I’ve been doing a lot of thinking while I’ve been resting for the last week. I have been diagnosed with severe bipolar type II, post traumatic stress and a severe anxiety disorder. I’m a real mess, but most people who know me have never known I have any illness at all. I’m very high functioning even when I should not be.
The Many Faces of My Illness
Bipolar Disorder Type II
This type of bipolar is supposed to be the milder form of this illness, but in my case it was not. My depressive episodes left me feeling suicidal most of the time. My hypomanic episodes never even reached normal functioning levels and were short-lived. During my first “vacation” in the psych ward of the hospital when I was diagnosed the psychologist I was working with would look at me and just shake his head as we talked. He finally looked at me and said, “I have to know. Everyone else I have seen in the same condition you are in is dead. Why aren’t you?” This question really surprised me. This is one of the few things I remember from my three-week stay. Probably because I really had to think about the answer. Why was I still alive? I really wanted to be otherwise. I was exhausted (28 days with only an hour or less of sleep a day), heart-sick (my husband of 14 years had just walked out with no warning), and had also just been diagnosed with bipolar, post traumatic stress and severe anxiety.
My answer seemed so simple to me, but really took him back. “For my children I will do anything. Even live.” I had five children who desperately needed me. What would have happened to them if they had gotten up in the morning only to find their mother lying dead in her bed and no other adult in the house? My oldest was only 12 and had just started jr. high. My youngest was just barely 3. Their father had just walked out and they had no way to get hold of him. How could I have left them alone?
20 Years of Study
We traced the progress of the bipolar by the symptoms. What were they? When did they start? When did it get noticeable? When did you notice something was different? Through journal entries and discussions with my mother we estimated that I started having bipolar symptoms when I was about 10 years old. I spent my teenage years learning deep breathing exercises, concentrated relaxation, self-hypnosis and other stress management techniques. This allowed me to have a relatively normal adolescence.
As I graduated high school, got married and started having children I continued my studies. I read magazines, books and anything that I could get my hands on about stress, depression and interpersonal relationships. I studied child development. I learned about the different ways that people learn so I could help my children with their homework. As my symptoms began to get worse I began incorporating what I learned to help me through each day. I taught my children many of these skills to help them with the challenges of growing up.
The Great Lie
Everytime I reached out for help I was told nothing was wrong with me. I got many different answers that all made sense and were partially correct, but not one helped with the real problem. Here are some of the things I was told:
- It’s hormones. You are going through puberty and apparently you are one of the lucky ones who experiences higher than normal hormonal changes. Yeah?!
- You are doing too much. You need to cut down on your activities and be more realistic about what you can do.
- You are overly tired. You need to get more sleep.
- You are pregnant. Hormones do weird things when you are pregnant.
- You just had a baby. It’s probably post partum depression.
- You have several small children. You need to find time for yourself.
- It’s all in your head. You just need to relax and not stress over every little thing.
Where these true? Yes, every one of them. Were they the problem? No. They were just life. This did, however, make me question the reality of what I was really feeling. If this was really all it was, why were my reactions so extreme? As things continued to get worse I struggled on alone. My husband left the house when I tried to talk to him about it. He would get angry and tell me I was being a martyr, that it was all in my head, that I was doing it to get attention. He began yelling and became emotionally abusive. Then, one day, he just walk out and refused to help me.
Vacation in the Psych Ward
I was now so sick that I could not function. I was not sleeping, eating or talking. I was crying. A lot. I spent hours doing mindless activities. I interacted with my children as well as I could, but the whole time I felt I was letting them down. I couldn’t be the mother they needed.
This was when I finally was diagnosed and given medication. It took three weeks to get me stable enough to go home. They would have liked to keep me longer, but the insurance would not pay for any more. I spent another week there a few months later. I joked that I had needed a tune-up.
Time to Heal
It has been a long 16 year journey from then to now. There have been several times when my doctor or therapist was concerned about whether or not I would make it through. They began suggesting that I claim disability over 13 years ago. It took 12 years for me to finally stop to rest. Why was I able to fight and function for all these years? Many people I knew didn’t even get out of bed or leave their home. Why have I been able to refuse death when by all rights I should not have been able to? The doctors cannot answer any of these questions. The only answer that I can give is the same on I gave all those years ago.
For my children, I will do anything. Even live.
I chose to live for my children. Not just survive to be a physical but comatose presence in their lives, but to be their mother. To be actively involved. To give them the life they deserved. To be there for them whenever they needed me. To fight for them when no one else would. I’m not perfect and I have fallen down many times. But I keep getting up. I keep trying and that is all that matters.