As very few of you are probably aware, this week is Bi-Polar Awareness Week. In order to better inform you of what it is and what it isn’t I thought I’d give you a brief glimpse into my life and share some of the experiences of living with the condition. Let’s call this my bi-polar ‘coming out’ story…
Firstly, being diagnosed with bi-polar is not a death sentence, nor does it imply that someone has split personalities or that they are demented and crazy. Bi-polar is classified as a medical condition in which people have mood swings out of proportion to the norm, often unrelated to what is going on in their lives.
These mood swings affect thoughts, feelings, physical health, behaviour and functioning. Bi-polar disorder is not anyone’s fault; it occurs due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and is more importantly, treatable.
I was diagnosed in 2004 after… let’s call it an episode. Yes, I was hospitalised in a psychiatric clinic for 21 days – which was, interestingly enough, quite fun: You paint and cut and paste – it’s almost like rediscovering my blissful days at crÃ¨che. Oh did I mention the drugs on call? Group therapy was a bit of a downer though…
After my release, with a Checkers packet full of meds, I was avoided like the plague by friends and family alike. The general perception was that I had a dreaded psychiatric illness and that I could go off my rocker at any point.
It was difficult at first to cope with the realisation that I was now branded with this new label (sound familiar?). The fact that I was on 13 tablets a day probably didn’t help. But, in time, you adjust and you learn how to cope.
Being the proud Afrikaans boy that I am, I withdrew from almost everything for a significant period of time and tried desperately to rebuild my life. “Pick up the pieces along the way,” the saying goes; unfortunately the vast majority of my “friends” ran for the hill the moment they saw me. When we did come face to face it was almost like bumping into your ex with his new boyfriend for the first time; so uncomfortable that you can cut the tension with a knife.
Thank heavens for my mom and my dad during this process; they supported me financially, sometimes physically, and always emotionally.
I was off the social circuit for about two years, mostly, I guess, because I don’t handle rejection very well. In those two years I went for my regular check ups (which is imperative for any bi-polar patient) and had my sessions with a psychologist to work through the copious amounts of bollocks in my life (both those self-induced and those freely provided by society while living from day to day).
“It’s a tunnel with a light at the end; except that light is actually a train waiting to steamroll you…”
So now, you may ask, exactly what does a person with bi-polar actually experience? In answering that question you have to understand that compared to a “normal” individual, our highs are vastly elevated and our lows much lower.
The result is that we don’t really have a consistency of emotion in our lives. We are deemed as intense and fierce in who and what we are; the things that often attract people to us (as long as we don’t mention those dreaded words – “bi-polar”).
Our highs are what are called a “manic” state. During this state I have vast amounts of energy. I can do everything fast; talking, walking, working – and I multi-task better than most women can. I am invincible. I shop not really aware that credit has to be paid back. I don’t shop because I need things or even want them, I just shop. (And, trust me, I can put a serious dent into a small country’s budget.)
During my highs everybody loves me and I them. I try to make friends with everyone; it just comes so much easier during my manic state. I also over-commit to doing things. I know I can do them, and during that high I can do them so much quicker. I love and live intensely, but the reality is that a low is around the corner and it can strike at any moment. It can be triggered by intense emotions, shock or at times it just happens for no obvious reason…
I hate my lows. I feel ashamed and avoid people; I know I shouldn’t be, but there is a sense of being ashamed of me, of what I have and of what people’s reactions will be when they find out. I am also tired. It’s an inexplicable tiredness that drains your body and your soul – it drains the very life from you. It’s a tunnel with a light at the end; except that light is actually a train waiting to steamroll you.
I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone; least of all my boyfriend because then I have to admit that I am not that perfect person that he fell in love with. I cry for no reason. Just watching that puppy-eyed look that Puss-In-Boots gives Shrek in the movie brings me to tears. I am intensely sad to the point that the tears fall from the very pit of my soul. You want to crawl into a hole and not come out. At least, not until you start to feel that high slowly soaking back into your body… and so the cycle starts all over again.
Now you might read this and think to yourself; it’s just another soppy story. But the reality is that 1 in 100 South Africans are diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
Now, dear reader, my intention was never to slap a guilt trip on you. My only aim was to allow you to understand just a little speck of what we with bi-polar experience.
All I ask is that should someone tell you they have bi-polar take a minute to pause. They’re telling you this because they trust you and they feel comfortable enough with who they are to confide in you. (Does this sound familiar?) All they need is for you to love and understand; and if you don’t understand – just keep trying.
For more information on bi-polar disorder and living with bi-polar disorder consult www.bipolar.co.za or www.sadag.co.za.