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Coming Out: One Woman’s Story of Living With Bipolar Disorder

I did it.  I made a resolution to ‘come out’ to my kids at the dawn of the New Year, and I did.  Call me crazy if you want.  I prefer the word bipolar. But, I am also a Catholic, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, a student, a sister, a daughter and a friend.

I had to ‘come out’ with my bipolar disorder because I know kids internalize things.  I can’t imagine the uncertainty of wondering, “Which mommy am I going to wake up to today?”  If mommy is angry, irritable, says mean things, and then dances around the floor and sings and jokes in one morning, I need them to understand it is not in response to them, but as a reaction to faulty chemistry.  Daily medication eases the symptoms but cannot fully control them.

This is my cross.  I have been misunderstood, teased, called names and worst of all, I have been judged.  I have lost friends, have been rejected from social groups and live in a near constant state of paranoia.  This is particularly painful because I am an extrovert – and, as we know, God created us to live in community.  Every day I struggle to keep my ‘edit’ button on so I can stop myself before I make another mess!  I have been told I need to pray more, I need to fast more, I need to…..as if it is my fault and I can change it.  If prayer – and begging – could cure me, I wouldn’t be writing this.

I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who shares my cross and loves me unconditionally.  He sees me beyond the disorder and knows my heart for God, my heart for my family and for other people.  I have always felt Jesus in my life as well…picking me and brushing me off after each episode.  My recent return to the Catholic Church has provided the ultimate spiritual peace.  I don’t know I how I made it for so long without Mary.  She is my go-to woman, my role model and my hope.  She is the mother to my children that I cannot be.  She is the mother of God, and she prays for me! Most importantly, through my Catholic faith, I have been able to release the guilt I have attached to my disorder (so much for Catholic guilt!).

There are recent findings on genetic markers for bipolar disorder, but still no clear understanding of what causes this chemical imbalance.  It does run in families, although not everyone is accurately diagnosed.  Bipolar disorder, like so many disorders, is a continuum.  Some are low on the continuum and can manage their disorder with medications and therapy.  Others are high on the continuum and their lives are a near constant effort to find the right combination of medications and therapy.  I fit somewhere in the middle.

It is a living manifestation of a condition that is often brushed off.  The brush off comments include, ‘we all feel that way sometimes,’ or ‘everyone has down days.’  That is true, all humans have a cyclical pattern – but most cycle within a normal range and cycle at manageable or predictable intervals (e.g. ‘that time of month’).  With bipolar disorder, the cycles are inconsistent, unpredictable and can take a person from “the world and everything in it is great” to “I can’t do this for another minute, I am so angry and agitated I can’t think” coupled with suicidal ideation – in one day…. or several times throughout the day.

The American Psychiatric Association defines bipolar symptoms as a combination of at least three of these at the same time:

  1.  Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  2. Decreased need for sleep
  3. Talkativeness
  4. Racing thoughts
  5. Distractibility
  6. Increased physical, mental, sexual activity
  7. Reckless behavior and impulsiveness such as spending sprees, promiscuity, erratic driving, foolish business investments

I find it ironic that there are seven symptoms– the seven “Deadly Sins” of bipolar disorder.  But, that is my final challenge:  understanding the difference between sin (willful disobedience) – and disorder (would never, in a million years, act that way if I had control).  I have learned that it is not an excuse for all behavior, but a reason for some behavior.

“Coming out” to my kids was not easy, but necessary.  The result of bipolar disorder is that my actions are often not aligned to my heart.  When I teach my children an aspect of the Catholic faith, and then act in opposition to that, I don’t want them to think I am a hypocrite.  I want them to know that I struggle to live our faith, and that I won’t give up when my challenges seem too great.  I want them to know that Mary is the perfect mother, and I am just simply doing my best.

::bio:: I am a Catholic revert and thank God every day for bringing me back home!  I am completing a doctorate, homeschool my children and am active in my parish.

 

9 replies on “Coming Out: One Woman’s Story of Living With Bipolar Disorder”

Thank you for sharing your story. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and I have many times seen clients reach the limits of benefit from counseling and medication. Those who persevere in faith have a much better outcome for all the reasons you describe. Also, faith requires us to live in the present moment. Only, then can we receive the healing graces of God. So often, those suffering from depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues are tempted to regret the past and fret about the future. The sacrament of reconciliation helps us to reconcile the past and gives us the grace to move on.

Dear Shiela, Thank you for your faith and courage. Among other things, I’m a columnist for CatholicMom.com I have also suffered with depression and bipolar disorder in my life. Perhaps the links below from my archives would be a blessing on your heart. I also had the privilege of planning and hosting an event featuring Immaculee two years ago in CA!

http://catholicmom.com/2010/08/14/a-knight-at-the-foot-of-the-cross-by-brian-k-kravec/

http://catholicmom.com/2011/01/08/book-review-blankets-tea-crazy-people-by-sandra-heidi-anne/

Thank you for sharing your struggles and insights with us. I have a friend and a BIL that have been diagnosed as bi-poplar. It is a lifetime cross, medicine does help, but does not make it all better. Prayers for your struggles and God Bless your husband and children.

Thank you for sharing your story. It is a familiar one to me because it echoes my own. I never had to “come out” to my kids, though. They have known all along. I grew up in a family where many of us were bipolar, but until I received treatment at 27, no one knew. After my diagnosis, more of my siblings, and my father got help for their symptoms. Then we discovered that many of my other relatives had similar symptoms. Having that diagnosis changed everything for our whole family. It gave us hope.
We have done a great deal of education on what bipolar is and is not, and it has helped us all. As the kids get older, they have learned how to help me “switch off, step back, and reconsider”. It is certainly a cross, but one that is easier the more you know and the more you have someone you can truly rely on. My journey has been punctuated with times when I thought I could trust no one, at all.
Sometimes it all gets completely overwhelming. But God is always there. When things get hard, my confessor told me, “Just remember, Jesus is in every tabernacle, in every Catholic Church around the world, just waiting for you to come see Him.” I have taken great comfort in knowing that. I think that being a Catholic has been my salvation, in more ways than one.
I will say this, though: There are strengths in our weaknesses, if we let God use them. One of the advantages of being bipolar is the energy level and creativity that we are blessed with. May God bless you and your family.

As a child of a (now) diagnosed mother with bi-polar, I applaud your effort to deal with this head-on. I remember always wondering which mother I was going to be dealing with and I did internalize her behavior; I would always try to guess what might “set her off” so I could act correctly – but this often didn’t work. The hard part was that no one seemed to think anything was wrong and so she didn’t get help and I assumed it was all me (I’m an only child). So don’t give up the good fight – I think my mom and I would have a better relationship now if we both would have understood what was going on and if she would have gotten help.

The only thing that assauagues my constant struggle with bipolar disease is the comfort I take from my fellow sufferers. Our souls are so wise but our manic displays and sharp anger is all the world sees. I see your soul and it is beautiful.

Thank you for sharing your story. I also have bipolar and I am a mother of two young children. I pray that my kids wont have to worry about what type of mood I will be in at any moment of the day, because of being bipolar. It is nice to know that other’s have the same problems. LOL I hope our struggles get better and God bless everyone and their family that have to deal with us;)

Read Autumn Stringam’s book “a Promise of Hope…” I am Catholic with Bipolar 1, and I’ve started the same treatment as Autumn for some weeks now with my doctor. We are all looking for a full recovery in 6 months to a year.

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