Bipolar Disorder: Grieving Your Lost Self, Your Past Pain and What Might Have Been

A follow up post to “Who Put Razor Blades In The Ice cream”

              When I was a child I wanted to be an actress. I was talented. I had done it since I was about 5. I had good feedback from drama teachers and was in a local amateur drama group where I always got the main parts, I could learn lines overnight. I remember one time, when I was about 16, the entire play was just me and another young guy. I played in a theatre and in halls. On my 13th Birthday I recall the joy of a real dressing room with a light bulb framed mirror and a delivery of flowers. I felt like a star.

              When my special kind of extroversion started to become crushed in my teenage years and I experienced dark, depressed moods, that were different to normal teenage angst, my life started to crumble. I look back on my school life with real sadness. I wasn’t happy at all. I felt very alone, coming from a very happy household and a mother who’s life’s mission was for me to be happy, I didn’t feel able to share it with anyone. It was my secret.

              I am under the impression that people look back on their school years with smiles and laughter. I look back on mine with shame. I was ashamed of who I had become. I still feel like it’s something I should hide. I still feel people oughtn’t to know how unhappy I was in school. How I became a completely different version of myself. I lost myself and in doing so I lost my best friend. These things are catastrophic when you are at school and I didn’t make peace with it until about a year ago. I also still get into a mindset of thinking that people will leave me if I am depressed and it’s only slowly that people’s behaviour demonstrate to me that that is just a deeply buried negative cognition.

              Joining college for A Levels was better. I had a friendship group where I felt I could be myself more. But I was plagued with darkness in between and beneath the good times we had. I think I got through my A Levels self medicating, partying and feeling better for my good friends. But I’d stopped acting and I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore. I was studying Psychology for one of my A’Levels and in the typical way that people with a dysfunction sometimes do, entertained ideas of becoming a Psychologist. My Uni application form was a mess, I’d applied for Psychology, Midwifery, Drama and a mixed Arts and Sciences course at Central School Of Speech and Drama.

              I had taken a year out to travel. But I’d had a massive party whilst my parents were away and there was an incriminating message left on the answerphone pertaining to the use of drugs. When my parents got back my Dad was chilled but my Mum was not. We had a huge fight and I thought “Fuck it I’m moving out”. It was a little impulsive because it then meant I had to get a job and use my money to pay rent and couldn’t save money to go travelling but I enjoyed my independence and at least I could be depressed in peace when it happened.

              When I went to my interview at Central, the course I had applied for was no longer running. Buy they felt I would be a good candidate for the Bsc Hons in Clinical Communication Sciences which after 4 years gives you qualification to start to practise as a Speech and Language Therapist. I had to make a separate application for interview and exam as the course was oversubscribed but I got a place so thought it must be meant to be. I moved to London.

              I remember a distinct point, doing a class presentation when my communication failed me and it was clear to me retrospectively that this was the illness creeping up. I’d always been outstanding at presentations and I was well prepared but I suddenly felt cluttered in my brain. I couldn’t think what I wanted to say, couldn’t process my thoughts, couldn’t concentrate, nothing made sense even thought I knew the subject matter well.

              After missing classes and eventually weeks off at a time with a classic depressed then hypomanic pattern, being away from home gave me the freedom to do what I needed to do. Seek help, see a Psychiatrist, get a diagnosis. It wasn’t difficult for them to make and from what I knew myself then about mental health conditions by then, it was no surprise to me. So in a way it was a relief, I felt hope about getting treatment.

              I was probably one of the three strongest students clinically in my year and I got 3 jobs whilst others were still looking. Academically without the illness I could probably have got a first. These were heavy Science, Psychology and Linguistic based subjects and I didn’t do enough reading or revision and missed a lot of classes but still managed a high 2:1. I was happy with that anyway.

              I did some great things in my first job interspersed with a lot of sick time. When I was there I worked hard and performed well for the most part. Except for when I was there and should have been at home but felt too bad to say so. I just realised I’m supposed to be lamenting here and it’s not ALL bad.

              I think the sorrow comes from what it was like when I came home from work and how I felt inside. I see people without the illness as having a normal social life and doing life giving activities. I came home from work, I drank, I smoked, I became extremely hungry because of it and developed Bulimia as my way of compensating for the way I was eating (and other reasons probably). It was lonely. I was deeply unhappy. I was hanging out with people purely as company to get high with no real interest in them at all other than one of them dealt coke.

It was convenient as they were in the pub opposite my home, everyday, so it was effortless to get it and the guy had a soft spot for me and was always keen to have a young girl hanging on his arm so I often didn’t need to buy it. Eventually I would end up in an episode and I grieve the repeated chunks of time lost in states of Psychological pain and distress, the yo-yo psychiatric admissions and constantly pressing the pause, play, rewind buttons on my life.

              I grieve today for the girl who was in such a mess and lost most of her 20’s. I’m sad she was unhappy. I’m sad her progression in life came to a standstill due to a mood disorder that was hard for the doctors to manage and her own inadequate coping strategies. I am sad she had so much potential and it was partly wasted and partly killed off by the disease. I wish she’d had more solid confidence and self respect.

              My A Level friends were less than impressed with the company I was keeping and judged the way I was living. One withdrew and didn’t voice it until 10 years later. That made me really sad as he was one of my special ones. Generally I ended up arguing with them over random things when I was drunk at their parties and ostracising myself from them one by one. I was aggressive and confrontational and I felt like they didn’t understand me and that’s what made me worse. They didn’t, they didn’t understand that I was ill. I did a couple of bad things and I was going to leave a full stop there but it doesn’t make for a good sentence so I may as well confess.

I punched my friends boyfriend on one occasion. I don’t remember making contact with his face and it wasn’t hard but I remember the furore and it obviously didn’t go down well. But I did something which in my mind was worse. They were all drunk playing with an inflatable slide and water in someone’s garden one evening, having such a great time. I was sitting beautiful, drinking, morose and smoking cigarettes, unimpressed with the endeavour and finding their juvenile noise hard to cope with. I held my cigarette discreetly at against the back of the plastic slide, slowly it deflated.

I probably didn’t see anyone after that. I don’t even know who the person was who did that. Nothing makes it right of course but we were growing apart. I remember going to one of their gatherings with my best friend from Uni in the middle of nowhere, late at night outside of London. We got there and after 5 minutes were giggling in one of the bedrooms working out how we were going to escape. It was very late, before UBER but we managed to get a cab organised, sneaked out like naughty children and took a long, expensive ride home.

Me in my 20’s is literally someone completely different to who I am in 30’s and early 40’s. I’ve never been intentionally mean apart from that one occasion. I think I’m forgiven now. They are all on my Facebook and often like my posts. We’re dotted around the country. I wouldn’t meet up again. We’re different people. I think maybe we always were. I have to employ spiritual practices not to find their Facebook posts irritating or think things like “you’re a dick” and I force myself to find something to ‘like’ or be nice about. I don’t think I’m envious of the textbook normal lives they display I just judge them thinking you have no fucking clue.

I think I may assume some superiority for the things I’ve experienced, the things I know and the evolution I’ve had, mostly just in relation to these people but sometimes similar people I meet now and obviously I need to work on that. As part of my ongoing evolution. It’s a dichotomy, I don’t want them in my life because of who they are, we’d have no connection but perhaps I’ve still a little anger that they never understood. I was probably hard to help but they never tried. As a grown person I can see no-one owes you anything. They are free to act as they wish. I would do well to remember that the next time I’m on Facebook.

I have one friend left from then, she stood by me, didn’t judge me, she understood and supported me all the way. She lives far away but we’re great friends and full of love when we see each other and I had my best Uni friend too. We’d do coke together. But in a nice way, over some wine, staying up most of the night putting the world to rights, getting to know every tiny single thing about each others lives. Or we’d go out to bars, clubs. But she’d go to bed and I’d stay up until the morning continuing the coke party by myself until every last grain was gone.

              Even the overdoses were sad and lonely. I wouldn’t tell anyone least of all my family. I remember one time I was in the general hospital for a few days with no visitors. This kind nurse came in and brought me a little kit of facecloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste as I had nothing. Clearly from home. Such acts of kindness you remember but it also reminds me how alone I’ve been for the most part with this illness for 23 years since diagnosis or I would say 30 years as I think I could have been diagnosed in school.

              I don’t want to get into a mode of self pity. But this illness has affected my work, my friendships, my family relationships, my economic wellbeing and cheated me of a lot of time. Now I need to get healthy to try and beat the 25% reduced mortality rate as I have a child that relies on me. But what it has done most of all is stripped me of me. My personality. Or has it. It’s a mixed answer.

              I didn’t really start living until I was 29 and met my soul mate. I’d worked on myself enough by then to be ready. Everything before that has contributed to who I am, has been part of my learning, part of building my strengths and personal characteristics but it was filled with chaos, pain, fear. My whole life has been a challenge and continues to be. All of those days were so broken. I grieve the lack of a normal life whatever that is. At least I think I do. I can’t picture what it would have looked like having been where I have been. But I know the loss, I feel the pain of it but I don’t know what I would have wanted instead. I don’t know anything else.

              Someone recently said to me there is something special about you and its nothing to do with the Bipolar Disorder. And it meant so much. I have had this illness so long I have almost become it. I had started to think the only good bits about my personality were those displayed when I am hypomanic. I have a tendency to think that is me, that is the good me. That is the likeable me. And the depression is the unlikeable version of me. But it is not me. Bipolar Disorder has started to feel like me because it visits so often and I would like to see ‘me’ more often. I am not my disease. I am likeable for me, not my hypomania although I would say until it gets dysfunctional it is somewhat an extension of me and my extrovert character, that one is a fine line.  I am not the ugly side, my depression. I need to remember that that is part of the illness. I am working on seeing where I sit for longer periods. My illness strips me of myself for large chunks of the year. But I am getting ‘me’ back.

I wrote this piece as a follow up to my Bipolar Journey because after writing that I became very sad. I actually thought I was going into a depression and became very frustrated and despairing that I had mismanaged a mildly hypomanic mood that had been occurring for 6 days previous. But I woke up crying this morning and recognised it was grief. I know grief now since my husband died. It is distinctly different to depression. This was grief of my losses to my illness.  I was so very happy it was not depression as I can manage grief for the most part.

My 30’s have been good. I met the man of my dreams and had a beautiful child. Those things are more important than many of the other things I did not achieve. I experienced loss again in my 40’s when my husband died but at least we had those 11 years. I also worked again in a new job for 10 years and performed well when I was not off sick. I am now building a new future and still fighting to get good management of this illness.

There’s a possibility I will always have some sadness about how much of my life I have lost just in terms of time. The ‘normal’ experiences people have that I haven’t and the things I might have achieved. How much I have faced alone and the sadness I have endured and the things I have done to myself that have been damaging. But the article I wrote about my Bipolar journey is in the past already. I am in the present now. I am playing these cards out better now and I will continue to do so. I am proud of who I am today. I have genuine confidence, for the most part. I have self respect. I have more self awareness than many people. I am intuitive, kind, caring, generous, loving. I am persistant, I am a fighter, I never gave up and I hope I never will give up.

The things I want now aren’t really the things I have lost by having Bipolar Disorder. Yes I’d like to be able to provide my daughter with a house with stairs, a garden and a dog as she’s been asking for 6 years and she may have to wait until she can provide her own. But in the big scheme of things she has a good life, she does not want for anything on the contrary her life is rich with experiences and plentiful in every other way you could imagine. I would prefer it if I owned my own home so I had something to bequeath to her. But she’s bright, I have to pray I don’t die too early so she can be established on her own. I’d like a few more friends so I’d get invited to normal parties and dinners where I could potentially meet someone new. My career is what it was.

 But In some ways after what I’ve been through none of these material or even occupational things seem important. It’s not about what I could have been or what I could have had, it’s just some of the suffering I would like to be able to remove. I have the illness now and I’ve accepted it, I don’t know anything else. I’d just like a bit more stability. Longer remission times so I can start over and grow my new life, my next phase and not have a negative effect on my daughter’s well being by being ill. That’s all really.

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