I recently told a new friend and neighbor that I manage a diagnoses of Bipolar I with psychosis and rapid cycling. I explained that I haven’t been symptomatic in a long time and that vigilant compliance to my health care regime is key to thriving – as is support. I asked if she had questions and we talked a lot. It was a very open, honest conversation, Jesica was extraordinarily receptive and filled with empathy.
But there’s something I’m not telling you. Something that relates directly to having a mental illness. It’s the weight I’ve gained from taking medication that is causing these aches and pains. It’s the hunger that comes with some medications and the lack of direction on how to avoid that weight gain. Now I’m on the warpath about weight gain and how unnecessary it is for those of us who take medication and who are experiencing these bad side-effects.
I share these symptomatic stories in an effort to better define for you the meaning of bipolar psychosis. But for me, these memories are like a string around my finger, helping me remember why it’s so important to stay healthy. Knowing I’ve survived this experience humbly makes me proud. For 18 years I’ve held these memories close, because returning to planet mania is not an option.
I’ve retooled a few coping skills for managing my currently stressful, topsy-turvy life. A diagnosis of bipolar doesn’t own me – it’s something in my life that I manage carefully. In this new frontier, it’s my responsibility to put this transition in perspective, keeping stress at bay and watching for telltale signals that my disorder could rear its ugly head again. Every day is different, but understanding how enormous change affects me is critical to maintaining my health.
My husband and I raised a seemingly happy, healthy, and talented son, who flourished throughout his childhood until his freshman year of college. Beneath his tall, handsome, athletic, easy-going exterior was constant emotional turmoil. To everyone else, he was called the “golden boy” and it seemed like he had it all, but inside he was struggling with crippling swings of anxiety and depression.
My father was dead at 51, a casualty of the manic depression he had fought for years. The New York Times, citing its suicide policy, declined to print his obituary. He lived in a time when mental illness was an embarrassment for families and a weakness for men. For Dad it was a crushing blow. He had left Harvard early to join the marines, and flew dive-bombers in the Pacific. He came home from the war to a different world, a wife, two small children, no money and bipolar disorder. He prided himself on his toughness and never discussed his demons.
Please keep in mind that my experience with bipolar disorder has only enhanced my empathy and humanity, which make me an even better colleague and communicator. In truth, my journey to mental health sustainability is a gift I can use to make valuable contributions to our society – and, not least, to your organization.