An online friend of mine named Sarah, who blogs over at bi [polar] curious, once wrote a post called “The Denial Relapse”, about why we BPs tend to be so resistant to accepting the fact of our illness and how we end up in trouble because of that. Every so often I go back and re-read that post, which I have bookmarked for easy reference, and now that I’ve had the game-changing hospital stay and new diagnosis, it holds a different meaning for me.
I can look back at several instances when denying my bipolar-ness either led to or exacerbated mood episodes. Oh, I knew intellectually that I had a problem that was not going away, but somehow I always found a way to attribute it to something else, like an existential crisis or seasonal affective disorder. I talked a lot about having/being bipolar, but some small part of me resisted the label right up until that night in the hospital, when I sat at the nurses’ station reading my online chart and saw the words bipolar I disorder with depression.
It was as if all the cosmic tumblers clicked into place at that moment. If I’d been a cartoon character, you would’ve seen a light bulb come on over my head. I will never know why it took those words to break through what remained of my denial, but it was just like that defining meeting in AA years ago when a fellow member asked me what it took for me to get a “buzz”. I told her about half a case of beer. She said, “Good God, Maria, what do you consider a ‘buzz’!?” and at that instant I realized that I really was an alcoholic and not just a problem drinker.
I’ve never had another drink. I’ve been sorely tempted to many times, and there was that one time that I overdosed on Ativan, which was pretty much the same thing; but not one drop of alcohol has touched my lips in almost 23 years. Not even Communion wine. So how come it’s taken me almost three years—and five words—to fully internalize the fact that I have this illness too?
I don’t know. I may never know. And it probably doesn’t matter. A friend of mine tells me I need to re-frame my thoughts so I can turn what I perceive as a negative into a positive, e.g. OK, I’m not working, but look, I don’t have to commute and put in 10-hour days anymore. Of course, in a sense it’s just another type of denial, but it sure makes me feel better when I do it.
Now, there’s no guarantee that accepting, and even embracing, my diagnosis will preclude going back into denial mode. Sarah says it happens to a lot of people, where they think they’ve got their disease under such good control that they’re fooled into believing it no longer exists…..or that they never had it to begin with. That’s been my downfall, too. And there’s nothing like a challenge to make me think I can shake off my illness—particularly if there’s a chance it may benefit me financially.
For now, however, I’m borrowing a page from AA’s Big Book and taking things one day at a time. I can’t look ahead any farther than that. And that’s OK.