Friday, June 30, 2006

The Kiss of Death

So, who do you tell about your disorder? And when?

I don't have a good answer for that because even though I tend to be quite up front about it, there are times when less is more and I don't disclose.

At least, not right away. And perhaps in dribs and drabs. Or maybe never.

When you've finally found out that you're bipolar, it's often such a relief to know that your behavior is to some degree quantifiable that you really want to tell everyone. "Hey, remember the time I spent $5,000 on diamond hairclips? Well, now I know why!"

I generally have a pretty good sense of who I can trust to understand. But I certainly don't wear my disorder on my sleeve for everyone to see.

For example, my boss, who is a wonderful person and someone who I consider a friend, knows, even though I've known her for a short time. She's a diabetic and understands that manic depression, like diabetes, is an imbalance. In the short time she's known me, she knows that I am a damned good editor and writer, that she can depend on me to get the job done, and that I never whine when the going gets tough.

My last boss, who was a clueless dork, never got it, even when I was grimly hanging onto my job during a particularly bad siege of side effects. He simply did not understand that medication could cause me to lose my sharpness and could not accept that I missed details due to a reaction to an increase in dosage. He just thought I didn't give a shit. When I finally explained to him that I took this medicine because I had a chemical imbalance and that I was manic depressive, all the good work I had done was worth nothing to him. He only cared that he wasn't getting what he wanted, not that I was struggling.

But bosses notwithstanding, there are other people with whom you may want to be careful. If you're single and dating, do you tell the boyfriend or girlfriend? That really depends on where you are in the relationship. If you've been dating only a very short time, say a couple of months, I'd say hold off until you know if it's solid enough.

Sooner or later, you have to say something, though. And it's taking a huge chance because you just don't know how people will react, really. My feeling has always been, if he doesn't like it, he wasn't worth it anyway.

However, understand this--people who do not have any mental health problems often do not know how to handle us when we're careening over the edge, be it with mania or depression. Erratic behavior, constant crises, anger issues and all the other baggage that comes with manic depression can be extraordinarily wearing on the other person. I know that in the 32 years I was married, I often drove my late husband, the epitome of patience, right to the brink before I was diagnosed and medicated. But we worked through it together and he developed an amazing understanding of the disorder for someone who never had a screwy day in his life. But he was the exception rather than the rule.

So weigh your odds carefully. Be honest when you can but don't spill the beans before you know the terrain.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Children's Hour

How do you handle a family member who's potentially bipolar?

Not with kid gloves, that's for sure. Although I've been accused by daughter #1 of seeing bipolars under every bush, the fact remains that this is a hereditary illness, whether it's been proven scientifically or not.

That said, it runs rampant in my family. Virtually everyone has had something, whether it's been full-blown manic depression or clinical depression. So there have been sessions throughout the years where one family member has been talked to about their particular (or peculiar, if you like) brand of mental illness.

I recently had yet another family sit-down, this time with my youngest daughter, who is exhibiting some signs of bipolar and has, like her mother, been a pro at hiding them until she did something quite destructive. To me, with whom she is very close.

Approaching someone about their behavior is possibly one of the most difficult things any family can do, even if they've been there themselves. If the person is doing something destructive, it has to be stopped. And I found myself in the same position my late husband must have been in when I was at my manic worst.

My brother and I confronted my mother about her alchoholism many years ago. We didn't tiptoe around it, either. We simply told her that we loved her but that her drinking was destroying her relationship with us and we wanted it to stop. She did, and hasn't had a drink since then.

Telling someone that you love them but you hate their behavior is the way to go, always. You can never judge the person but you certainly can judge the behavior. And if you find yourself dealing with a family member, that's the way to go. You may not get through to the person the first time around. It may take more than one confrontation to get them into therapy or whatever it is they need to do. But if you don't try, you are then part of the problem.

Sometimes you will be successful. More often than not, you will be unsuccessful. Because in the final analysis, the person who is ill must recognize it themselves. But if you don't bring it to their attention, they may never know. It's that insidious.

So if you've been avoiding talking to a loved one, stop putting it off and do it. They may or may not listen. But at least you've given it a shot.