It isn't enough to just have a mental illness in your life. There is so much to balance: learning coping skills, managing medications, managing medication side effects, identifying triggers so you're prepared for them when they hit, advocating for yourself because there's a whole bunch of people who don't understand mental illness at all, etc. The list goes on and on. If you're lucky, you have most of this under control. You might also have a solid support base you can turn to for help.
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When an earthquake occurs in the ocean, the ripple effect causes tsunamis whose effects are felt on shores thousands of miles away. The intrigue about tsunamis is that they can never be predicted and even when they are anticipated the damage caused is always unprecedented. Bipolar relapses are often like the tsunamis, even with all the well documented warning signs available to patients and caregivers sometimes we end up being caught off-guard. The ripple effects of a relapse are usually depression, mania (or hypomania) and at worst mandatory hospitalization.
Six weeks ago I relapsed from my addiction recovery and, subsequently, from my Bipolar Disorder recovery. The two are so intertwined that a distinction can barely be made by me or my mental health team. When I use substances I also quit taking my medications. When I quit taking my medications I am more likely to use substances to control growing symptoms.
I was sitting around the other day thinking about how long it has been since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 18 and all that has happened since then. It’s quite interesting because I seem to remember my first inpatient stay still so vividly, but I think I always will as I know many people who don’t forget their hospital stays no matter how long it has been.
Relapse is both a fear and a loitering thought in the minds of many recovering from any illness or disease. I know for me personally, I always feared relapse of my bipolar disorder and my self-injury. The longer I went doing well; the fear joined the loitering thought of relapse in the back of my mind. Looking at why fear was associated with the possibility of relapse, I came to realize it was a result of an array of feelings which I hate to even think about, yet plague me on a daily basis.