LIVING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS – 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.

Carrie Fisher

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. This makes it much harder to diagnose because there is no one size fits all set of symptoms to identify.

This makes it harder on the families too, 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 B-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 they were crazy. 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.

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 age 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!



Categories: Ellin Curley, Family, Health, Mental health, Photography, Relationships

Tags: , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Thanks for the post Ellin. BP is a horrible condition. My mother/sister have it. I was like your daughter, avoiding it by adopting other families as my own. I have had to remove myself from their lives altogether for various reasons. It’s been a lifelong struggle to overcome for sure. I’m extremely grateful for the life I have been able to create in spite of this!!! And yes, somehow they are in denial of their condition. It’s actually very sad.

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    • Pam, it must have been awful for you growing up with two bipolar family members. That’s what my daughter and I lived with and it was no picnic. If your mom and sister are still in denial about their condition, you had to cut them out of your life for your own sanity. My son has fortunatley stayed on his meds and worked hard to overcome most of his Bipolar issues. So he is doing well. My ex never accepted or dealt with his condition and refused to stay on meds. So his life was a mess when he died young, at 58. It’s horrible to say, but my kids are better off in some ways without the endless struggle of dealing with their Bipolar dad and his horrific manic episodes.

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      • Thanks for the empathy. I feel like your situation was pretty nightmarish as well. You are a SAINT for trying to make it work for so long. Very glad to hear about your son. That is fantastic!

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  2. Our older daughter married a man who was bipolar. It ended badly and we were lucky that it didn’t end worse. He too, tried to get off his medication.
    Leslie

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    • It’s really weird but not wanting to stay on your meds is actually a symptom of bipolar disorder! They call it “Lithium Aversion”. I think that Bipolar people really believe that they are fine and it’s everyone else who have problems. My ex lost a wife of 25 years and his two kids because he wouldn’t take a pill he believed did absolutely nothing. Then why not just take it to humor everyone else and keep your family?I’m sorry you had to go through the Bipolar experience with your daughter. I’m glad the situation didn’t get too bad for her.

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  3. A good one, Ellin. Thanks. Hope it connects with those who need to hear and understand.

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    • The reason I write personal blogs is that I hope to connect with people having similar issues in their lives. I don’t have a burnng desire to air my dirty laundry. But I think it helps people to hear about others who share their experiences and overcome the problems.

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