The day I was diagnosed as bipolar, I drove home from my doctor’s appointment feeling as though someone had slapped a bright red-and-white sign across my forehead warning people to stay away from me. “Danger, Will Robinson! Psych patient walking!” Suddenly I was completely alone in the world…..even though there were a couple of family members whom we all suspected of having the same condition, it seemed at that moment that I was the only “official” bipolar in the universe.
I was certainly the only person in my immediate surroundings who carried this diagnosis. I still am, even in a family loaded with alcoholics, depressives and OCD’ers. But while searching for meaning in these distressing circumstances, I discovered a whole world of people who knew exactly what I was going through……and some of them were as close as my Facebook friends list.
This is, of course, NOT your basic dinner-table conversation (“So, Betty, how did you plead on that shoplifting charge from your last manic episode?”). But little by little, I found fellow sufferers among former co-workers…..members of a nursing forum I’ve belonged to for over a decade…..even acquaintances who have since become close friends because of the common bond between us.
For the reader who doesn’t have this disorder, I have to explain how friendships can be problematic for the bipolar individual. First of all, because we tend to isolate ourselves during times of low mood—and be abrupt and even aggressive when ‘high’—we may not have many friends to begin with. We aren’t the most reliable of friends ourselves for the same reasons. And most of us have also had trouble sustaining relationships because we chose the wrong types of people as friends and/or lovers. So when we find a true friend, a bipolar ‘partner in crime’ if you will, that person becomes our port in an unceasing storm……and we are theirs.
I’m happy to say that I’ve been extremely fortunate in this department. Not only is my family incredibly supportive, but I have a fairly large network of friends whom I can lean on when life seems like nothing more than a huge cluster$#%! and I’m ready to chow down on a bottleful of Ativan. Serendipitously, it always seems that at least a couple of us are euthymic when someone else is struggling, and are thus able to help sustain each other through mood episodes.
We chat about the rest of our lives too, as we are all multifaceted human beings who have more than just bipolar disorder in common. Most of us are nurses or other healthcare professionals; but some work in other fields, several are retired, one serves on the council of a mid-size city a few states away, and another just got her Ph.D in education. We know each other’s quirks and foibles, we know who has issues with alcohol or drugs, we know when one of our group is in trouble…..and we rush to her/his side as we are able, by phone or online, or even by our physical presence.
Yes, we’re all a little mad here….but in our world, that’s perfectly OK.