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Breaking Bipolar

According to Substance abuse and bipolar comorbidity, up to 50% of people with bipolar disorder also have a history of substance abuse or dependence, and some studies have found even higher numbers.1 So, half of us folks with bipolar disorder also battle an addiction to drugs (including alcohol). But why is that? Why are so many people with bipolar disorder addicted to drugs?
My cat is 16 years old; that is 80 years old in human years. And while he could still be with us for years to come (hopefully), kitties, like humans, don’t live forever. And, quite frankly, when he goes, I’m going to lose it. Lose all my marbles – bipolar or otherwise. He’s been with me longer than any human. He’s who I’ve come to home to for a decade and a half. His daily rhythms synch with mine (or mine with his, you know, because he’s the boss). He means a whole lot to me. So I’m preparing for his death. I don’t know when it will happen, but one day, he just isn’t going to wake up.
Today I went and fed the seals. I fed the wild seals – not those in captivity – the best kind. They’re semi-tame seals as people feed them fish from the docks every day. They clap, and spin in circles, and splash, and jump to get the little frozen fish we offer. Their spotted coats gleam in the sun. Even the huge nails on their back flippers seem innocuous because they seem just so glad to see you. So, I knelt and fed the seals fish. And I giggled, smiled and screamed like a little girl when one soaked the left leg of my jeans (Why Animals May Help With Depression). I was encased in a bubble where just the seals, the frozen fish and I existed. And I completely forgot that I was depressed.
One of the things you shouldn’t say to someone with bipolar depression is, “just look on the bright side.” This includes saying things like, “at least you’re not starving to death,” or, “there are many people worse off than you,” or, “just think positively.” We would all thank you to stop saying these things. But if you are suffering from bipolar depression, does looking on the bright side help or, indeed, matter at all?
Last night, I was on a bipolar discussion panel. People had a chance to write in questions and one of the questions we were asked was, "what is the best bipolar treatment."
“Oh, she’s so bipolar.” You’ve probably heard someone say this about someone they don’t like. You’ve probably heard someone use the term “bipolar” as an insult. It’s sort of in from a pop culture standpoint. And while I don’t believe in taking offense when someone uses a term like “crazy” in a non-hurtful way, I certainly do take offense when someone uses a genuine illness and slings it like mud. And while I’m perfectly capable of understanding that the person who said it is simply ignorant and it should have no effect on me, the fact is, hearing your illness being used as an insult is hurtful and it is hurtful to your self-esteem.
I often hear from people who are in the very nastiest, lowest, deadliest pits of despair in their bipolar depression. It’s natural to reach out during these times. You need help and you need help now. And what these people want to know is: How can I fix my life? The answer to this question is both good and bad. The answer is: baby steps.
I’ve been writing about bipolar disorder and mental illness for 11 years. Eleven years. It’s been a long road. And during that time I have heard a lot of people say a lot of horrible things about people with bipolar disorder. In no particular order, people have accused people with bipolar disorder of being: violent, manipulative, self-centered, selfish, abusive and many other negative things. Certainly, if I bumped into a person with those characteristics, I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with him or her. However, are people with bipolar really like that? Should people with bipolar disorder be in relationships? (I'm Bipolar: Will Anyone Ever Love Me?)
I’m sick. I’ve been sick for five days. I’ve been sick and really annoyed about being sick for five days. Writers do not get paid for sick days. (And speakers have to cancel talks. Darn it.) And while I’ve said before that it's unfair that people with bipolar disorder should have to go through normal annoyances like colds and flus, it seems that the universe begs to differ with me on that one. And so some kind of virus I have gotten. But I think that bipolar interacts with your average bug and you average bug interacts with bipolar disorder, so how do you deal with that?
Yesterday I turned 36 years old. Yes, that’s right, I’m on the “wrong” side of being in my mid-30s. And while I realize that, in our culture, being in your 30s is nothing to be proud of (especially if you’re a woman), I am, in fact, proud. And here’s why. I’m proud because I’ve been living with a serious mental illness for (at least) 16 years – and I have survived. Many of our brothers and sisters with bipolar disorder have not been so lucky and we should all celebrate for those who can’t.