Mental illness (brain chemistry illness) has continuous cycles of ups and downs. That is the essential nature of bipolar. Therefore, the families of our loved ones will also experience ups and downs. It's inevitable, inconvenient but a fact that most onlookers do not care to understand.
Adequate management of MI takes mental and emotional energy. For those who have experienced this, you will soon realize those two management tools often give way to physical weariness, as well.
When normal daily duties cannot be attended to because of the side effects and symptoms of MI, the responsibilities of life fall to their loved ones and family members. There were times in our earlier years of marriage, especially when our daughters were younger, that I operated much like a single parent. The effects of MI disrupt daily life and often my husband needed rest, naps and time away to defrag his mind. I always made room for this because I knew his needs must be attended to in order for us to succeed as a couple and as a family.
Just in case you don't understand the life interruptions, let me list for you common symptoms of MI: (everyone does not exhibit all of these)
lack of concentration
poor communication skills
changes in sleep patterns
changes in sex drive
struggles with prioritizing and organization
grandiose ideas and thoughts
The list is as unique as the individual. Thankfully, we have not experienced all of these, but we are quite familiar with many of them. I hope as you read this list, you begin to see the struggles are real and the by-product of these symptoms is most certainly that life is continually interrupted or disturbed. The struggles are real, not perceived and solutions must be carefully crafted and personally tailored to meet the needs of the loved one and their family. MI requires a lifetime of commitment to finding and following effective life management tools.
So, it's not as easy as writing a one time prescription for success or swallowing a pill. This is the approach many take to MI. They can see the results of the diseases. They witness life interruptions but as a culture, they often desire to write a quick fix remedy because that solution requires less time and energy. People are intolerant and impatient with things that don't have easy solutions. Many weary of hearing about how life is difficult on a sometimes moment by moment, daily, weekly or monthly basis.
As a result, many onlookers have adopted the approach that a "one time act of kindness" must certainly be the quick fix you need. Glen and I have experienced this phenomenon over and over. It's rare to find friends and family members who will sign up for the exhausting realities of MI. But that is what we all desperately cry out for! We want people who will walk this journey with us. We need friends we can call on at a moments notice to vent our grief so that we might have strength for the next leg of the journey. Many fail to realize that by allowing us to vent, we find strength for the next phase of our existence. Many fail to understand that we just need to know we have a fan club of well wishers and up-lifters cheering us on.
I have lived with this reality! I am saddened and worn by the fact that most family members and "friends" will not stand with us when life knocks us down. Somehow they believe that because they once did a nice thing for us, they are now a hero. The problem is, while those of us who face MI ups and downs appreciate the acts of kindness, what we need is people who will be there as often as possible when life dishes out it's challenges. That's the problem...MI doesn't go away, so the challenges don't go away! As often as our loved ones have ups, downs and difficulties...which in turn effect routines, daily tasks and job performance...then to that degree we need people to be there to provide encouragement, kindness and sometimes we might need a bag of groceries or help paying a bill!
Oh God forbid I said this out loud, but I am not being quiet. With every job loss, with every day my husband could not work...there has been financial loss. I can't apologize to you for that anymore. It has not been his fault. He has never lost a job because he didn't do his job. He lost jobs because people didn't like that he had mental illness. That is called discrimination! Plain and simple he was discriminated against over and over. People with mental illness are conscientious and often very careful. They desire to work but their disease throws them curve balls that the average person does not have to attend to. That is the unfair reality of MI! And it is time people understand that when the interruptions occur, everything suffers...relationships, needs, bills, finances...life can go down a slippery slope very quickly.
When safety nets fail, that is when MI is the hardest to handle. No safety net and hopelessness and despair quickly set in. For our family, because we have chosen the lesser of all evils by choosing self employment, this has been our saving grace. But it has its own ups and downs. And so we go on managing the best we can but we often find that life has thrown us a curve ball and there has been little to no support system to fall back on. Some who signed up for that job have grown weary in well doing. I can't say I completely blame them. It's hard! If anyone should know that, I know it. I've been here walking along side my husband for almost 26 years. We have had the occasional acts of kindness shown to us, but overall we have been dealt blow after blow of people who have berated, criticized, isolated and cut us off because they failed to understand why yet another challenge had befallen our family.
Friends, that is what bipolar is. It is riddled with personal ups and downs that effect every life by creating a cycle of ups and downs. They can't be avoided. They will come. They can't always be predicted, in fact most of the time, they can't be predicted. If you are lucky, you might be one who has a huge rainy day fund and emergencies never set you back. But for this family, there has been constant financial struggles, so we have never really built up that rainy day fund.
It's not our fault. It's the fault of MI. It has stolen a lot. It steals time, energy, opportunity, jobs, friends, family and dreams. It's not fair but it happens. It is unavoidable. The best we can do is be personally prepared to stick together as a husband and wife and daughters.
That's our plan. We will stick together. We'd like for others to stick with us, but often they do not. Some show up for a season, some show up on occasion, some don't show up at all and a very few have shown up consistently. That is the reality of life with bipolar disease.
We need friends who will show up...and show up all the time or as often as you can, and we need you to show up with understand and without judgment. We need your compassion and grace that showers us with kind words and deeds that soothe our weary souls. Life has chipped away at every part of us. I'm tired from being the constant source of strength. I'm even more tired, perhaps, than the average person because I have had a shallow support system.
And lest I be misunderstood, this isn't a whiny pity party session. This is me expressing reality so you can grow and be educated. Perhaps if I can help someone understand, the lives of others will be forever changed in a positive way. I don't want anyone to experience this loneliness that I have known. But as I talk to others, I am learning I am not alone. Many have experienced similar treatment. From that I am encouraged yet deeply saddened.
There is a lot of work to be done in our culture. But that's another blog post, isn't it. What you do with this today is up to you. I hope you will stop long enough to let these words change the way you respond to mental illness. If that happens, I have done my job as an advocate.