Dealing with Grief in a Bipolar World: Part 3

TRIGGER WARNING!

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 Third and Final Part

Being as manic as I was, I had no problems making friends while I was in hospital. For the first two weeks, I continued in this highly manic state. To assist in bringing me back down, I recall having two injections of what I think was Haloperidol. Both occasions induced a massive sleep of 18 hours plus, and left me extremely groggy until the effects of the injection had worn off. Once the mania had ceased, there was a major crash in my mood and only then, did I begin to realize the level of destruction that had occurred. I became withdrawn from just about everybody. Internally I was riddled with guilt and shame about everything I had done. I was also terrified because I had no place to go beyond hospital. I vaguely remember being told I was Bipolar and there was some relief to finally have an explanation for everything that couldn’t be explained prior. But the mess that had been made was far greater than anything that had happened in the past, and I had serious difficulty getting my head around everything that transpired. The worst was yet to come and I couldn’t have been more ill equipped and less prepared for any of it.

Being of no fixed address, the hospital provided me with an outreach service to assist in finding accommodation. By the time I was ready for discharge, I was placed into a boarding house which was terrifying to say the least. I was also extremely depressed and no longer on an anti-depressant for fear that I would become manic again. I was in a very poor state, butĀ  at the same time, I was also keen to leave the hospital. So off I went. I lasted two nights at the boarding house before I packed up everything and went to stay with my Mother. I felt like there was no other option at the time, but due to the state I was in, I also had no idea what to do beyond that. With a high dose of mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, I slept for approximately 15-18 hours a day. Mum lived in a one bedroom flat and within time, the environment became toxic for both us. Mum was full of care at first, but over time, she became increasingly aggressive towards me and in then end I was forced to leave. Four months had passed and I was still in very poor shape.

*TRIGGER WARNING – THERE IS TALK OF SUICIDE DURING THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS. READER DISCRETION IS STRONGLY ADVISED*

During that time, I made an attempt to commit suicide. Had my mother not found me and called an ambulance, I’m fairly sure I would have died. When I got back the following day, my chest was very sore, and I came to the assumption that resuscitation attempts had been made. Looking back, why the hospital would discharge me, despite giving me the option of being transferred to psych, is beyond me. I had spent weeks crying out for help, only to be turned away on multiple occasions. There is a lot to be said about the public mental health system in this country. And most of it is not very kind whatsoever.

Despite a reluctance to have me there, my brother took me in after I was forced to leave my mothers place. He facilitated the rental of a caravan which I stayed in for approximately six weeks before ending up back in hospital for the third time in six months. Despite being in a depressed state, my brother was puttingĀ  pressure on me to find another place to live. I took another overdose and he had no hesitation in saying that I was not welcome back after I had done so. It was the day before New Years Eve. This time I wanted to be in hospital. I knew I wasn’t well. I also knew that nobody knew how to deal with me. The pain of not receiving adequate support during this time still cuts deep to this very day.

I have no contact with my family today. Having no family in my life hurts deeply. But the reality is, I am much safer this way.

During the third hospital admission, I was placed on an anti-depressant and began to improve. An offer of stable accommodation with a retired gentleman was offered to me and after three weeks, I was once again discharged. I continued to sleep for more hours than I was awake. Thankfully, the guy that I was living with put no pressure on me whatsoever. He lived in the front half of the house, whilst I had the back half all to my myself. I called a close friend one night simply said that I needed someone. That phone call would start a chain of events that would, by the end of that year, see me well and truly back on my feet. I was accepted into a nursing course, and I was determined to start rebuilding my life.

It was a time full of hope and positive things started happening once again.

Looking back, from the time I was first hospitalized, right through to starting the course in nursing some twenty months later, things were about coming to terms with what had happened. I didn’t realize I was grieving. Grieving over a life that was a ultimately a lie. Grieving over events that had happened that were ultimately influenced by having a mental illness. It is difficult to describe how your whole sense of identity is compromised and brought into question. A fair chunk of 2007 was spent rationalizing everything and finding some peace within it all.

Whilst the damage was done, at least now there were some answers.

I thought I had the necessary tools to overcome having Bipolar and make it work to my advantage. I couldn’t have been more wrong and while I am proud of myself for making a good go of things, I am still to this very day, haunted by a life that is so dominated by this illness. Much to my resentment, it has shaped my life in every facet and continues to do so.

More than six years later, I am still at war with myself. With every fiber of my being, I hope that I can one day find a level of peace and contentment which is able to bring me out of the darkness and establish a true identity within myself. Fluctuating between anger, depression and acceptance is draining. It accomplishes nothing more than sucking the life out of oneself and leaves in it’s wake, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

All that is left is hope. Hope that one day, this will all feel like a bad dream. Hope that the sun will shine on more days than it doesn’t. Hope that I can still overcome this illness and be the type person that lays dormant amongst the pain and misery.

There has to be hope, for without it, continuing to exist, is nothing but an exercise in futility.

Dealing with Grief in a Bipolar World: Part 2

TRIGGER WARNING!

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.

2006 was by far the worst year of my life. It was the year I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, battled homelessness and almost lost my life in the process. In a follow up to Part One of Dealing with Grief in a Bipolar World, the following is my personal experience of being diagnosed with Bipolar, the events that lead to this point and everything that transpired following.

The downward spiral that led to being diagnosed can be traced back to August 2005. I lost a very close friend to a heart attack and at the same time, the five year engagement to my fiance also came to end. I had taken a job interstate during the middle of that year. I knew in my heart of hearts that would spell the end of the relationship, but I had hoped my partner would follow me and we would continue. When she made it clear that she didn’t want this, our relationship was over. It was something that should’ve been over after two years, not five, but the lesson I learned through this break-up, was that it takes courage to leave a bad relationship. Moving interstate was the catalyst in doing what should’ve been done a long time earlier. We rarely fought, but we weren’t compatible. It really was as simple as that. We remain friends, although have minimal contact with one another.

A few months into my new life, I received a phone call around 10pm. I was already asleep, so the message that resulted from the phone call wasn’t retrieved until the following morning. I knew what had happened even before I made the call back.

J.J. had a heart condition. The fact that he even got to 29 was an achievement in itself. Still, it didn’t take away the initial shock that he was gone. I still miss him to this very day and occasionally he pops up in my dreams. I like it when he does and he damn well better be waiting for me when it’s my time to go. We have so much to talk about.

Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. These two life changing events were delayed in terms of their destructive impact on me personally. However the signs were there early when I started to smoke pot as a means of escaping the pain. I worked and when I came home, I smoked. I did this for a period of four months which included my trip back home for the Christmas/New Year period. When I arrived back to work, I stopped smoking and I wasn’t in a good way. I was having frequent panic attacks, both at home and at work, which, with the benefit of hindsight, was due to withdrawals from smoking pot. A no brainer one would say, but at the time I simply didn’t realize it. All I wanted to do at the time was get back to my home state, so I threw in the towel at work, and a few weeks later, barely one month into the new year, I was back home.

During the drive back, I recall that over the last 100km’s, I had this horrible feeling come over me that something bad was going to happen. I was relieved to be going back home again, but I was lost and wasn’t completely sure what I was going to do next.

I stayed with a friend when I got back. The same friend, whose family had taken me in when I left home at 15 years of age. It felt like a safe option, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The boys there were still smoking pot, years after it was just a teenage thing. I fell into it again with open arms. It was a stupid thing to do and I still kick myself for allowing this to happen. The only blessing that came from this period, was getting a diagnosis that explained years of certain behavior that was otherwise not justified, despite several attempts to seek some answers. Unfortunately, the shit would have to seriously hit the fan before I even got to this point.

I ended up finding work as I continued to smoke with the boys during the evenings. On weekends, taking ecstasy also came into the mix as I went to nightclubs and partied like it was 1999. Within a couple of months, I was on top of the world. I became so manic and was so psychotic in the process, again, with the benefit of hindsight, it was only a matter of time before everything would come crashing down. So erratic was my behavior, that I went out and got a new phone on contract and racked up almost a thousand dollars in phone calls before I was hospitalized. I also got a new laptop and signed a contract for a premium internet service. In this psychotic manic state, I was about to start a company that would take the world by storm. I was also going to start an online radio station. High profile business and media identities were going to want a piece of me. I had no insight about the state I was in, although through all of this, there were signs I was crying out for help. I contacted family members who didn’t want much to do with me. This all came to head one weekend when my father refused to pay for flights and accommodation to an interstate location where I was to meet a reporter from a television show (I actually did call and speak to this reporter the day before in a psychotic rage).

By Saturday night of that weekend, I was being interview by police over threats I had made towards my father. On a rational level, my Dad is not nice guy. There is a reason why I left home at 15 years of age. But that situation remains sensitive, as does what I’m presently describing, so I won’t go off track.

By Monday morning, having had very little sleep over the past two weeks or so due to being so manic, things were at breaking point. I had no money and no place to live (having well and truly worn out my welcome where I was staying due to my behavior). I was so outraged over what had occurred over the weekend, I was desperate to engage a lawyer. Instead, by mid afternoon, I was again detained by police and was on my way to a psychiatric ward and admitted as an involuntarily patient. I would remain there for the next five weeks and in that time, I would go from being completely manic, to crashing back down to earth with a huge bang.

*I didn’t think this post would be as long it is. So as a result, part three will be written and published in the next couple of days. Please bear with me as this continues to be a difficult time to recall and write about*

Dealing with Grief in a Bipolar World: Part 1

TRIGGER WARNING!

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.*

Stay Tuned!