One of the earliest things I learned about bipolar was one of the most important. If you have bipolar disorder or someone that you care about is bipolar, you must be able to get from the beginning of the day to the end without catastrophe on a consistent basis if you ever hope to manage the bipolar or live in recovery. That is the point behind all the talk about warning signs and symptom management. When the stress of everyday living mushrooms, bipolar, in a very real way, can become a terminal disease for everybody whose life it touches. Stress is the conductor that allows the electricity of bipolar to reach everywhere.
In the last 7 or 8 months I have learned another important thing about life. When you can’t make it from the beginning of the day to the end of the day without catastrophe, then everyday comes to seem much as the one before. Every day is a “ground-hog” day. Life becomes the same dance to the same music and soon we no longer can even hear the tune.
These are hard times for everyone and soon to be harder. The economy has become the most real thing in reality. The pain promises to be indiscriminate. In the last few weeks I have learned of many people who have went to work one day only to find out there was no work to come back to the next day. Most of them are people who had no warning of what was to come. People who always knew they would make it from the beginning of the day to the end no longer know. They have found themselves cast adrift, looking for dry land, hoping to find someplace not flooded by the despair and fear that is in every breath. When you are trying to deal with bipolar disorder or some other emotional illness in your family things get even harder and much more tangled.
I know what it has been like for our family. My wife was diagnosed as bipolar about a year ago. In retrospect it seems like she has been bipolar for a very long time. We were just not smart enough to see what was in front of our face.
We became involved with the DBSA and began learning about bipolar and recovery and for the first time in a long time hope became very real. If we learned what we needed to know and did what we needed to do when we needed to do it the promise of better times seemed so true. And by and large it has been. But we hit a bump in the road.
About 7 months ago I became unemployed. I was 57 years old. I had a bachelors degree and 35 years history in the mental health field. I had a track record of success in virtually everything I had done and genuinely thought getting the next job was a mere formality. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found out that the job market to begin with was slim at best in my field. Mental health programs wanted to hire people in their mid 20’s or 30’s I quickly found out. I was “over-qualified” and no one was really interested. I tried to “change careers” but found out that no one seemed to take that very serious. I was “too old” for new choices. In desperation I started trying to get any minimium wage job I could get. Many of these places were already beginning to lay off and those that won’t didn’t want to look at someone who was applying for a job that paid a third of the last one he had. The assumption was either I had “baggage” of some sort or as soon as I got a “real” job I was leaving. I have one letter from TARGET explaining to me very nicely why I was not qualified to be a stock boy.
After literally over a hundred tries I finally found a temporary job about a week ago and in 4 days will get my first paycheck in over 7 months. It has been a very long days journey into a very dark night.
We have found out that recovery does not occur in a vacum. It is so much more than the right things at the right time. It occurs within the context of real life and if you don’t consider that much of what you say is simply empty words. It is preaching to someone about what they “should do” without understanding what life tells them they “have to do.”
For us literally everything became an issue. There was nothing automatic about life. Nothing was just settled. Things that had never been a question became a question. Food, gas, electric, clothing and especially a place to live all became something we hoped to hang on to, rather than something we knew was there. Lots of prayer by lots of people. The support of many people who, we found out, did indeed love us. Simply the grace of God. Somehow each and every month we found ourselves making it, often on the last day, sometimes in the last hour.
For Linda the stress that so easily could lay waste to all her attempts to manage her bipolar was not just there– It was everywhere! She struggled with depressive swings and on more than one occasion was on the narrow edge of being suicidal. The medication was having tortuous side effects. It was not just simply damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It was just damned.
I tried to always be there for her, but at times it was a struggle to be there for me. Part of my identity, my purpose in life was gone. The way I had defined myself for 35 years was simply smashed. At times the only thing that gave me relief from the depression of what had happened was the anxiety about what was going to happen next.
But we had a powerful love for each other and a powerful support system. We found out that we could define ourselves by what we did have or by what we didn’t have. We met many people who were struggling with similiar issues or worse and found out in giving we got. We found out that hope was not the wish for the desert to go away, but the confidence that we could walk through it.
I won’t lie. Much in the last months has felt and continues to feel awful. Much is still no where close to being settled. Many things that I need to know I don’t know. Many things I no longer know for sure if I will ever know. I do think though we have gotten a just a taste of what many people are about to encounter.
When living is hard is is a disaster when life becomes hard. Part of recovery is in making good things automatic and what happens when nothing seems automatic anymore. Linda, in addition to being bipolar, also has epilepsy and I remember my greatest terror was when it seemed like she would lose all medical coverage because I didn’t have a job. I have seen her four times in status epilepticus and in my eyes each tick of the clock without medication was one step closer to her death.
Again we were lucky. She had TennCare and then we managed to get her SSI and she was no longer in danger of losing the coverage she needed to live.
But as much as I am grateful for our luck and for the grace God has shown us I know that others in the times ahead will not be so lucky. I do not really know the answers to all this. Maybe it is just doing what you can to get from the beginning of the day to the end and in the process help as many people as you can to do the same.
Right now it seems like things might always be hard for us. But what we know is that just because it is hard does not mean it is not worth doing. Just because it is hard does not mean we can’t do it– no matter how hard it feels.
My wife is my hero. Under incredible attack, both from within and without, she has found the resources to love her children and be there for them when they need her. She has loved me, even when I am not very loveable. And she continues to reach out to everyone in pain she meets and let them know that they are not alone and that there is hope. She loves God with all she is. And she has helped me to realize there is one more thing. After you have got from the beginning of the day to the end regardless of how bad or how rough get up the next day. Sometimes that is the only victory we have.