BP1.  This is a very serious way of life.  Generally those that are living with BP2 have ‘milder’ swings of mood.  Pretty much the same as BP1 but without (in medical terms) the co-morbidity factor.  I have not actually met a single person yet in my escapades that subscribes to being BP2.  I would love to connect more with those that have been diagnosed BP2 so I can better understand.

CYCLOMYTHIC – generally, cyclomythic disorder describes itself as encompassing those who tend to have hypomanic periods for a sustained time, and very short periods of depression.  I think this might actually be everyone in the world.  << just my personal opinion.  By the way 😛

So, in my own words, ‘THIS IS BIPOLAR’.  In my own little nutshell