LIVING WITH BI-POLAR PEOPLE by ELLIN CURLEY

Carrie Fisher was bi-polar. To her credit, she talked about her condition openly and honestly. She brought attention to the disorder and tried to reduce the stigma associated with this, as well as other, mental illnesses. It’s sad that we need celebrities with diseases to increase public awareness about their given malady. But mental illnesses are inherently hard to diagnose, treat and talk about. So as long as people get educated about them, I guess it doesn’t matter how or why.

I have an unwanted and involuntary expertise in Bi-Polar Disorder. Both my ex husband and my son had/have the disease (my ex is deceased). Each of them manifested the condition differently – my ex was mostly manic and my son was mostly depressed. One of the most difficult aspects of this disorder is the fact that it can look so different in different people. It makes it much harder to diagnose because there is no “one-size fits all” set of symptoms by which to identify the condition.

bi-polar-masks

It also makes it harder on the families, who don’t always get the support they need from the medical community. It also makes it easier for the bi-polar person to deny that they have an identifiable syndrome that requires treatment. This denial is very common in Bi-Polar Disease. Also common is the refusal to stay on medication. These factors just add to the difficulties and pain of the family members.

The families of bi-polar sufferers feel different from other families. We know that other families’ lives are not fraught with the unpredictability, volatility and often violence (emotional if not physical) that ours are. We seem to be the only ones living on a roller coaster. We feel inferior, ashamed and isolated. Family members, me included, try to ‘cover up’ the problem and cover for the often inappropriate behavior of the bi-polar loved one. I made countless excuses for the actions and absences of my ex. My daughter tried to avoid the issue altogether by going to friends’ houses and never having friends come to ours when Daddy was ‘off’ or ‘acting up’.

When you live with a bi-polar person, you wonder what’s wrong with you that you live like this. You wonder why you aren’t like other people. Your ego and self-esteem suffer. This is particularly devastating for kids. My kids are in their 30’s and are still dealing with these issues. They are moving on from some questionable relationship choices they made in the past because of their lingering psychological demons.

On the other hand, denial and defending are also big parts of life with a bi-polar person. While married to my ex, after one of his particularly bad manic episodes, I was advised by psychiatrists to go to a program for abused spouses. I thought that was ridiculous. I was in therapy already and I was clearly not in that pathetic category! That label did not apply to me! Of course I didn’t go. I often wonder what would have been different in my life if I had received the support and empowerment I needed at that point in time. I now realize that the whole family needs support and treatment specifically designed to deal with the mentally ill family member. My individual therapy was not enough.

The faces of comedy, tragedy and more in an ancient relief

The faces of comedy, tragedy and more in an ancient relief

Today, there are claims that too many people are being labeled ADHD or Bi-Polar, that it’s become a psychiatric fad to assign mental illness labels to people and ply them with drugs. To me, it’s better to spread a wide net to catch all the people with serious issues and get them the treatment they need. You’re not going to be misdiagnosed if your behavior is perfectly within the range of normal. Something is going on if a doctor thinks you might be bi-polar! If it’s not manic depression, then it certainly is something else that needs attention and possibly medication. Sometimes the only way to come up with an effective treatment is by experimenting.

I became very pro-active psychiatrically. My daughter started to have panic attacks at the age of eleven and I got her on medication immediately. She is grateful to me that she never had to go through the torture of years of horrible anxiety symptoms. She would not have been able to function effectively through school and in jobs without her anxiety meds. I couldn’t get my ex to stay on meds and get a stable life. But at least I got my daughter on medication early so she had fewer issues getting through life than she would have without my early intervention. At least I have one psychiatric success story to brag about!

14 thoughts on “LIVING WITH BI-POLAR PEOPLE by ELLIN CURLEY

  1. What a rich narrative on the courage friends and family of someone with a mental illness must have. You have many successes to brag about…your daughter got help soon and that is so great. So many young people don’t get the help they need until they are much older because sometimes their parents think they are not serious. Good on you for that! You are also spreading this awareness by being brave enough to share your story. Thank you for that.

    You have also added another important piece I cannot help but mention. Many partners in relationships do not always realize the any kind of violent outbursts and attack on the self-esteem of the other partner needs help. It does not have to be physical violence either. I hope people read this and learn through your experience…thanks again. May I reblog this to my blog http://www.stigmahurtseveryone.info?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry you’ve had to go through all of this. Mental illness runs in my family–schizophrenia, not ADHD. Having a family member with a mental illness changes every aspect of your life. Most people can’t even fathom the long-term effects.

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    • An excellent piece, Ellin. One of my early relationships was with a young woman who was bi-polar. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what was going on until it was too late.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The takeaway today though is that there is lots of support and treatment out there for all kinds of mental issues. You don’t have to suffer alone or in silence. There are support groups too for the family members of mentally ill people, who suffer almost as much as the patient. They also need guidence on how to deal with their own feelings as well as advice on how to handle the affected person.

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  3. I understand how tough it can be to be a family member of a person with bipolar disorder. I didn’t get the help I needed for my bipolar disorder until I’d completely ruined my relationship with my first husband and two of my children (both adults now). I can tell them I’m sorry until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t erase the memories of manic me.

    Anyway, it’s a devastating mental illness that’s confusing and terrifying for not only the person suffering it, but for family and friends too. I feel for you and what you went through.

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    • I am so touched to hear such understanding from a bipolar sufferer. It’s never too late. My children maintained a relationship with their bipolar father even after we divorced. It wasn’t always easy but they got a lot of help and support from me and from professionals. It must feel awful to look back at the ‘manic you’ and realize the damage you did to people you loved. I hope you have decent relationships with your children now. They have to give you major props for the insight and empathy you have now. I commend you.

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