Surviving Bipolar is a series about how bipolar has steered my life.
Trigger Warning: suicide
Do you want to go on a journey? Today, you are invited to go on one that involves surviving bipolar disorder. It’s hard to say how long the journey will be because it’s still going.
You need to understand a harsh reality from the beginning. Some journeys are never complete. Some journeys go on long after the traveler is exhausted. Occasionally, a journey feels like an endless loop.
Bipolar disorder is one such journey, but it is one you can survive. I am living proof.
Note: I am not a mental health professional. Speaking Bipolar is a blog about my personal experiences with Bipolar Disorder. If you or a loved one is experiencing mental illness, please get the appropriate help you need today.
Who am I?
My name is Scott, and I am the man behind the curtain on the Speaking Bipolar blog. I’m also the editor of the Speaking Bipolar on Medium Publication. For a fun background, you can read my origin story told as a fairy tale here.
I’m in my early fifties and work as a bookkeeper and tax preparer. After my 9–5, I love to work in my garden, go hiking, and cook new and exciting dishes. I also care for my aging parents.
Mental illness is part of my daily life. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the spring of 1995. Looking back, bipolar has colored nearly every day of my life, including my childhood.
I also have a physical chronic illness: Familial Mediterranean Fever.
I’m no superhero and don’t believe I have all the answers. Often, I feel like I’m failing in my journey, but I’m still in the fight.
With lots of practice, I’ve built a little skill at stringing words together. My hope is that some of those words will help you.
Why Share My Story of Surviving Bipolar
For many years, I lived in the bipolar closet.
My family and closest friends knew of my diagnosis, but outside of that circle, I rarely spoke of it. I ordered those who knew not to say anything.
I can’t say if that was the right choice or the wrong choice to hide my illness, but it’s the path I felt was right at the time.
Life has a way of changing us, whether we live with mental illness or not. Watching my own changes and those of the people around me made me realize it was time to speak up.
A few years ago, a friend of mine committed suicide. Let’s call him Jim. He was not the first person I lost to self-harm, and sadly, not the last. There are fifteen friends and family members now on that list.
Jim’s death, though, was different. It haunts me day and night, even years later.
For a long time, I knew Jim was fighting some sort of mental illness. A few times I tried to broach the subject, but Jim refused to talk about it. I knew he was struggling, but I never forced the issue nor insisted he seek help.
I was struggling to survive my own mental illness. It felt like I hadn’t earned the right to try to help anyone else.
During the course of Jim’s last months, circumstances kept us apart. We had not spoken for months, but I was hoping we would be together again in the near future.
I had no idea how bad things had gotten. Neither did his family.
One Call Changes Everything
It was another day at the office when I got the call. Jim’s brother had found him earlier that morning. Within hours, our whole circle of friends heard the horrible news, and many of us were grieving together.
My friend was gone, and there was nothing we could do to change that.
The pain was terrible, especially as I thought about how I could have encouraged him to seek treatment.
I saw his mother a short time later. Not a young woman, the news destroyed her. Her health took a serious downturn, and within a couple of years, we lost her as well.
I believe Jim’s mother willed herself to death. She suffered so much loss in her life, but losing her favorite son that way, was a pain that destroyed her.
Jim’s death consumed my mind night and day. I saw his face before me constantly and searched for answers.
How could I not have known how low he’d gotten? Why wasn’t I the one who could have saved him?
Facing an Internal Truth
Another terrible truth tormented me.
Thoughts of suicide were common for me. I’ll share more about this in future chapters, but I live with constant thoughts of killing myself. I always have a plan, though I hope I’ll never act on it.
Before you call a medical professional to have me committed, please understand I have no plans to act on hurting myself. I can’t ever imagine reaching a point where I would ever carry out my plan. But, in a strange way, there is some security and comfort in having a plan.
If you’ve never felt suicidal, it probably doesn’t make any sense.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. There is a lot of us, many with bipolar and many with other mental illnesses, that always have a plan.
Thoughts of suicide have always filled our minds. Those horrible thoughts stick with us no matter how much fun we’re having or how big the smile on our face.
Most of us rarely discuss this truth. Many of us never talk about it at all. Those who do, only share their dark impulses with a small group of people, and usually only with those who also understand the unhealthy need.
For us, it’s part of surviving bipolar.
When my friend died, a twisted part of me was angry that he died and not me.
My life is good, and for the most part, I’m happy. Even so, part of me was jealous his fight was over and I had to keep going with my battle.
I wrote this poem during one of my darkest times.
Trying to Turn a Negative into a Positive
As the weeks and months went by, something new started to grow in my mind. I couldn’t go back and save my friend, no matter how hard I tried. I’m not a time lord, so that moment is gone forever.
Jim wasn’t the only one suffering in pain. The number of suicides by people I knew personally made that perfectly clear.
When you add in the fact that for every successful suicide there might be dozens or more failed attempts, the number of people suffering is staggering. Then there are millions more who changed their mind at the last second or simply carry their pain with them every day.
I had to do something to help those people. I knew if I could help just one, my life would mean something. If even one person could be saved, maybe I could let go of the pain of losing yet another friend to such an insidious enemy.
A Blog Is Born
My life is very busy. I work full-time and volunteer in my community. Then I have a home to care for and older parents to help.
Bipolar creates enough struggles, but I also contend with Familial Mediterranean Fever, a condition that causes constant pain and fatigue.
Getting out on the streets to help people isn’t an option. I can’t start a foundation or a help line. There’s no cash in the bank ready to use to create a care center.
As time ticked by, though, it dawned on me how I could help others another way. Maybe, just maybe, by sharing my story of surviving bipolar, another man, woman, friend, or child would get help before it was too late.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, and the words usually come easy. The question was, would I be brave enough to share my story with the world? Could I live my bipolar life for all the world to see?
Stay tuned to find out.
Until next time, keep fighting.