Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bipolar - Where I Am and Why

For a long time, I've hidden a major part of my life from most people. I have bipolar, also called manic depression. For a long time I didn't share this with anyone other than close friends and family. There's a stigma attached to bipolar, and I can totally understand it. Manic episodes can be especially scary and can include extremely irrational thoughts and actions. In some cases this can lead to things like substance abuse, risky behaviors, and even violence (though the vast majority of people with mental illness are no more likely to commit violent acts than those without).

Depression, "mixed states," and "rapid cycling" between mania and depression are also dangerous. Studies have shown a 5 - 15% likelihood of suicide among those with bipolar--incredibly higher than the national average.

But, many are able to lead fairly normal lives with bipolar, and keeping quiet about my bipolar now seems to me to be a way that contributes to the stigma.

Bipolar is a chronic mental illness that can make life difficult at times--difficult on me and difficult for my family. Despite these difficulties, I have a pretty amazing life--a nine month old baby, a beautiful, kind, supportive wife, and wonderful friends, family, and faith community. I could go into great detail and name names, but suffice to say I'm blessed.

It's easy to forget all those blessings at times. It's easy to ask, "why do I have to have bipolar?" or, "where do thoughts and actions I choose end and where do the thoughts and actions from my disease begin?" It's easy to ruminate on these things which can lead to a spiral of depression, anxiety, and mania.

I hear from friends and family that I do a nice job managing my bipolar. While this is good to hear, it's really my friends, family, and faith communities that have brought me to where I'm at today. So any of my friends and family who are reading this, thank you in whatever way you've supported me over the years.

Thank you for kind words, listening ears, and encouragement; for thoughts and prayers; for noticing when I'm not doing well and asking about it. Thank you for bringing me to a doctor's appointment or to the hospital, or for visiting me in the hospital.

Especially, I thank God. At times that have seemed hopeless, I meditate on the person of God in Jesus--someone who although he was perfect chose a mortal life to face suffering and even death in the name of love. Not only that, but he defeated death--and when those thoughts of death and despair come, it's nice to know a God who's experienced those thoughts and emotions as well, and has overcome death.

I could go on with all the many ways I've been blessed, but for now it's enough to just be thankful. I can only imagine where I might be without such amazing people and an amazing God in my life. So many people with mental illness deal with so much--unemployment, homelessness, isolation--these are all things I could suffer as well, but because of the people in my life I do not.

Read more about mental health at Mental Health Myths and Facts.

Thank you, and live well.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Nathan, for sharing. It's great to know you are doing so well and have such a strong support system!

Sharon Robrahn said...

We know that God put you in our lives for a purpose and us in yours, also. We are very proud of you and Laura and how you function as an amazing team. Any time, any day, any where, what ever we can do to help.
David and Sharon

Danny E said...

Thanks for sharing Nathan. I don't know many people with bipolar. It is always good to be able to put a face to this chronic mental illness and know that it is possible to manage it with the help of Jesus, family, friends and community as you mentioned. Your story is a real encouragement. - Danny Eshcol

A loose connection with the same diagnosis said...

Your post came across my Facebook feed -- that means we're somehow connected with some mutual Facebook friends -- that means I leave my post anonymously, so these comments can't be used in my current legal proceedings.

I laud you for you frank openness about being bipolar. I've spent my adult life dodging questions, biting my tongue in the presence of hateful comments, and reluctantly receiving treatment when needed. My reluctance was recently substantiated when my wife filed for a divorce and has used my diagnosis of bipolar against me in court proceedings. In legal documents, she based her arguments for full custody of our children on the fact that I have a bipolar diagnosis and have been hospitalized. In negotiations since then, she has threatened to subpoena my medical records and use my diagnosis and treatment notes against me in court. To complicate the matters for me, our pastor essentially agreed with her decision to use my mental illness as a justification for divorce when he suggested that my actions could be considered abandoning my family. Talk about a test of faith.

When you write of stigma, you write of something that is very real and very powerful.

Anyway, I leave this post here because I allowed the stigma associated with bipolar to control me and force me to, at times, live a life that was never fully open. I lived in the fear that my bipolar diagnosis would be somehow be leveraged against me, and this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. For your sake and your family's, I hope your willingness to live in the open with your diagnosis frees you from the fear of the stigma that nearly destroyed my life.