October 16, 2013

AliceIt is common for people with bipolar disorder to question where the separation is between themselves and the illness – where does one end and the other begin? The answer is largely elusive.

Many of my flaws, or negative personality traits, are just a part of me. But I am neither the anxious depressive who cringes away from social interaction, nor the supremely confident manic egoist. I am somewhere in between what often feels like two separate people. The irony is that I have been relatively stable lately but perhaps if I had more severe episodes more frequently it would be easier for others to see what is the illness and what is me.

The stigma of mental illness is well-documented

The stigma of mental illness is well-documented. It can cause a great deal of guilt and shame in sufferers. I’m fairly open about my bipolar, the title doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, but there’s a deeper type of shame I find myself wrestling with. This shame concerns the unwitting audiences to my episodes, comprised of pretty much anyone who witnesses me in these states.

My depressions can be easy to hide from people, I’ve become quite good at wearing a mask that largely conceals them. But my manic phases are far more visible and public and have had some devastating consequences for my personal relationships. The impact has ranged from misunderstandings to wrecked friendships, all of which cause me deep shame.

These people have understood much and forgiven me much

When depressed I am locked away in my own misery unable to communicate with the rest of the world. The depression tells me that I truly am a horrible person and that I use being bipolar as an excuse for this. On the whole I experience this behind closed doors.

But when manic I lose the ability to observe or analyse my own behaviour, I have no understanding of my own behaviour and do not comprehend the risks I take. This makes it far more visible to others, so much so they may only think they witness me manic, seldom depressed. Mania alters your personality, like a drug, it can make you over confident, aggressive even, promiscuous, reckless and very self centred.

Some friends and family have still been able to see the ‘real me’ through the ugliness of mania and the desperation of depression, and have realised that I substantially lacked control of my thoughts and behaviours at these times, and indeed was not really ‘myself’ at all. These people have understood much and forgiven me much, and I am eternally grateful for their perception and compassion.

Mental illness and a broken brain are largely invisible

Others have taken my behaviour at face value, perhaps because mental illness and a broken brain are largely invisible, perhaps because they have limited understanding of mental illness. They have concluded that I am a selfish arrogant person (when manic) and have either removed me from their lives or hold me at arm’s length. When I am depressed they perceive me as flaky and unreliable for bailing on social commitments. These reactions cause me pain and shame in equal measures. They suggest that understanding of mental health problems, whilst making remarkable progress, still has a long way to go.

Sometimes, a friend will joke ‘do you remember that time you .....’ and relate some mildly amusing manic anecdote I had happily forgotten about. This is just mildly embarrassing. Other instances are more damaging.

The example of others lack of understanding that really sticks with me was when my twin sister died a few years ago. This coincided with, and largely precipitated, a manic episode, which I deeply regret as I was unable to offer my parents the support I might have been able to if well – instead I added to the things they had to deal with. The funeral was a blur and I remember little, although people tell me that my speech was ok and not inappropriate. Before the service, I recall being quite preoccupied with my outfit, a manic fixation that must have seemed grotesquely out of place to those around me.

She did not understand that I was extremely unwell

This was when a well-meaning family friend took me aside to tell me that the day ‘was not all about me’. Taking my behaviour at face value I can hardly blame her, my focus was appallingly wrong. But despite having known me all my life she did not or perhaps could not understand that I was extremely unwell, mentally.

People deal with grief strangely even without being in the midst of an episode of mental illness and my sister’s death had not fully hit me. I can’t recall what my response was to her, if I responded at all. The conversation didn’t shame me until much later when I had crashed back down from my manic episode. Looking back I am devastated that she felt she had to say that to me. It has scarred me emotionally, so much so that I wonder if it would have been better for all concerned if I had not attended the funeral but had instead been hospitalised. I am left with the sneaking suspicion that she (and many others who have seen me when unwell) think that I genuinely am that horrible self-centred person. The thought haunts me when depressed, effectively crippling me and I struggle to move past it.

It isn't always easy for people to tell the difference

With medication compliance and the support of those around me I see my true self emerge and the worst bipolar qualities recede, but it isn’t always easy for other people to tell the difference. What I see as the nicer bipolar qualities, such as intelligence, wit, creativity, and above all the ability to empathise, I’d like to hang on to these associations if that’s ok.

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Comments

very imformative

This is very interesting, if an every day struggle for yourself. I suffer from non specific anxiety and occasionally bad depression. When did your bi-polar start? What are the specific symptoms? Thank you.

Where one begins and the other ends.

I love it when you are pondering a question and the answer pops up at that very moment as if in response! (But no, I don't REALLY believe there is cause and effect here, beyond the act of asking the question making me sensitive to any answers that might already be out there :-)). Alice's lucid account really did shed light on my on-going musings as to whether I'm just using my illness as an excuse for my many character flaws! (and that I'm not alone in being concerned about that). Thank you Alice. Why is it important to make the distinction between pathology and personality? For the reason she sets out - to gain acceptance that I am neither of the two extremes she describes so well, but a hopefully decent chap doing his best to enjoy life and to do right by friends, family and employer. Once I can accept it myself then I might have a fighting chance of getting other people to accept it, and then I might become a useful part of the quest to gain wider acceptance of people who's illnesses happen to be invisible.

Alice's blog: "Bipolar disorder and me"

My dad suffered severly from bipolar disorder and was forced to retire from his stressful job, at the age of 43. Growing up with a parent who's behaviour was so unpredictable and erratic, had left me suffering from anxiety and depression too - especially since my mum died from cancer, the year after my dad was forced to retire. But my sister had inherited the bipolar disorder and had been unable to complete her studies or stay in any job for longer than a few months. She had then run away with a man she hardly knew and married him, only to discover that he was a hardened alcoholic. This led to her being institutionalised several times - periods during which she received shock therapy and huge doses of medication. My dad suffered the same fate at the hands of "medical professionals". Both of them died within a year of each other - my father at the age of 66 and my sister only 42. Strangely enough, I could handle my dad's death reasonably well, as his behaviour towards myself and my siblings, during our developmental and adult years, had left me unsure whether I loved him or hated him...Yes, I know this sounds terrible, but that was the way I had felt at the time. Of course I tried to have empathy with my dad and had always tried to act loving towards him, as far as possible. And today I know that I had always loved him, despite his illness. My sister's death was harder to deal with, however. I felt that she had been robbed of having a normal life, by my dad...I also felt that she did not deserve to die at such a young age. I think I started to suffer from "survivor's guilt" after her death, as I had been luckier in life and had managed to have a family of my own. Six years after my sister's death, I got divorced, for a variety of reasons - one of them being the fact that I had gotten very depressed and that my ex-husband had run out of sympathy...But I think that losing one's sister is as great a loss as losing a parent - and even more so if you were twins. You (Alice) should not feel guilty for "having had an episode" at your sister's funeral: It is perfectly understandable. Your "friend" should feel guilty for not trying to understand how you felt. After my mum's death, my dad had also acted very self-centred and had not tried to understand how bereaved his children felt. I realise today that this had been a symptom of his illness. But the bottom line is that we were ALL bereaved - and therefore not "being ourselves"...Stop being so hard on yourself.

Trooper

I read your comment and I just wanted to say that I admire your strength and courage. If you can pull yourself together after losing your close relatives and dealing with a marriage breakdown then you can deal with anything life throws at you - Super woman!

bad behaviour

i was always told what a bad child i was , and realy did not enjoy school , at my godmothers funeral i was laughing and got some very disapointed looks from family , unknown to my self until 2012 diagnosed bipolar , so no excuses from me this is who i am like it or lump it . i am fedup of saying sorry .

Alice blog and Bipolar

Dear Alice I am Bipolar and recognize so much of what you have written so well about. Thank you.

Bipolar

Hi Alice. I too suffer with bipolar and can draw parallels your experiences. People tend to avoid me when I'm manic of get irritable with me and think I'm just a drama queen. My mouth goes at 100mph and I say things without thinking until I dive into the depression and then beat myself up. I have failed in many relationships because of this horrible illness and two years ago left my husband and children to run off with a very insincere man who exploited my illness. My husband divorced me as it wasn't the first time I had been unfaithful and I now live apart from my beautiful son and daughter although I still see them regularly. I have found the most wonderful understanding man who doesn't judge me but just listens while I rabbit on and rides the rollercoaster with me. When I hit the 5/6 month phase of depression he takes over when I need him to. I am so lucky to have found him when my life was in total shreds and I was self-harming and on a very manic, destructive road. My heart goes out to you. Please feel free to contact me by email if you need to talk. Big love and strength. Helen x

Hi Helen, just want to ask. I

Hi Helen, just want to ask. I have an ex who was shy quiet and so sweet, but then she pre warned me a manic episode was coming and they upped her meds then within weeks of it she finished with me for no reason, I was nasty to her and vice versa but now 2months later she has died her hair black, got a black nose ring, made friends with a woman she hated, got a new man who clearly isn't her type and she constantly everywhere no longer quiet etc, I last spoke to her last week and she was calling me all sorts and telling me to never contact her else she will have an injunction put on me and that I'm a fantasist for thinking I can get back with her... The way she spoke is like a completely different person, she talks like she some gangster and like really fast with confidence... Like I said she was never like this, my question to you is, will this personality stick or will she return to that quiet shy sweet woman I know and love? I know you can't give certain answers but from experience what do you think?

Alice's blog

My daughter has bipolar and your story could be hers. It's so hard as even now I struggle with her worst times, only because the lovely side of her gets swept away by her mania or depression, we don't see enough of her, and sometimes, sadly we don't see that side for long periods of time. Your words have been so helpful, as it makes me feel compassion instead of sadness and frustration. Please write more'

Loving family

Alice, just remember, your family love you, we love you so go gently on yourself. We'll always be here when you need us. xx

Comforting

Alice I read your blog thinking to myself, "that's me!" - I mean, what you have described being bi-polar is like is so similar to my own experience. I've felt so alone and unable to put things into words, so it is very comforting to read. I am very grateful that you have shared this. I have gone through a tough time recently and you have given me strength.

bi polar disorder

I totally agree , where do you say this is my personality and this is my illness.? I have bi polar 2 disorder and work as a mental health nurse .I dont class myself as ill or not normal in any way .Who makes the decision as to what is normal anyway . ? This is just who I am .... Some days happy manic and confident , some days down withdrawn and lonely in a busy room .But, hey .. with the support network around me my work collegues ( my second family ) ,,, my loving so supportive boyfriend and my kids I lead a very happy fulfilled life .. I do talk about my illness all the time in general conversation as its nothing to be ashamed of or to be hidden . I also feel that talking openly helps some of the patients I work with " normalise " their own lives and help with recovery and confidence . .... Just be yourself no one has the authority to judge or label anyone we are all individual.... Jilly...x

Alice's blog

I'm so enthused about this personal blog. It's made me realise that I am bipolar. For 20 years I have wondered what was wrong...why did I lose it some times. ..was diagnosed with depression 17 yrs ago and on medication but have had manic episodes since...thought I'd lost my mind ...I have lost a relationship with my daughter. ..only my son realised and has said I'm bipolar. I've had so many trips to the doctors and they haven't seen it..but we put on a mask and cover it up. Well done alice...so true. My life story. It's hard to admit and yes people do still judge but... so be it. Keep it real !!

Alice's blog

Alice thankyou so much for sharing your bipolar - it explains mine in a way I couldn't and makes sense of everything I haven't understood . I have lost relationships with family and good friends a marriage and still estranged with my 24yr old daughter did to my illness. I was diagnosed and treated for depression 17 yrs ago but it was never thought I was a manic depressant because I never had illusions of grandeur. My son who is my rock and 20 has researched bipolar and recognises my mania - rages..irrational acts and thinking..incoherent endless talking...a mad look in my eyes..and then the come down afterwards - the endless crying..Shame and despair. I try to keep my life on an even keel to minimise episodes but something's are out of my control. Life for me has to be a routine - not too dull but no unexpected surprises because I know I can't cope with them. This has reflected on many relationships and my only friends are very close and trusted. For many years i have been put down or held at arms length by family. It's only now I realise why because after the manic episodes I have an enept way of not remembering and then shock or denial wen I'm told of how I behaved...actually believing they were over exaggerating my behaviour. I now understand - so thankyou Alice - I will be off to the doctors to be totally honest and hopefully get the medication I need to fully deal with this awful deadly illness. I say deadly because I tried to take my life once but didn't succeed ...but my illness has killed relationships and in a way killed the true me...I am scared to be me sometimes. ..scared of wot I could be capable of !! God bless u Alice - u may well have saved my life by posting your blog.

THANK YOU!

Thank you so much for your post. I can see myself as a young wife at 17 and then 24 after an affair. I can place myself in the same circumstances with irrational, irratic, behavior with my spouses, family and children. I most of all have guilt for the childhood my 4 children survived with my undiagnosed disorder. I too have an estranged son- for past 12 years. I ve lost friends as I was never good at follow through with commitments either with maintaining contact or being dependable. since 1980 have been diagnosed-derpression. just now being diagnosed with bipolar. had to get help because my symptoms after menopause have just gotten worse and worse to a point last fall I could hardly function at all. I had a meltdown at work- so embarrassing. I was sent for evaluation - mental health clinic. I would either be super efficient, going 100 miles a hour starting 10 different projects to never finish 1. i am either a super worker or low energy failure. this was scary as I was afraid I would lose my job. I am now on medication since june 2016 and I am not feeling the manic highs that make me feel so productive, creative, happy, talkative with peers at work. now I can feel myself being more level. I miss the high of mania . I am not feeling depressed to point of not functioning like last year. i continue to isolate, i am afraid of making friends because they will know. i m still a work in progress. thank you again for

Good for you, Alice. You're

Good for you, Alice. You're a ballsy babe. As a fellow BP person, I commend you on an informative and uplifting piece. God bless you.

Bi Polar

I would like to know if this illness makes you undependabke and there has been several times I don't know what is real or not real. When I have a bad episode I do think remember anything people have to tell me how I acted and that us very embarrassing and I have very low esteem am I the only one who feels this way I feel I am broken and can't be fixed. I just wished I would die and save everyone the trouble of worrying about me because I am only a buried to them and I sometimes feel the only excape is to self medicate with other people who have the same problem. Please someone tell me how to get help.

Support

Hi Sandra, it sounds like you're going through a really tough time, I'm sorry to hear that. As an anti-stigma campaign we, aren't able to provide advice on support directly, but there are some really great people out there who can help. We have some links on our website that I hope will be useful to you: http://bit.ly/1SzXo4B Take care, Tim at Time to Change

yep

yes exactly, that's how I feel too. And you can't just say "I was manic", what's done is done.

thanks...

am just start bipolar ii diagnose , after long time only identified it was bipolar ii

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