Mission Impossible

Sarah Ellen newA mother recently asked for my help regarding my personal experiences living with bipolar disorder as well as some hopeful thoughts as though I am some sort of model for recovery.

You see, her daughter has recently been diagnosed with the illness and is having difficulty accepting treatment.  Such as blowing off her therapist, resisting medication (while attending appointments and still taking the meds, just met with much resentment).  Jordan, the daughter, I have never directly talked to as she is very hesitant to talk to me and has never met or talked to anyone with a mental illness.  I have talked to the mother several times who was referred to me through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

The mother like many people I have come across in the past through NAMI see one side of me, the outer exterior which appears that I have it all together.  The part of me that has accepted my illness.  The side that is not afraid to advocate for myself and others.   Yes, I have held steady jobs since my diagnosis, I have maintained a relationship and got married.  I volunteered actively with a mental health organization. I graduated college.

As I email this mother with my experiences, and speak to her on the phone I try to remember what got me through those difficult times when I was first diagnosed, what Jordan is going through.  I tell her it will get easier with time.  That the first step is acceptance.  That I came to a realization at some point within that first year.  Then I start to wonder.  Have I accepted this? I sometimes think to myself, I am just like anyone else just with a slight brain dysfunction.   I want to accept that this is who I am, with all my successes and failures.

How many times have I told others in my support groups, public speaking, classes, mentoring, that the diagnosis does not define you? Yet we are expected to live a lifetime of behavior changes, mood swings, medication side effects/changes, days without sleep, lost relationships, etc., all the while maintaining that this is part of our lives and try to move on?  I am at a loss right now of what to tell this mother, I want to tell her that it gets easier.  Although you learn to live with this to some extent, I have in no sense “recovered” as some people might say.  My symptoms despite medications are at times just as terrifying and life altering as they were ten years ago before my diagnosis.  It is just that now I am more aware of them.

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3 thoughts on “Mission Impossible

  1. Hi! It’s great to see a new writer! And I’m so glad to have met a real life advocate. I aspire to be that one day.

    I have some ideas on what you could tell her mother. Now, I’m not sure about Jordan’s particular situation, so I’m not sure how these will apply.

    It does get better in a sense, you’re right. But what makes it better, in the relative sense, is that it becomes more stable. However, it takes some time, a lot of soul searching, and the right mix of meds taken consistantly.

    For Jordan, she has met this with a great amount of animosity. When I started treatment, I was very discouraged and overwhelmed by the enourmity of it all. My Pdoc put it this way: “If you had diabetes, you’d take insulin and change your lifestyle. If you had high cholesterol, you’d take statins and change your lifestyle. Bipolar disorder is no different.” He equated it to a serious physical illness that required life long treatment. It made me feel a little better, like it wasn’t actually me. It was just something defective in my body. And that’s OK.

    But I will bet that she’s bursting with emotion and uncertainty right now. What she needs more than anything is the ability to be completely honest and to find effective and healthy coping strategies.

    It does not define me. It is a part of me, yes. I can not deny that. Have I lost things and people dear to me because of it? Yes. I failed out of college once after putting in three years. I got fired from a job once because I couldn’t stop myself from having a serious screaming fit, complete with swear words.

    But do you know what? No defeat is the ultimate defeat, as long as you’re always willing to fight the good fight. I married the man of my dreams (and nightmares! LOL!). We had a beautiful son together. I found the perfect job and stepped into the beginning of a great career. But, if you even skim through my blog, it’s definitely not happily ever after. Even for the “norms”, there is no such thing.

    Oh, and let Jordan know this new emerging fact. Recent research has found that people often misrepresent themselves as being happier and better off than they actually are. That leads to others diminishing their own self-worth in comparison. So, if Jordan thinks all of her friends are doing fantastic and she’s a wreck, she’s dead wrong. I mean, who is really 100% honest about what’s actually going on in their lives on FB anyway?

  2. Hi, Sarah Ellen. Great post! I think it’s great you reach out through NAMI.

    Of course while I was reading your post I was reflecting on how I felt when first diagnosed.
    Personally, I hated it when people would try and sugar coat what it is to be Bipolar and tell me I could ‘recover’ and have a ‘normal’ life. If someone had just leveled with me and told me what you said in your concluding paragraph, I would have come to terms with everything a heck of a lot quicker.

    “Although you learn to live with this to some extent, I have in no sense “recovered” as some people might say. My symptoms despite medications are at times just as terrifying and life altering as they were ten years ago before my diagnosis. It is just that now I am more aware of them.”

    Amen. Well said.

    Just being *aware* that it’s the illness causing the ‘abnormal’ thoughts and behavior is a relief. Awareness sometimes perpetuates acceptance. I hope that eventually this will be what happens to Jordan.

    Best of luck!!

  3. I was going to say what ManicMuses said, more or less. I think awareness is huge, because ultimately awareness leads to acceptance. It may take time, it may take years, but I think it becomes inevitable in all but a very few individuals. And I think awareness plus acceptance equals a form of self-therapy in many.

    Wonderful post, I’m excited to see someone who has been involved in outreach add her voice.

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