Living with, and understanding bipolar disorder is never easy, for both the person suffering as well as the friends and family surrounding that person. It also takes a huge toll on both sides, physically and emotionally. The struggle is real, and I hope, by sharing my experiences, the people affected by this illness might learn how to cope with the daily challenges it presents and realize that it is not something to be ashamed of and that they are not alone.

When I was told that my father only had days to live, a close family friend, stepped in to help. Brenda is an amazing woman, a true inspiration to the people around her. She is a successful physical therapist and an ordained minister. She is a mover and a shaker. When my stepmom and I were too dazed, with the news that my father would be passing soon, she took over. There was nothing that we had to worry about. We were in good hands!

Brenda helped take care of all of my father’s affairs. My stepmom and I were able to be by my father’s bedside, holding his hand, and making his last moments full of love. Even when my stepmom became too weak from the physical and emotional pain, Brenda picked her up and carried her. At one of the worst times in our lives, Brenda was our superwoman. She lifted our spirits, held us when we cried, and listened to our grief. Little did we know, she would soon be living with bipolar disorder.

Two days after my father passes we started to notice little changes in Brenda. She started talking faster, making less sense, and not sleeping. Twenty-eight years ago Brenda’s father and brother passed away in an accident. Some tragedies we bury deep within us. She had never dealt with the passing of her father and brother. It got pushed down, only to resurface when my father passed. A flood of memories came rushing back to her. This was a trigger for her.

Brenda went into a full manic episode one week after my father passed. One night she texted me. She asked if I wanted to go camping. It was the month of March and very cold out. Plus it was raining. She wanted me to bring my family and camp out in the woods. I told her that we would when the weather was warmer. That was one of the last times I heard from Brenda. From her voice, I knew that something was wrong.

Just an hour after I talked with Brenda, her husband drove her to a psychiatric hospital. She voluntarily was admitted. She remained in a manic state. Two days into her stay at the hospital, she hired a lawyer to help get her out. One week after she was admitted, the lawyer was able to get the hospital to release her. Brenda was still manic. Her last manic episode, seven years ago, lasted for six months. She was sent home with a prescription for lithium.

This is when the true mania set in. Brenda would visit my stepmother and me. It was heart-breaking when we saw her. Before this manic episode, Brenda was such a strong sensible woman. Now, her speech was rapid and incoherent. We didn’t understand what she was telling us. She couldn’t sit down and just paced around the house. We both talked with Brenda about how much we loved her and that she needed help. She told us that everything was fine.

On top of being in a manic place, Brenda, a recovering alcoholic, started to drink again. She did not want to take her lithium because she said that it made her gain weight. She threw away her pills. Quickly, she escalated to self-medicating, on a daily basis, with alcohol. Our hearts broke. My two children love “Aunt Brenda”. They asked to see her each day. Brenda had lifted me up, in a time, when I was overcome with grief. She had been our sunshine.

A week after Brenda begin drinking again, she was committed involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital. It was hard, but we knew she needed help. Somehow she was released one week later. She started to pretend to take her pills. She was lying not only to herself but the people close to her. We begged Brenda to get help. She would say, “I’m fine. I like how I feel. This is when I get the most done.” Brenda was far from fine though. We were all worried about her.

It was at this point that her physical therapy office had to be closed. She was in no position to help herself, much less her patients. Brenda kept saying that she was “retired”. It was at this point that her husband gave her ninety days to move out. She was drinking every night and had stopped sleeping. None of us knew what to do to help her. This is when her mania became worse. Also, she became very angry.

Brenda went over to my stepmom’s house banging on all of the doors and screaming. She wanted to be let in. My stepmom, with her heart breaking, didn’t open the door. She said, “That was so hard because Brenda is my sister. I love her.” Brenda then became angrier. She started attacking each of us on social media and leaving dozens of angry voice mail messages. The messages brought tears to our eyes. We still loved her, but no longer knew how to help her.

We watched hopelessly as Brenda life’s spun out of control. We talked with her about getting help, but she insisted that she was better than ever. This is when the harassment started. Brenda wasn’t working, so she would show up to our houses demanding money. Also, she would show up to her children’s places of employment and their schools. At this point, we all felt so helpless. Her mania was the worst it has ever been.

Brenda was in the middle of a complete breakdown. Just two months prior to this Brenda had everything she wanted. She had a thriving physical therapy practice. Also, she performed marriages, since she was an ordained minister. Brenda was a leader in natural healing and helped so many members of the community. So, many people love and want to help Brenda. We just do not know how?

It has gotten to the point where she is telling people that she has written Broadway plays and musicals that are better than “La La Land”. She says that she doesn’t need sleep because she has too much to get done. One of her sons asked her to not come to his track meet. She baked all night. She took a carload of food to the track meet. A track meet she said, “I am not needed at.” Her family and her friends beg her to get help.

We have told her how much we love her. We miss the healthy Brenda that we all know and love. She says that she is going to become a famous writer. She needs the mania to fuel her creativity. She has been asked to leave her house. She repeatedly calls us ten times a day. The voice messages are angry. Each message, angrier than the last, depending on how much she has drunk. The people who love her the most get together and try to come up with a plan to help her.

As I write this Brenda is still manic. She is a wonderful woman that is having a hard time right now. We each pray that she receives the help that she needs. Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million people in the United States alone. My mother-in-law has a mild form of bipolar disorder. Her mania was the opposite of Brenda’s. If my mother-in-law goes off her medication she cries for days at a time. She becomes extremely depressed and has suicidal thoughts.

It is because of this that my mother-in-law stays on her medication. She lives a very happy life. My mother-in-law sings in the church choir and has her own greeting card business. She says, “I learned long ago that in order to function, to be my best, and to feel my best I need my medication. The medication balances me out and lets me enjoy life.” My mother-in-law has been able to manage, cope, and live happily with bipolar disorder.

Brenda was able to manage her bipolar disorder for seven years. She had a successful business. Her patients, her friends, and her family all love her. I hope that one day Brenda has all of these things back. I know that it is possible! I have seen how amazing Brenda can be. She has touched and helped so many lives. So, right now we continue to hope that Brenda will get the help she needs. One thing is certain we will continue to love her!

I hold out hope that Brenda will return to us. We will continue to encourage her. We have had to set limits though, especially since she has started drinking. It is a rocky path, in which, I am not sure what the future holds. I do know though, that there is help out there for people who are struggling with bipolar disorder. It can seem as if bipolar disorder takes control, but with help, you can have the life you want. Bipolar disorder may be a part of you, but it does not define you!

And remember…

For greater insight into interacting with those suffering from the issues mentioned in the article or if you would like to chat with others affected, try the app, Reachout.

For the past five years, I have been taking care of my parents who both have a neurological disorder. The strength, perseverance, and hope my parents possess inspire me to be a better person each day. It brings me great joy to listen, encourage, and help others. I feel that this is my life’s purpose. In my free time, I create upcycled art pieces, hike, and dabble in photography.

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