Trying to Stay Cool

Although I think that most people cannot tell that I have bipolar disorder at all, other people with bipolar and people who are close to a bipolar (read “a person with bipolar”) can tell.  Even medicated, I have my giveaways.

We all have this idea of what bipolar looks like.  We’ve read novels and watched movies with bipolars.  We see ecstatic people climbing over rails of bridges screaming they’re king of the world.  We see depressed people who stay in bed for weeks.  And although these are real scenarios, this isn’t everybody.  Many bipolars take their meds and live normal lives. The other folks just make better fictional characters.  I’m saying “bipolars” in this piece because it’s easier.  Maybe I should say “persons who suffers with bipolar”, but I don’t suffer.  I’ve never suffered.  It’s the people around me who have suffered.

Some of my symptoms are harmful and embarrassing; hyper-sexuality for one. That doesn’t mean that I am a danger to others.  No worries.  But my behavior can be harmful if unmedicated.   Harmful behavior aside, mainly I just get really intense about things and I don’t sleep. Or I listen to depressing music and write depressing poetry until I just want to slip away…at least for awhile.

This is one example of my mania.  I went through a period of hyper religiosity.  I would wake up at 2:30 am, brew a pot of coffee, read the Bible and worship with youtube praise videos until time to go to work, and I’m not even an evangelical  And when I’m manic, I don’t feel sleep deprivation.  I can live on little or no sleep.  It’s great…for awhile.  I can get a lot done when I don’t need to sleep.  But the problem with unchecked “hypomania” is that when it becomes full blown mania, all of that productivity and creativity  ends in disaster.

But because some bipolar behavior can be harmful to relationships, I have a lot riding on my treatment.  I never let up.  I take my meds every day.  If I forget to refill, I jump out of bed and run to the drug store.  I have a family that depends on my sanity, and I don’t ever want to let them down.

This disorder has caused me to embarrass myself and others over the years.  With poor impulse control in combination with grandiosity, paranoia, and worse, I’m capable of creating very embarrassing situations on both small and large scales.  So, if I’m feeling impulsive, I shut up or walk away.  It’s tough.  Facebook’s nice because you can delete stuff when you’ve had a moment to rethink.

I’ve shared my diagnosis on Facebook before and I felt uncomfortable with the response.  It was bipolar awareness week and I wrote about what NOT to say to a bipolar, but no one acknowledged the actual content at all.  It was just a huge thread of congratulations for being open and defying stigmas.  I don’t care about stigmas, mainly because I’ve never been the target of them.  I don’t feel brave when I tell someone because I’ve never had a negative response.  It’s a different world.  People are beginning to understand mental illness.

Common questions:

  1. Are people with bipolar more creative?  That is my experience. A lot of artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, and poets.
  2. Are you better at your art when you don’t take your meds?  Yes, but with some adjustments it is possible to still be able to do it.  Rather than the art coming out of your illness, it comes out of your wellness.
  3. Can bipolars hold jobs, stay married, be a good parent, etc.?  I’m doing all of those things, but many do not.  People with bipolar disorder, because they feel like they are not “themselves” on meds, tend to stop taking their meds.  They also stop taking their meds when they feel better,  thinking that because they are better they don’t need the meds. I don’t understand this because I know for sure that I am better because I stay on the meds.  And, honestly, I feel plenty “myself” medicated.  I didn’t always have active bipolar.  I still remember what it feels like to be well before meds.  I much prefer being well.
  4. Do you need any special accommodations at work?  This article is superb.  Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Bipolar Disorder.  But honestly, the only accommodation I’ve asked for is time off for doctors visits.  Now that I’m reading this, though, perhaps I could benefit from more.
  5. Can you get fired for behavior related to bipolar?  Bipolar is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The employer would have to prove that the offense was unrelated to bipolar.  I disclose at work just in case.
  6. Are bipolars more likely to have other problems?  Yes.  Substance/Alcohol abuse, sexual issues, smoking. 70% of people with bipolar smoke.  SEVENTY.
  7. Are there terms or words concerning your illness that bother you?  Not a one.  When I’m not well, I’m crazy and insane.  When I’m manic, I’m a maniac.  Loony, lunatic, madman, etc.  All of these words have been apt descriptions for me at some point.  BUT, not everyone feels that way.  Some people with disabilities need us to use certain language in regard to themselves and their disability in order to feel respected, perhaps because of how much they’ve been disrespected.  I’ve been treated well, so call me whatever you like.

I wonder sometimes if given the choice would I choose not to have this disorder.  My conclusion is always the same:  no.  Bipolar isn’t like a separate piece of a person, it’s an integral piece.  They say the person is not the disease, but I don’t buy it with bipolar.  It is a fundamental part of who I am, not as my identity, but in my entire nervous system.  I can do what I do, think how I think, and see the world the way I do in part because of this “feature” of my makeup.  If I did not have it, I would not be the same person.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what would be different, but I suspect it’s a big part of what makes me me.

In my first year of treatment, my dear sister-in-law said.  “I’m glad you’re better, but sometimes I miss the crazy-ass David.”  When she said that, I thought “Yes!  I miss him, too!”  I have realized that there’s a difference between mental wellness and suppressing who you are.  We, the mentally ill, do this so that you won’t worry about us and so that you will feel comfortable around us.  I’m afraid, sometimes, to let the “crazy-ass David” out.  My family’s stability, in large part, depends on “steady David”.

It begs the question, is “crazy-ass” a symptom or is it just a personality trait that no drug will take or should take away?  I’ll let you know when I figure it out.  Until then, I’ll try to stay cool as best I can.

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