Last Updated on Sun Jun 20, 2021 by JR Rioux
I’ll be up-front about it, having bipolar sucks. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Like with schizophrenia and schizo-effective disorder, someone can start out perfectly normal, then suddenly have their lives spin out of control. A promising graduate from Brown, living in a world mixed of reality and delusion. A husband comes to after trying to strangle his wife, signaling his inheritance of the family schizophrenic disease. Geniuses, artists, performers – people of extreme potential and other regular people, struck down by disease that isn’t always easy to manage, and it is not always possible to do. Some need to be institutionalized for life, but the mental health system in this country sucks, and many end up in low income housing, barely scraping by or out on the streets and ignored by society as a whole. In case you didn’t know – there aren’t many hospitals who can take non-paying patients, especially when they are often rather crowded.
If you didn’t know, being disabled doesn’t mean you get money. I mean, you do, but it’s not that much. If you haven’t been able to work for more than a few years, you can only get SSI. On SSI, you are, in most places, living off less than $1000 a month. Every penny is budgeted. Food is often planned for the whole month at a time, and cash is a luxury once bills are paid. So, getting hospitalized is an expense you can afford, because the MediCaid programs usually pay far less than the full amount, leaving the impoverished unable or unwilling to risk the expense. Since most can’t afford a decent car if one at all, transportation can be a major issue when seeking or receiving health care.
Between the delusional highs and suicidal lows, bipolar can ruin your life. Especially if it takes a long time to stabilize you and you are prone to anxiety attacks. Unfortunately, anything can trigger a dramatic response that is not always within your control. Finding out my father killed himself less than a decade after my brother’s dead completely messed up my brain chemistry. It took over a year to get me stabilized again. In between then and now, things would come out of my mouth that either didn’t make sense or were hurtful or angry. Sadly, I have no real control over it. Socializing is a nightmare, and my paranoia keeps me largely isolated. Part of my brain is always on super high alert, constantly alert to threats or danger. But, some of that is also the PTSD. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish which condition is to blame for things.
My bipolar is currently treated with 5 different medications, one of which is also used to help control the pain of my fibromyalgia. These meds, or others when these stop working, have to be taken every single day, some day and night, for the rest of my life. Of course, as it does, one day my medication will stop working altogether and I will have to deal with getting re-balanced as we shift and tweak what medication combinations are used to control it. The downside of these medications can be fatigue or you could become emotionally disconnected. Neither are fun, and it’s part of why bipolar patients are at risk for suddenly stopping their medications abruptly and sometimes become violent or just disappear.
Bipolar sufferers are the most likely to commit suicide. As in, they are most likely to try and succeed.
There are 3 primary types of bipolar. There is one where they might be suicidally depressed with episodes where they are a little overly energetic. The second is the opposite. Normally elevated, energetic, but crashing down into sadness, but not serious depression. Then, there is my type. Highly manic or deeply depressed. In my most manic states, I can become delusional, feeling omnipotent and the smartest, most clever, most talented person in the entire world. You can achieve anything, you have grandiose ideas and your speech is rapid. The depressed states are the lowest of the low, where you feel like you’re suck at the bottom of a big black hole and all you want is to die, seeing and hearing everyone in your head telling you what a piece of garbage you are (hallucinations). During either time, you have no impulse control. You hurt the people around you.
And that’s the worst part.
No matter what version you have, it blows. But, the more advanced the form, the more difficult it is to find an appropriate treatment or support. I feel I am fortunate to be in an area where I am getting the appropriate help. I wish I could have gotten it earlier. I wish we all could have gotten it earlier. Maybe things could have been completely different. For all of my family. Perhaps they’d even still be alive. Maybe we wouldn’t have lost and wasted so many years. But alas…
The worst part about being bipolar is the complete lack of control. With mine, it was like being on a never ending roller coaster of emotions, thoughts, and energy levels. Not only is it exhausting, it’s frustrating. Sometimes what comes out of my mouth isn’t what I wanted to say, and sometimes I don’t even realize what’s coming out of my mouth until long afterward. If my brain gets too wound up, no one can make sense out of what I say. It’s like… chunks of multiple thought patterns are somehow coming out simultaneously, with only a few words of each in the sentence in seemingly random orders. Medicated, I can at least keep track of my thoughts, but there are still times I simply cannot control my impulsivity. In my younger days, I was periodically prone to threats or violence. Depending on where and how I was living, I may not waste time with threats.
One of the worst parts as far as day-to-day life goes, is that I couldn’t keep a job. That impulsivity I mentioned? Yeah… something would piss me off or frustrate me too much, I’d just leave. I’m not proud of it, but I could only manage to talk myself down before I would just get fed up and leave. Jobs were a dime a dozen, and any drop-out could get pretty much any standard job in a heartbeat. The number of jobs you had was less important that the experience you’d obtained. But, this was all long before minimum wage got to $6 an hour.
This also meant I was always living in poverty. No money, no health care. No health care, the worse it gets. Oh, yes – the longer you go without treatment, the more advanced your condition will get. I may have been finally diagnosed in my 30’s, but I was in my 40’s before I was put on effective medication. I spent a bit of time in a couple mental hospitals in my 30’s, as they tried to get me settled back down so I didn’t stab myself in the throat when no one was around. I moved to Maine and got a Psych nurse, then suddenly all my psych meds were changed and I could feel the difference in less than 3 months. About 4 years ago was the first time I got reasonably level, then realized all the hurt I had caused over the years and spent months living in a perpetual state of regret.
That’s what started my slippery fall toward the end of 2019, but nothing could prepare me for my dad’s suicide, only a couple of months into the following year. Suddenly, my meds didn’t work anymore. I was unhinged, just like before I was ever medicated. I was wound up, angry, heartbroken, resentful, and everything else all at the same time. It wasn’t until I returned to Maine that knew I needed to call my shrink and alert him to what was going on. We decided I should do therapy to help deal with the loss, while he worked on tweaking the levels of my medication, a little at a time.
It was bound to happen, and it will happen again, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Medications don’t work forever, and they can suddenly stop working for no apparent reason. And it starts all over again and again, and again. One day you’re find, the next, you are out of your mind. It’s a horrible fate I would wish on no one. I hate taking all these pills, and I’ve just stopped taking them before – a common issue with bipolar patients, largely due to the side effects, which can honestly suck. You sometimes can’t really feel anything, unless it’s powerful. No joy, no peace, no contentment… just the big ones. Though, don’t ask me to describe happiness. It’s such a rare, fleeting thing, it seems as though it’s never happened. I can fake it really well, though. I’ve had a lot of practice. My dad was a preacher, after all.