Bipolar Disorder

Mental Health & Wellness Ministry   -  

March 31 is World Bipolar Day.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder…from the patient’s perspective
I have lived with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder since I turned 50 years of age. I was not familiar with the illness of bipolar disorder, or with any mental illness. There was no mental illness in my family that I knew about. I had never experienced depression or mania, but out of the blue, I was struck with both. My story is one of healing, hope, and God’s grace and faithfulness to provide both.

The period of my life that I had most dreaded was upon me. As an empty nester, I had raised four children in a home my husband and I had lovingly built. It was a joyous time for me, raising and caring for our family, enjoying a happy marriage, and watching our children thrive as they grew up. Life was perfect until it was not.

My husband sold our home and my last child left for college. It felt different, as though I had been fired from my job for 20 years. No more meals to prepare, laundry to wash, or delicious dinners to prepare and enjoy. I suddenly had no purpose. The curtain of my joy came down the day the movers arrived. The darkness of depression descended upon me. I was enveloped in a vacant void, nothing helped.

Thus began the long quest for healing. Hope was nonexistent as I went from doctor to doctor seeking treatment to restore balance to my life. Many drugs were prescribed to no avail. Finally, after two years, including two hospitalizations, the miracle happened. I found a doctor who was kind, and compassionate, and diagnosed me correctly with bipolar disorder. He explained the illness to me, the causes, and the treatments available. He told me about triggers to be aware of and avoid, such as excessive stress. He encouraged me to appoint someone to tell me if they observed behaviors that indicated an IMBALANCE, whether DEPRESSION or MANIA. With these steps, I began to HEAL and find HOPE. GOD was indeed showing ME His grace.

Today, seventeen years after my initial diagnosis, I am physically and mentally well, and healthy. I take my medication daily, as I learned the hard way not to stop taking it abruptly without my doctor’s approval. I learned that noncompliance with medications can cause a sudden plunge into depression or mania which can and did bring horrible consequences, including guilt and shame.

After this, it became clear to me that I must comply with everything my doctor said. I keep family and friends close, get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, and strive to reduce the stress in my life. I speak to my doctor four to five times a year and know he is available should I need him.

My prayer for all who have this diagnosis is for you to find a good psychiatrist who provides the correct treatment for healing and to have hope. I urge you to keep looking until you find a doctor who understands you and the impact this illness has on your life. You will have to comply, as I have, and seek to avoid the triggers and stress that life will bring. May God lead you to heal as you find hope and have faith in Him.

God bless you,
Debbie Simpson

Understanding Bipolar Disorder…from the family perspective
Growing up with a brother with undiagnosed bipolar disorder was hard –hard on our parents and hard on my three siblings and me. From an early age, his emotions were powerful and hard to deal with. He was always “in trouble.” I would describe him as extremely defiant, or charming as he tried to attain whatever it was that was on his mind at the time. He disobeyed most of the rules that the rest of us were required to follow.

Frequently, he was in trouble at school, at Little League games, or with neighborhood groups as he strived always to have his way. He was expelled from several high schools and colleges but somehow made it through Marine Boot Camp. Multiple times during his teens he was arrested for speeding, drunk driving, and egging the police chief’s daughter’s car. He often talked back to teachers and other authority figures. Our family was always on high alert waiting for the next call “Daddy, I am in trouble!” Once he was arrested twice in a day. Showing little remorse, he thought a lot of the things he did were funny, even if they were overboard or unacceptable.

He was talented, good-looking, bright intellectually, and would do well in school in subjects and with teachers he liked. During his good times as an adult, we observed his big heart in the way he exhibited kindness and generosity through the support of the Boy Scouts, the Nature Conservancy, and other causes. Despite being so difficult at times, he had many friends (and also, many critics, too).

After a discharge from the Marines, he married a wonderful girl and tried to settle down. Things were looking up when he made a second try at college and graduated. Unfortunately, he continued to have car wrecks, drinking problems, and trouble at work (despite being very successful at what he did). Later, he divorced and remarried. The three children from his first marriage grew up to both love him and fear him, not knowing what his mood might be. This, too, was sad because he loved his children and wanted to be a good father. During these early years, we just thought he was rebellious, obnoxious at times, a problem drinker, hard-headed, and his “own worst enemy.” It was hard to watch him self-destruct over and over, but we were powerless to help him.

My brother experienced a horrible wreck at age 26 and almost died. While in treatment at Duke Hospital for several months, a good psychiatrist diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. This diagnosis helped us better understand the “whys” of all his behavioral issues and gave us hope. He was prescribed lithium for 3-4 months and things became much more balanced in his life. Next, he decided he did not need medications and recklessly stopped taking them. He missed the “high energy” mania mood cycling and the creative feelings he enjoyed during those periods. Our mother shared during this time stories about her turbulent childhood living with her bipolar mother, a genetic relationship to my brother’s serious mental illness.

The refusal to comply with taking medication for bipolar disorder led to self-medication with alcohol and later oxycontin. This self-medication was supported by two doctors in the area who were prescribing oxycontin for back pain and injuries from the wreck. He never got better after this. At age 73 he died from issues relating to a back injury, his heart, and alcohol and oxycontin addiction. Watching this family member destroy his life was extremely sad. The moral of this tragic story is to observe family members and help them seek help early if they have behavioral issues. Secondly, take your medication prescribed by the doctor for mental illness. The diagnosis will not go away but you can have a much better life than my brother did.

Holly Blanton, WMPC member