Sunday, January 6, 2013
Bipolar Doesn't Mean Quack To Me
an affective disorder characterized by periods of mania alternating with periods of depression, usually interspersed with relatively long intervals of normal mood. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bipolar+disorder
I've been wanting to write about bipolar disorder for a long time now. I personally don't suffer from it but my best friend and identical twin does (same person most of the time). This by no means is a medical or scientific post about what it means to be bipolar - it's my Barbservations only. Once I made up my mind to write about this very personal subject I asked not once, not twice, but three times if my sister was okay with me writing this post. She said "what did I answer last night?"...no really, she did. Don't worry folks...she said yes most of the time!
Bipolar disorder is nothing to take lightly, but over the years of learning about it and living with it through my sister I have found it not only wise but necessary to look for the lighter side of this disorder in an effort to live a happy life. But before I get into the anecdotal side of bipolar world, I think I should write about the darker side that we all try to hide from her, her from us, and us from the world. Bipolar disorder is one of the worst chemical imbalances diagnosed to date and her diagnosis is second only to schizophrenia. See, there are several levels of this disorder and unlike cake the more levels doesn't equal better. I have learned that living with this disorder is not only mentally crippling, it is potentially as deadly as any terminal disease. There is no cure; only the persons willingness to survive and their drive to live will carry them through life. My sister is a winner on every level and continues to fight for her life. I remember when she was first diagnosed we were told that our family should consider ourselves lucky because she wasn't self-medicating, living on the street or already dead. Well, how does one digest that information? How about having the person diagnosed sitting across from you in a Starbucks sharing the news like it's the punchline in life's little joke. On top of that, how could we not have all the hope in the world when we could look around my sisters life and clearly see that she had an awesome kid and great job that she kicked butt at everyday and simultaneously remained family oriented more so than most anybody? That's not to say she didn't have her moments where the dark took over. There were times that we couldn't reach her on the phone, get a response on email or even find her. It takes a very long time to find the right amount of each medicine to keep the dark at bay...and not really even at bay, more like help in choking down the dark emotions that hide her from us. My sister, in my opinion, made a conscience decision to keep living in "our" world where she could have friends, family, support and love. Before the days where she could count on her medicine to help with the darkness, my sister went to many bad places in her own head but fought tooth and nail to climb back to us and be with us. This is not the easy way for a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder; it would be much easier for her to lose all sense of self and look to drugs, alcohol, etc to help her make it from day to day. She chose to take control for herself and for her family and for that she is a fighter and I admire that. There were days that I'd get so mad at her that I couldn't see straight and until I realized that she wasn't just being flippant or rude I would rail on her about not getting back to me. But eventually I would realize that she actually didn't remember our plans or conversations that we had just the night before. During the long years of pre-diagnosis, incorrect diagnosis', wrong medicines, and wrong levels of correct medications it was a hard time for the whole family but little did I know how far back the symptoms started. I found out only recently that my mom would drive my sister around when she was angry beyond consolation back when we were in high school. I seriously had no idea! Any negative moods I saw I just chalked up to teenage angst. That's also a hat-tip to my wonderful parents who showered love and patience (and believe me, that had to be a tough thing to do) on my sister even during her "angry moments" and taught both their children the value of owning ones actions - we learned about consequences and that's something that I fear is missing in a lot of our younger generation today. Once graduation happened we only saw each other on weekend getaways and such and those seemed to be her manic times now that I reflect on the past. My sister would want to shop and eat out and have all kinds of fun and I was in for that ride for certain! I remember thinking one time that my sister was the most fun and generous person in the world. But when it got worse and more frequent she would call and ask me what we spent money on the day before..."What? Aren't you wearing the new shirt you bought?" Turns out, she hadn't ever taken what she bought out of her car! I got really good at returning items that had never even been out of the shopping bag for her. The excitement of our visits seemed to trigger her "highs" and I had no idea for a long, long time. When we were together she was like a candle burning too brightly at both ends - and eventually she'd burn out every night and retreat into sleep. She didn't get her worst until her mid-twenties and that's when the family rallied and my parents found a great specialist for her instead of watching her drift out of our lives so we could just sit around and worry about her not knowing where or how she was living. It was really rough on all of us but of course on her the most. She stuck with us though and I still have my sister! And I can tell you that we annoyed the hell out of her so I'm super proud of her. It's hard to know where to draw the line when micro-managing another persons emotional state!
It's really easy to get frustrated at someone that's been diagnosed with a disorder that can literally have them take unannounced sporadic bouts of absence from your life. You decide that "one more time" they don't show up or forget they promised to come over you're gonna let them have it. But you don't - if you truly love that person you take a deep breath and thank the Heaven's above that they can still come to see you when they do! At most you beg them to get help and to please not disappear again. My sister is like anyone else sometimes too - she just wants to sit on her couch and enjoy a movie instead of texting all night or updating her status on social networks. But when you've been labeled with a disorder such as bipolar disorder people are quick to jump on that as a reason you're not in a good mood, just want to chill all night, don't answer the phone or cancel on plans. Sometimes just relaxing sounds more enticing to anyone, not just the chemically imbalanced. And that brings me to one of the worst parts of being bipolar...other people! One of the reasons my sister did her best to hide her disorder is because those that don't think past their own views use that to shut her down - "Well, I can't argue with you, you're bipolar and you'll never see my point!" or "you don't agree with me because your meds have worn off for the day!". Heck, some people (and I've been guilty of this in the past) refuse to argue or will agree with anything to avoid setting the bipolar girl off. Well, she's not a time bomb! If you're an idiot you're gonna piss anyone off and she's no different. One of the most crippling effects of being bipolar is how others treat you. My sister isn't a perfect person and neither are we; if my bipolar twin can take ownership of her disorder and treat others with respect and know when it's appropriate to voice her opinion and when it's wise to keep her mouth shut (not to mention also excelling in her fast-paced job) then how is it that those of us that don't have chemical imbalances not know how to utilize common sense and social grace? I know I've been labeled as obsessive compulsive but that's nothing compared to bipolar disorder and I would be ashamed if I used my disorder as an excuse to show my arse when my own sister is controlling her actions and reactions better than a lot of people I know.
If you want to live life at the fullest, I believe that it's best to find the humor in everything. Don't you remember the funny things that someone did even after their passing? I remember when my Grandpapa passed away that my sister and I found comfort in laughing about how he would point out an animal by telling us the sound it would make before what it was. "Awww, look there girls! It's a moo-cow!" Or how he would always order us double what we wanted from Arby's because his philosophy was the more the better. I loved that! And when my Grandma passed my husband and I chuckled about how she would threaten to "peench" him if he touched her hair since it had to last another few days. Ahhh, my husband loved pretending that he was going to ruffle her hair up. Anyway, my point is that if we let sorrow swallow us then what kind of life is left for us to live? Hey, maybe it's just our coping mechanism but whatever, it works for us and it helps us heal in most any situation...even finding out that you've been diagnosed with something as scary as bipolar disorder. Some of the more humorous (and scary at the time) moments of our lives riddled with her disorder was when she'd show up at my house at two in the morning - I had no idea that I was indeed ready for a cup of coffee. She was right, it tastes best when it's not needed to function for the day. I kinda miss the days when we'd go shopping when she was manic...my closet seems to be missing a few items. And I'm super sorry that the new medication took away her desire to show me new dance moves...MC Hammer had nothing on my sister! I still don't understand why she started crying when I attempted that last dance move she tried to teach me called the Roger Rabbit. Wait, I think she would have cried even if she weren't chemically imbalanced. My favorite game to play were the times when her medication would wear off and she'd repeat herself well over four times during a conversation - I'd change my response each time! 'Course she sometimes messed with me and repeated herself on purpose just to turn the game around on me...nice one Sister!
Jennifer, I'm so proud of you and I love you very much. Don't ever stop taking your medication because life wouldn't be the same without you in it.
Bipolar disorder is nothing to laugh at but the person who has it is. Own your issues and try as hard as you can to take control of your actions. And don't forget to laugh at yourself as much as possible!