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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.