One of my best friend’s nephews was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’d been in mental distress for about a year and was self-medicating, so this didn’t come as a surprise to me. In a way, it was a relief because the kid could finally get the right help he needed. I’ve had bipolar disorder since 1991 (and probably before that.) I told my mother that my friend’s nephew was diagnosed.
“Mom, you know Peter’s nephew, Jonathan?”
“Yes,” she said.
“He was diagnosed bipolar.”
“Oh, no!” she said with a horrified look on her face. I might as well have told her that he’d passed away.
I have to say, her reaction surprised me. I didn’t know that she viewed the disease with the angst that she did. But she’s been the mother of a daughter who’s been bipolar for almost 30 years. In many ways, it must be harder to stand by and watch a close loved one go through the roller coaster of this illness than to have it yourself.
18-year-old Jonathan’s diagnosis was certainly no big deal to me. It wasn’t the deal breaker that it appeared to be for my mother.
My friend Peter called me. “Would you talk to Jonathan?” he asked.
“You mean about bipolar disorder?”
“You’re the most successful bipolar person I know.”
“Wow, what an honor!”
“Well, thank you.”
“You’re more successful than most people I know, never mind the bipolar.”
What could I say? The illness took its toll in years gone by, but today, I was in recovery, had a job, was raising a child, had a good marriage and a freelance writing career, had great friends. I’d finally come into my own. I guess I was a good role model for a newly diagnosed person.
I planned out what I would say to Jonathan.
- Take your medication. If you don’t take your meds daily, your life will be shit. (Sorry, about my language, but there’s no better way to say it.)
- See a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The psychiatrist will handle the medication, and the psychologist will talk to you and help you cope with this often debilitating disease.
- Be careful whom you tell. Not everyone is comfortable with mental disorder. If you spread the word haphazardly, you might lose friends and keep from making new ones.
- Don’t mix street drugs and alcohol with your prescription meds.
- Plan for your future. Don’t quit school and lie low for a few months or a year. You might never get up. Dig in and get a degree, then a job, then a place to live, etc.
- Be happy that they found out what was making you crazy. You’re one of the lucky ones. There’s nothing worse than undiagnosed severe mental health issues.
- Rely on your family and true friends for support.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. (This is something that I need to start doing. I don’t always practice what I preach.)
- Believe it or not, this malady will make you a strong, better person.
- Sometimes, you’ll feel like giving up. Don’t give up.
The above is a list of ten things I’d like to tell Jonathan, but I could go on and on. I think I’ve covered the major issues.
As far as my mother and her horror of Jonathan’s bipolar diagnosis, I have to realize that, again, she’s been experiencing my pain all through my disease process. Now that I’m in recovery, she can display how she feels about bipolar disorder.
I will do my best to help Jonathan. I’ve been down this road before.
It’s not a road I would have chosen, but it’s my road, the road that has characterized my life.
Welcome to the bipolar club, Jonathan. You’ll be fine. You really will. Don’t let the diagnosis get you down.