Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Living with the Polar Bears

Living with the polar bears.

It appears I have no choice. As I've mentioned, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. And according to the information in the post A Formidable Bear, it very likely gets worse the longer it goes untreated. So it appears it's going to be me and the polar bears till death do us part.

While I cannot divorce myself from the bears completely it is certainly different now than previous to being diagnosed and starting treatment. Much different.

Living with the untamed polar bears as they ran amok with my mind and moods was, in hindsight, a bit of a hell. A hell for me. A hell for many close to me. I'll get into this in more detail in future posts but for now I'll just say that the "polar bears", the opposite states of mania, depression and of mixed states (perhaps the worst), cost me:

- perhaps over $200,000 in financial losses (lost home, lost equity, lost retirement funds, lost wages over the  years and so on). I'd say this is a conservative estimate

- several lost jobs, job opportunities and job promotions

- many damaged and lost relationship

- great difficulty for those closest to me

But that's the downside. Manic states took me on many a good adventure too. It's impossible to say for sure, but perhaps much of that money I lost I'd have not been able to gain were it not for a run of mania of one kind or another. Granted, if I'd been more stable all my life ... well, it's a tough balance sheet to figure!

While all of those losses (and there are others) are difficult, they're not the end of the world. It is all in the past and I only state those losses so as to put into perspective some of the damage the untamed polar bears can cause.

It's the now, living in a more balanced state of mind, with the polar bears somewhat under control, that's important.

While the past is past, I still very much feel the effects of twenty or more years of living with bipolar. I am, after all, only a few months in to what I'm sure will be a year or longer recovery and rehabilitation program. By far the biggest difficulty I face is the question - who am I?

This is not as facetious a question as it would appear nor very easily answered.

Imagine all of sudden finding that twenty years (and quite possibly longer) of your decision making, your strengths, weaknesses, relationship building, motivation, outlook, and many other things was the result of an illness, that indeed many aspects of "you" came from the illness, and that after a month or more of taking medications you find yourself quite a different person in many ways.

There are so many questions! How much of my motivation was the result of mania? What about the creative energy? What about all the creative thinking? I really have no idea. And no one else does, either. I find myself feeling really unmotivated and dull. And not as a result of feeling "depressed". It's just something that's not there. Can I find it again? I don't know.

As well as things I'd regret having to leave behind, there are some things I'd be glad to leave behind - I did some very hurtful things under various influences of 'the bears' I believe. 

And the polar bears are not completely gone either of course. I still feel some ups and downs, none of which I recognize until they're over! And even then I'm not sure. For example, I may have just had a very strong, up mood. Then - poof - it's gone, just like in the 'old days'. Now was that just a normal upswing in mood? Or was it "Manic Bear" making an appearance? I don't know! Same with a down mood. Was I just feeling down about my circumstances, a little unhappy? Or was it "Depressive Bear"? It honestly beats me. And it's very frustrating. Especially when it's been a week of feeling very positive, happy and full of hope and motivation and it just disappears. Damnit! I thought that was the "new me"! Wasn't it? What was it? Wasn't that "normal"? And there's no answer.

And this is the thing, I have NO idea what "normal" is, what "normal" feels like. Everyone has ups and downs in their moods. But how much is "normal"? All stuff to find out in time, of course - and with some professional help. And how much I'll get to "normal", given the lack of cure and how deep set the illness may be, is a mystery at this time.

So this is all part of this "who am I?" question. It feels like the book on who I am is being completely rewritten. Which is fine but it'll take time. How much time I'm not sure. There's just much to discover about myself. And much I have to let go. In the meantime, I can assure you that not knowing what thought is real or not real or what part of me is or was the illness or not is very, very unsettling. I sometimes feel like I woke up from a long bout of amnesia!

There are other remnants of the "polar past" as well that are still very strong within me. One mood 'feature' of bipolar disorder is a kind of paranoia, this strong, strong feeling that people are trying to hurt you. This can take many forms and be of varying levels of seriousness but for me it's things like people wanting to avoid me, wanting to get rid of me, wanting to make a fool of me and so on. Simple words can be twisted around in my mind to mean something completely sinister. It's virtually impossible to control because once it takes over, it is in control and logic serves only the purpose of finding the sinister in what I see or hear. And the "sinister" people can often by those closest and dearest to me. This causes, as you should well imagine, "difficulties". And it's really, really hard to turn around.

And, as I wrote in the Thoughts in the Raw post, suicidal thoughts continue to plague me - almost daily. But that will be subject for another post on another day.


  1. Here with you, nothing beyond that to add today.

  2. I'm here too and feeling kinda generally cranky today. I've erased two posts before posting them in BS and spent much of the evening arguing in my head with my daughter, my co-workers, my students, my sister, and my landlord in a randomly rotating sequence. I'm definitely having a mood! I'm going to settle for being glad that I managed not to flame the LS haters yet another time as a way of expressing it! Which is all to say that moods are fairly mysterious things to me, a lot of the time. So, if it's not all clear to you you're not entirely alone!

  3. Hey, Jim and Bill. Really great and meaningful to have you reading along.

    Sorry you're feeling cranky, Bill. Yes, the mysteries of moods. At the best of times there can seem to be no rhyme nor reason to them.