I often have wondered to myself about the possibility of Bipolar Disorder being eliminated, cured, completely dealt with and stricken from the record. After living with the illness for most of my 41 years I have little faith this will happen in my lifetime, but it really doesn’t matter to me. The important thing is that I have come to terms with my own illness, I have made the decision to ‘own’ and take full responsibility for my illness and my actions, and this has given me a sense of freedom and happiness that I feel rivals even those people who have never had to struggle with a mental illness.
I remember one day at around the age of 21 or so sitting in my barber’s chair getting a haircut and hearing on the radio that the gene for Bipolar Disorder had been discovered. I remember thinking that it meant a cure was just around the corner. But in fact I was deluding myself. I had a very real problem that needed present day treatment, not some hope of a treatment to come 20 or 30 years down the road. I continued after that point to struggle for some time, and to return to the Mental Hospital and Psychiatric wards time and again.
So where do I stand today then? I sit now at my computer, having written three published books, having appeared in magazines all over North America, and above all being in the enviable position where I have not had to be hospitalized for more than 12 years. Did I find a cure? No, my hands still shake like I could use a stiff drink, I still have to stay within short distance of a bathroom most of the time because of issues with medications which I still have to take morning and night as well as a bi-weekly injection, and I need to consult monthly with my Psychiatrist. But these are very minor things when one thinks of the alternative. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone how painful and difficult it can be to be in a hospital and be treated for a mental health issue.
When I was in my 20’s I was living on my own (I now reside in a group home for adult males with Psychiatric Disorders) and I was doing well on Prozac and a few other drugs. For some reason, the Prozac was working well and I felt that this meant I was cured of my problem. This error in judgment nearly cost me my life. My mood dwindled down lower and lower over the next few months until finally I took a serious overdose of Acetaminophen and was very lucky to leave the intensive care ward a week later still breathing. I had done some serious damage to my liver to boot. If I had ‘owned’ or even ‘owned up’ to my illness, this never would have happened. I would have consulted with a Doctor about the medication I was on and even if I hadn’t told him I had stopped the Prozac, he would have been able to see my depressive state and done something. Anything that could have been done would have been better than what happened, I literally put my family through hell as I teetered on the brink of life for 5 days.
I think one day soon it will be possible to find a cure or a workable prevention for Bipolar Disorder, but I don’t think it will come for me. I have come to accept that I am special, I am built differently than others. I have a tendency towards depression, I have this horrible part of me, this ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ that walks and talks normally in one hour and runs off at the mouth and literally goes crazy with delusional thoughts the next. But I have discovered that if I follow the advice of people who have spent a lifetime treating people like me, and take medications designed by people with far more knowledge of my body and brain chemistry than I possess, I have a pretty good shot at getting along just as good as anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with Bipolar. In some ways I feel I can get along better, because I feel that the true measure of a person is not what they have done, but what they have overcome to achieve what they have. This is the quote, paraphrased, that I put on the back of my poetry book, “Poems From Inside Me”. One of my oldest friends and fans of my writing told me recently that she knew I had been through a lot and had a difficult life, but the end result was that I am a wonderful writer. The world of writing is a vast and inexhaustible gold mine of experiences and discoveries, and now that I have been able to put my illness to one side, I feel very blessed, and very young at heart with the idea in me that I will be able to experience it. I hope anyone who reads this blog post will come to find their own passion in life, be it writing, painting, or even knitting children’s clothing and no longer care that they have to take a few pills and deal with a few side effects. All of us have a place in this world and though it may take more time to get into the groove, there is nothing that says a person with an illness has to sit down and let that illness ‘own’ them.