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Navigating an ambiguous Line

After first being diagnosed bipolar in my early twenties my family had many questions. The most telling question came from my aunt. “Do you know when you’re manic or going through manic episodes”? The answer I had for her was simple, “Yes”! I had an immediate answer to the question. Now that I have had quite a few manic episodes over the years, the answer to that question is a little more blurry, but unless I’m way off the deep end, it still remains ‘yes’. What’s important to note, and again holds true till this day, is the notion that I most likely will not tell anyone that I’m having or, at least, entering a manic stage. Why? Well, mania is quite a rush. I tell people it’s like doing a thousand lines of cocaine and having that be your constant state for days, weeks, or even months. Why would I seek help from friends or family if I feel so full of life and energy. You tend not to weigh out the negatives. It just feels too God damn awesome despite the negative outcomes and fallouts after coming down from mania or results of where mania might end up leading you; this includes and is not limited to financial tailspins or even accidental suicide.

After telling my family that I would never tell them if I was in a manic state, the next question asked makes complete sense. “Well then, how are we supposed to help you”? That is truly the million dollar question. When manic and hypomanic, I’m not really out there looking for help. In fact, I’m more likely to have the opinion that others are the ones that need help. Dealing with this disorder over the many years that I have under my belt, the best chance to help me (and in most cases, the best chance for me to help myself), is early on during the hypomanic periods. This is when a simple night's sleep can, for the most part, really resets and restarts my mind, and I can come away from the whole experience unscathed. But again, even in a state of hypomania -- a state harder to assess from an outsider’s perspective that something is wrong, I remain pretty damn reluctant to confide the problems I’m having with my mind with just about anyone. The only real hint I’ll really be willing to drop to people around me is that I badly need sleep or that I haven’t eaten in a couple or even a few days. It’s important for the people in your life and the ones that surround you to know that these little hints can be life changing, and those people should do their best to make sure you get some food and, at the very least, get a couch to sleep on. Not only do people, like me, with a tendency to have manic episodes stay reluctant on finding or seeking out help, we find it nearly impossible to come to admit that we are having problems.

Why is it so hard to diagnose a problem if you are an outsider looking in? Well, it sure as hell is not a physical issue so there is nothing concrete to go off of. Especially in the early stages of mania, or maybe more so when a person is hypomanic, I tend to be on point in conversations and ongoing dialogue. This makes me seem really sharp, and any outsider would look pretty silly trying to establish the notion that something is actually going wrong. Now once a person slips into mania, then it becomes increasingly more obvious that shit has hit the fan. Of course, by that time it is usually too late to help without getting a doctor involved that can recommend inpatient care in a psych facility. Why else is it hard to diagnose? With me in particular, I don’t want to hear it from anyone that I’m in a manic state. Other people, particularly my family, have no clue what they’re talking about. Moreover, they often use my mania as an excuse for things I say or do when, in fact, they are completely off base and out of line. Perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t stand when people act like my feelings, whether it be anger (usually the biggest example) or sadness or anything in between, are only happening because of my bipolar disorder. Just the other day, I was golfing with a few people I met at the course and telling them about my book and my bout with bipolar disorder. They had many questions as they happen to have a good friend that they believed had bipolar disorder and wanted to help. They talked about how he was angry all the time and believed, perhaps, that he was, in fact, manic. I told them that they should seek professional help as the worst thing you could do is to self-diagnose the problem amongst themselves.

It’s gotta be one of the most challenging things to see a problem of a friend or family member and not be able to lend a hand. Once again, leave the diagnosis to the doctor. Too many times in my life my own family has tried and tries to act like they know what’s best for me. Even if they are onto something, this kind of practice simply can’t go on. The best route of action is to urge me in the right direction to seek a professional opinion. Playing doctor can be detrimental to the person with the mental health problem, and it can forever strain the relationship between you and the person with the mental illness.

What if things go too far because the person, like myself, remains reluctant to seek help on their own? This is yet another million dollar question. There really is no right answer. At the very end of 2018 and the start of 2019, I reached that point, and my family had no clue how to handle it. Luckily, I got fooled into getting a psych evaluation just in the nick of time. If that never happened -- well, who knows. Thank God we don’t have to ever have to play the what if game on that one. It’s important to note that if things are really bad and the person, pre diagnosed or not, is really bipolar or depressed or has a serious mental illness, you should be able to identify that there is a problem and let professionals, ie doctors, figure out just what those problems are and what the necessary steps to handling those problems might be. Just remember, let the doctors decide the course of action.

I would like everyone reading to understand my last note here. Just because someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or another mental illness, yes, they now have a disability, but they are by no means disabled. People with a mental illness have just as much ability to function in society as everyone else. It helps to be classified as a person with a mental illness when you are, in fact, mentally ill because it gives you the ability to press the breaks or hit the emergency button as needed from time to time. Do not self-diagnose yourself or others; let the doctors take care of that.

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