This post is based on personal experience. There are references to suicide.
Reader caution is strongly advised.
If you are suicidal, please contact your local suicide hotline for support and advice.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
For those of you who have received a diagnosis of Bipolar in the past twelve months, no doubt you have experienced a wide range of emotions. Particularly those who have struggled with mania and/or depression, whether it be five, ten or twenty plus years, to finally have a diagnosis that explains and possibly justifies periods of erratic behavior followed by periods of poor functioning that accompanies the depression side of things, a feeling of relief isn’t all that uncommon, based on what I have experienced and learned about others through their own personal testimony.
I would say that the events surrounding a person being diagnosed are traumatic to say the least. When a diagnosis is finally made, the relief a person can feel could just about wash away all the pain and suffering encountered prior to this. Finally there is an explanation, a reason that can explain what couldn’t be explained in the past. The feeling of relief is most deserved, but unfortunately it gives way to a grieving process. Support and understanding are of utmost importance during this period that could range anywhere from two to twelve months, even longer. In my case it took me more than a year to find my feet again. Support and understanding were non existent. And it almost cost me my life.
Before I go back to the dark days of 2006 when I was first diagnosed at age 29, I would like to identify the five stages of grief and how they could apply in a Bipolar sense. It begins when initial relief, turns into complete disbelief.
Denial – “Why me? Surely not! There has to be another reason!” – Denial is a natural reaction. Everything we know to be true is being challenged and it’s fine to ask questions. Learning as much as you can about this illness helps to gain some perspective and know what you’re up against.
Anger – “Are you fucking serious? What did I do to deserve this? This is bullshit and I want nothing to do with it” – Channeling your anger in a constructive way is important here. You don’t want your anger being destructive by lashing out at others or acting out. Scream into a pillow or find a punching bag (a real one) to bash the shit out of. Your target should not be other people.
Bargaining – “If only I could do such and such, this wouldn’t be a problem. I would give anything to not be in this position” – Anger gives way to trying to find a way out of a tough situation. Know your limitations and try not to set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations.
Depression – “I give up! I’m a horrible person. I don’t deserve anything good in life. I would be better off not being here anymore” – This stage is the scariest in my view. We are at our most vulnerable during this stage and having the right kind of support is really important. Remaining safe is key. It is most important that you reach out if you are not feeling safe. It is not uncommon for another hospital inpatient stay to occur during this stage.
Acceptance – “I know what I’m up against. I might not be completely okay with that, but now I know what I need to do, in order to make sure this illness doesn’t get the better of me” – This stage is all about managing the illness. Find a good psychiatrist to help you with medications. Engage in therapy if and when you’re comfortable to do so. Find a support group, even if it’s purely online. Engage with others in similar positions and learn from those who have years of experience managing and living with Bipolar Disorder.
The process of going through the five stages of grief is extremely difficult and draining. Patience is an absolute virtue and it’s really important that you give yourself as much time as necessary to get your head around everything that has happened. Try to minimize feelings of guilt. You can’t change the past. Concentrate your focus and energy on the future. Further challenges lay in wait, make no mistake. Bipolar is not an easy illness to live with, but with decent management and practical things in place, like a secure roof over your head, stable diet, a little bit of exercise and trying to enjoy some of the more simple things in life, all can go along way to being well and truly on the path to recovery. Maintain hope for the future and give yourself every chance to stay on top of this illness. Mood fluctuations will still occur, although the severity of these fluctuations will hopefully be far less extreme than in the past.
There is no black and white, especially when it comes to Bipolar Disorder. Different things will work for different people. The key is to find what best works for you. And always stay true to yourself in the process.
For some, even years after this grieving process is done and dusted, fluctuating between, anger, depression and acceptance can still occur. Denial becomes a thing of the past and bargaining goes beyond being futile. However the other three stages can still be prevalent with certain mood phases. Such is the nature of this illness. Try to be as kind to yourself as possible when things become difficult. Never give up on hope and never stop reaching out for support and guidance.
*I have decided to break this post up into two different parts. Part 2 will cover my personal experience after I was diagnosed. It won’t come as easily as Part One. Alot of what is written in this first part, comes with benefit of hindsight. My own experience was a very difficult time in my life and easily the darkest. I am not looking forward to writing about it, as this is a time I am forever keen to forget.*