Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder

The phone rang.  I answered.  It was my ex-wife from Utah.  “Raven is missing,”  she said.  ” What do you mean?,” I asked. ”  She told me that my 18 year old daughter had been staying at a friend’s house.  There is some indication that she had taken a bunch of pills.  She was no where to be found.  I was calling to get the next flight out of Oakland.    

A couple of hours later.   The phone rang. It was my eldest daughter. They found Raven.  She was discovered  laying in the local cemetery unconscious. She had overdosed on pills. All around her were letters that she had written to me , her mom and each of her siblings.

She was rushed to emergency. They had told me that if they had found her an hour later she would have died of hypothermia.  My daughter had tried to kill herself.  

That sentence rolled over and over on my mind during the entire flight  to Salt Lake City and through the entire drive to the hospital.

That was my introduction to the Bipolar Disorder syndrome.  The days , months and years that followed that fateful day were an education and a journey that we took with  our daughter.  It was hard and difficult in so many ways but it was also illuminating in many others.

We were able to get answers to questions that lingered since she was child,  that explained some real radical behaviors that came about when she entered her late teen years.

After some violent and rebellious episodes with her mother, Raven lived with my partner and I for a few years here in our home in the Bay area.

It was difficult in many ways but it also was the most meaningful time for me as a father. My love for my daughter strengthened beyond measure. 

During those years,  we learned  that the Bipolar Disorder is another word for manic depression where the the person afflicted with the illness experiences euphoric highs and deep lows.    These individuals become more susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex and to act violently, promiscuously, etc.  I watched my daughter run the full gamut of these extremes.  It nearly broke my heart.  

However, I was most thankful that there was an abundant number of resources and treatment centers in the area. Because Raven was an adult, I was only able to encourage her to participate in the programs.   This was hard at times because she sometimes did not make the choices I would have wanted her to make.

She would see therapists and psychiatrists and begin a medicine routine but then would  go off it. Soon her cycle of self destructive behaviors would begin again. She tried at least three more times to commit suicide.  

“Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.”

“I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends, colleagues, and family that I do.”

Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., An Unquiet Mind, 1995, p. 6.
(Reprinted with permission from Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.)

I spent a few times at the emergency room while she got her stomach pumped out or her cuts taken care of.  I have sat and visited with her in psychiatric wards where she recovered short term after such events.

We were living on pins and needles. One time we had a scare that she had gone to put an end to her life,  that Gary and I combed the entire Lake Merritt Park area  thinking we may find her lifeless body. Thankfully, she had decided to go to a friend and talk things out.

I was able to go with her, on occasion, to support groups of parents with children who had the disorder. That was helpful. I was able to get tools on how to deal and handle Raven. I learned not to be held emotionally hostage by the fear of her suicide and to hold Raven accountable for her actions.   Raven has had her ups and downs over the years.  She has lived with her mother also and there are many similar stories there. She even had some trouble with the law.

Over time, Raven has slowly been able to handle her disorder better. She has been more diligent in taking her medicine and going to a therapist. She is now 22 years old.  It has not been a perfect journey but whose life journey is, right?  This struggle has made her the strongest of my children in many ways.  I am proud of her. She has met insurmountable challenges and has survived. I have shed some tears for this daughter of mine but a good many of them have been of joy.

Beyond this illness, I see this wonderful, beautiful young woman.  She is bright, intelligent and witty. She is an artist and a poet. She is full of love.

 Things have become more stable for her and she now lives on her own in Southern California.


What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings—from overly “high” and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.

Signs and symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include:

  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively “high,” overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Distractibility, can’t concentrate well
  • Little sleep needed
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
  • Poor judgment
  • Spending sprees
  • A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong

A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.

Signs and symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode) include:

  • Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Sleeping too much, or can’t sleep
  • Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts 
  • Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury

Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-publication.shtml

18 thoughts on “Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder

  1. As someone who has suffered their entire life with bipolar disorder, I appreciate the thought that we can still be loved.
    I’d like to be thought of like Raven clearly is– remembered for my good qualities, and not the sickness that drags me into fits of severe depression that leave me unable to share anything with anyone, feeling lost and alone.
    I love this post– thank you for writing it! I know my parents feel the same.

  2. I have a son who is bipolar. I appreciate the comments on loving someone who is bipolar. I am still processing the disorder and how to help my son. He is eleven years old and sometime the behavior is difficult for us as parents to handle but the challenge comes in helping his siblings to handle the behavior. I love my son dearly and I do look forward to him learning to cope with this disorder, as well as being an encouragement to him during the challenging moments. He has not reached the teen years yet but is very much on the brink. I am hoping that we will (all of us) have a better handle on this disorder by then. Thanks.

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