The Energy Post

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.
Albert Camus

Nobody realizes that some people must expend tremendous energy to merely appear normal.
Vivien Brunning

My bipolar disorder is a closely guarded secret.  I believe with all of my heart that I would not have been able to accomplish the professional achievements or maintained the personal relationships I have were I to wear my mental illness along with my heart on my sleeve   While my mother and my grandmother always taught me to be kind to the ‘slow’ person we would sometimes stop and chat with while walking on Park Avenue, I will never forget the looks and laughter from the meanies as they passed us by.  This was a valuable lesson for a six-year-old child.  It’s OK to be ‘different.’  There are kind people who will be compassionate towards you.  But, then there are those who will not.    

Empty fuel gage
Empty fuel gage (Photo credit: Janie B.)

Energy is a precious commodity when you are fighting with bipolar disorder.  Even when you’re not bipolar, keeping up a charade takes an enormous amount of energy.  When you live with mental illness and have made a conscious choice not to disclose your condition, the energy necessary to just  appear normal gets to be too much.  It takes a well orchestrated effort to not be forthcoming with friends, certain extended family members, employers, colleagues and, to some degree, even your own immediate family.  I think about this a lot.  The time, the energy, the orchestration necessary to make faux normalcy seem real. It’s exhausting.      

A lovely woman whose blog I follow published a very frank post. Soul Survivor gives us an account of what it’s like to be one of the Walking Wounded: Betrayal and Stigma.  If you haven’t already, please give it a read.  It eloquently describes what might happen when those of us with mental illness take that leap of faith and confide our condition in some people we thought we could trust.  Reading her post gave me pause and got me thinking: Which one of us may be in the worse position?  Which one of us has to expend more energy?  The one who is honest about their condition and bears rejection or the one who goes to great lengths to make sure they never have to?

Life has thrown my family and me a lot of curve balls in the recent past.  I am mentally fatigued.  I am physically exhausted.  I feel as if my façade of normalcy that was carefully constructed over the last two decades is cracking.  But a conscious choice to not disclose my condition means I can’t just yell to those in my immediate sphere, “Time out!  I’m bipolar, this is too much shit at once and I need to retreat and regroup!”  Not being able to do something sometimes uses up more energy that if you’d done anything at all.

The energy required to deal with mental illness is something I am sure every, single mentally ill person will tell you at times can be unbearable.  We have to constantly check in with ourselves to see how we are doing.  There’s medication, doctor appointments, counselor appointments, feelings of guilt and worthlessness over our disease or inability to fully participate in society, worries over funding our treatment, anxiety about how others perceive us, dealing with the fallout from mania, from depression, from letting ourselves slide too far if we don’t seek treatment the minute we start to feel bad.  This is by no means a complete list of energy sapping BS.  It’s just what my frazzled mind can come up with at this moment.

I’m still pondering Soul Survivor’s post.

Would my coming clean about being bipolar after all these years make things easier on myself?  Is it time to surrender?  Is it time to change the thing about my mental illness I spend the most energy on?  Perhaps my soul could feel a bit of peace if I could be honest when my friends ask how I’m feeling.  Maybe I would be less tired if I didn’t have to measure my words when describing what bouts of homesickness are really doing to me. Every once in a while I seriously consider surrender.  Every once in a while I would like to just come out of the mental health closet like my gay friends came out of theirs, and live a life of truth and relative happiness with who I am the way they do.

In my universe, disclosure of my illness puts a lot at stake. One particular circumstance could blow up in my face.  This issue has an expiration date so close I can almost taste it, but I refuse to tempt fate.  Patience, young Padawan.  Besides sanity, the biggest victim of mental illness is credibility. In order to retain any shred of professional credibility, my condition is best left in the shadows.  The vast majority of people in my industry would never take direction for the ‘serious’ stuff I work on if they knew it was coming from a bipolar.  A bipolar woman at that.  Sadly, gravity does not hold my universe together, lack of information does.

My Mom used to tell me that you can’t un-tell a secret.  As I sit here eating Xanax and typing, it’s becoming more and more obvious that still, even at this point in my life, preaching to the choir while high on benzos is still the best solution.  But, I’m finally in a position where I can whine about how tired of it all I am.  Progress.  Real progress.  Maybe I’ll consider The Closet Question again in another six months when things simmer down.  Right now, I’m off to answer a few e-mails and lie to a few friends in the US that I’m doing just fine.

I’ve thought again and again about how having a mental illness and revealing it to others is like coming out. I’m not sure if there is as much stigma for us as there is for gay people, but there certainly are parallels. I am becoming more comfortable with who I am and what I have. As an educator, I know that is dangerous, but I also know that people who find out that I am bipolar learn that bipolar disorder does not do to people what they think it does. In other words, I’m bipolar and most people are ok with that.

Yes, the parallels with coming out of the gay and mental illness closets sure are there. After listening to the stories of several gay friends (who still don’t know I’m bipolar!), I think the biggest difference is that these days, everyone knows what being gay is. In our society there’s still this weird shroud of mystery over what mental illness is all about. Sad. I’m so glad you commented. Hearing from someone in a high profile position who is becoming more comfortable with their dx makes me hopeful. Thank you!

I’m gay and bipolar – get me! I only keep my bipolar in the closet though, though I’m even getting tired of that and becoming more open about it. I’m relatively stable so I think it challenges peoples pre-conceptions of mental illness, even if I know they’re waiting for me to take my knickers off in public, tell them all I’m Jesus and stay climbing the walls.
You’re right, it’s exhausting. Smiling through the thickest of depressions I find the hardest. When people know I still hide it from them though, it doesn’t always make it easier to say what you’re experiencing. Plus every bright mood where perhaps you have more energy is judged as the beginning of a manic, every good idea a delusion, self confidence becomes grandiosity. So you still exhaust yourself trying to fit in a very narrow range of emotions.
Excellent piece by the way.

Thanks! Wow – you hit on something I don’t think about very often. Whether or not there’s any knicker-stripping in public,
I bet there’s some truth in the jest that the people around you who know about the illness are just waiting for some fireworks. LOL I have a weird sense of humor, so maybe I should just start a pool in my family and head it off at the pass. Guess the date of Vivien’s next episode and win tkts to the new Star Trek movie or something. Sigh. But, as you said, even making this joke could be construed as the beginning of manic behavior. We just can’t win, can we? 🙂

Wow. The Credibility Question. Now doesn’t that make you feel like a marginalized, devalued human being? It does me. Even though virtually every genius contributor to the greatness of humanity, from King David and his son Solomon to (of course) Einstein, have been bipolar; nonetheless, and increasingly so since these recent acts of violence by people without known psychiatric diagnoses who were bestowed them by the press–nonetheless, we are considered non-credible because of our neurology. I could go on and on, but I’ll blather on my own blog rather than taking up pages of yours. I’m very happy that my ramblings triggered some of your own. Take good care xoxo

Yup yup yup!! And that Credibility Question marginalizes, disenfranchises and devalues us where just about everything is concerned, doesn’t it? Forget not being taken seriously in the workplace. We’re not even to be taken seriously when giving our opinion about a paint color (don’t ask). We’re just useless, I tell ya.

That little point you brought up about the latest purps of mass violence especially burns the back portion of my hide. Don’t get me started.

You feel free to come over here and type away any time you want. It’s always a pleasure. You make me think. They say it’s good for you, even if you have a ‘defective’ brain. 🙂

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! You don’t know what you’ve just invited through your door.

But seriously. I want to address your rebuttal, and in fact, complete trashing, of Camus. THE ASSHOLE DESERVED IT!!! First of all, what kind of a pompous ass was he to assume he knew what “normal” was? WHAT THE FUCK IS NORMAL ANYWAY????

Nobody knows what is normal. All we have is a bell curve of grouped points representing opinions and behaviors, and the tightest grouping (actually I may be mixing statistical methods, but it works both ways so never mind) of points represents the collective consciousness that is called “normal.” But the thing is, these things are not static, they’re moving around all over the place all the time. And the PROBLEM is that people ASSUME that the collection of points is static.

So Camus was wearing himself out trying to hit a moving target with his slingshot. It’s a good thing we have Vivien to set THAT little issue straight. Thank you 🙂

(Hope I haven’t offended you right off the bat with curse words and caps and stuff like that. If I have, let me know and I won’t do it anymore 😉

Offended by curse words and shouty capitals?

FUCK, NO!

I bet you didn’t know this, but I actually invented using the F Word. I do not, however, ask for any compensation from those wishing to use it to express ANYTHING. EVER. And, I am a Charter Member of the Facebook group devoted to Highly Educated Women Who Use the F Word A Lot.

Normal. Christ, where do I start? My husband (Mr IQ off the charts), at least once every day, rails on this very concept. I was just writing a post wherein I was describing the angst associated with being denied the ability to engage in the human experience on my own terms. Apparently when I was, I wasn’t doing it right. Because now society makes me swallow a bunch of emotional sterilizers so I can fit into Camus’ narrow band of normal. (Well, OK. I was driving my husband and son crazy too, but you get the idea 😉 )

WELL. Glad we fucking got THAT sorted out.
Regarding conformity: My kindergarten report card said
1. Runs with scissors
2. Does not color within the lines
3. Does not follow directions
4. Does not play well with others.

Now, in spite of that I managed to collect a few advanced degrees, but since I am now considered 100% disabled (mostly because of #’s 3 &4, but #1 might have something to do with it as well), I am sitting here using my time writing pithy thomethings that may or may not ever amount to anything. It’s good that you have a husband and son to drive crazy. I hope they appreciate how special you are, and Camus can go fuck himself.

Thanks for such a great post! I can definitely relate to the credibility bit, it’s exactly why I haven’t told many people I’m bipolar. Although, I don’t really keep it as a secret, if it comes up it comes up but I sure as hell avoid revealing it whenever I can.

You’re welcome! Will this credibility thing change in our lifetime? Heck, I don’t know. I keep going back to the brief exchange I had with jmlindy422. Maybe when people become more aware of what bipolar is, maybe, things might change. But that ain’t gonna be tomorrow. 🙁

Hi, Rach: Glad you enjoy the blog! I read your post…very interesting stuff. We may not have the same illness but there are a lot of similarities with how we sometimes experience emotion. (I liked your post on That bit before you fall asleep, too.) Take care & stop by again. Be well!

Another great post, Vivien. You and I have had this discussion before. I honestly don’t know how you manage the stress of keeping your BP a secret. But, I don’t have a job or a family, so I can’t hurt anyone except myself with my being out.

That said, it is tiring to always be teaching about BP to friends, family and the community. No, I’m not like everyone else, just a little moodier. No, I’m not “choosing” to be happy today. But, I’ve embraced this as my job–to be as clear and honest with the folks around me in order to fight the stigma for those of us who have to stay silent.

You’re welcome!!

Hey, Sandy! (Still feeling tip top, I hope.)

Jeez, that’s another consideration, isn’t it? I never really gave it much thought until now. The amount of energy expended talking with nice, well-meaning people & educating them about the illness. Hmmmm. I need to factor that in. There are a few people in my life who would probably wear out that, “How are you doing today?” question. 🙂

I too have made the choice to be open about my condition. It would bring greater pain to me to hide it, as it would feel like I am snubbing myself. If I snub myself, I am giving everyone else permission to. Both sides are difficult. I get personal gratification from the fact that after telling them Im bipolar, I DON’T take my knickers off! I feel like I take a brick out of that stigma wall every time I show them that someone is not conforming to their preconceived ideas. Thank you for the post!

I love it! Some people should have the bricks of the stigma wall thrown at them for how they treat us sometimes LOL Great point about snubbing yourself. I won’t deny I’ve been doing that to myself for some time. Thanks for reading!

I’m a bipolar recovering addict alcoholic with a gay son who is in OA, my brother was also gay and in AA.
Coming out has been a theme in our family. My son came out when he was 12 in 2009 my brother at 21 in 1975 If my brother was alive, he would be stunned at the progress made towards gay rights.
For several years I have felt a responsibility to my bipolar kin, to be open about my illness.
I’m an artist so people often expect some form of eccentric behavior ( Touched with Fire) K.R. Jamison…The recent rants about guns and mental illness did send me into the shadows for a bit.
But we must push forward Let our freak flags fly ! When the time is right, no pressure.

Love Jamison’s books. They really were a lifeline when I was first (re)diagnosed. That whole expectation of eccentric behavior is something I struggle with every day. You have what society accepts as legitimate reason (artist) to act a little on the eccentric side. Sigh…I wish I had that license. Hopefully all of this guns and mental illness stuff will tone down and then neither one of us will have to worry. Or, hey, we can always meet for coffee in the shadows and just keep those freak flags in our purses 🙂

As a nurse who has been bipolar for 25 years, I can tell you that without accepting that this is simply who you are, and incorporating it into your life with a little humor, you will always be suffocated and miserable. When I am having a Day or a Moment, I run around yelling “Im having a Bipolar moment!” or “Oh God, I think I have jumped over to Universe B!”. When I give in, the precious day that will only come once is gone, sucked into darkness and grief. Now, to say that, I of course don’t tell my patients that I am bipolar, unless I have one. But it is amazing how supportive I have found people when I openly express my mood disorder. Bipolar is simply a mood disorder, you are not crazy. Your pendulum just swings a bit wider then other people’s. But everyone has a bad day, and you will find that the people who have a bad day may come to you and ask you how you deal with it. You can be a blessing to others if you choose to see it in this light. And remember some of the most creative people in the world are/were bipolar. We are part of a special group. Embrace it. The way you tell others is the way they will take it. So if you aren’t matter of fact and accepting, then they wont be. Take it from an old bipolar “groupie”. Bless you on your road to a more quiet pendulum.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply! Yes, self acceptance sure has a lot to do with it. I’ve never been good at that (can you tell?). I’ve spent so many years having to squash it all down because of my profession, I’m on autopilot. But I’m trying to find ways to change the energy…set the tone of the conversation and be more accepting of The Medicated Me. Some days, though (I’m sure you’ll agree) the frustration that comes from knowing that your brain isn’t doing what it should/could! OM. LOL Thanks again – I always look forward to your responses!

I ignored my problems–even when, suicidal, I was committed at 23. What saved me was my boss. She recognized that I was bipolar, and since her sister was also, she encouraged me to acknowledge it and use it for humor. And it helped greatly, and my quirkiness was accepted. But I am pretty humble, and I often find that kindness and humility will allow for greater forgiveness in others. Bipolar is simply a mood disorder, and it is helpful to have people in your life that you can simply say, “Today is a tough day for me.” But I did go on medication 2 years ago when I started Rapid Cycling, as that was leading me to such instability that I would be manic half the day and depressed the other half. This leads to bad decisions, and when one recognizes that one’s condition is detrimental to choices, it is time for help. Your situation is hard in that fear of your mood may make your job uncertain of your fitness to fly. In that case, if you feel the pressure to come clean or get support from your co-workers, get a Dr certificate that you are stable first. In your case you may want to withhold this. My situation is similar–as a nurse I need to make sound decisions, but medical people are more understanding and willing to work with me, which is a definite advantage. And I have been extremely loyal to my unit. As a pediatric dialysis nurse, I see horrible situations every day. As I am the only person who has stayed, I am respected and looked up to despite my issue. I will pray for acceptance if you choose to acknowledge this to your co-workers. Also, studies have shown that external triggers can set it off, and internal locus of control can help offset the spiral. I am aware of my triggers, and I have ways to move my thinking away from the negative or positive experiences that enhance my mood. For me, medication only stops the severe swings. Sorry so long, I so feel for you!

Never too long! I am enjoying our dialogue! Being a pediatric nurse of any sort must be difficult on a good day. I thank God for people like you. I don’t know where we would be in life without you.

Your boss certainly was a lifesaver. She made a life-long impact. If I’d had someone who would have helped me navigate my disease at an early stage I am sure I would approach it much differently today. Actually, there was a member of my family who I believe with all of my heart was undiagnosed bipolar, and not a very nice or good person to boot. As a result, of course they weren’t very well liked within the family. Well, when I displayed some of the same behavior…you know where this is going. I completely agree about needing help when your decision making process is compromised. Probably my biggest flaw – aside from thinking I need to keep my bipolar in a closet – is not asking for a med tweak soon enough. That is a bad decision, eh? 🙂 So, all in all, you really have got me thinking about not hiding in the closet any longer. The most important thing I need to do is change the energy around how this mood disorder is seen in my family. My husband likes to pine about how difficult it can be to live with a bipolar person. Well, yeah…duh! It can also be very difficult living with a guy who is cranky from working until 4AM because the systems were down – and he refuses to sleep until the next day. We all have our crosses to bear. 🙂

I can’t thank you enough for all of your honesty and insight. I would love to keep on chatting if you would like to drop me a line – manicmuses at gmail dot com. Be well!!

Thank you for your great website! I’m bipolar and had my first mania phase (with delirium) at work, where my boss called my family, so everybody, form the start knew I was sick. This made things easier as my colleagues understood what I went through, and I decided to talk openly of the illness with all my friends, event the most recent ones, which proved very positive, as many of them also faced some kind of anxiety, depression, boulimia, etc or knew someone having a menta illness already, or were just open to the issue (I do pick them well, those friends, I have to admit). Once the subject of mental illness explored, and accepted, we had more room to discuss the rest.
I know however several bipolar persons who prefer not to talk about it, and I have to admit that I still wonder what I’ll do when I change jobs. It’s easier to be open when there’s nothing to loose.
But I also feel that talking about it helps people around me accept the illness, know more about it, and is almost like a quest to make bipolarity a part of normality. But in a way, that’s already what you do with your blog, so you also deserve some privacy in the rest of your life, if you feel so. But it’s true that it’s quite confortable – like I did this week – to be able to leave work earlier because I am sensing trouble coming and just need to take some drug and sleep until it gets away. And I know my colleagues worry for me, but they understand what I go through and support me. Anyways, being open about the illness really heped me defeating it, so far.

Hi, Aline! I’m so glad you like the blog! Wow – there’s no hiding the disease when you have your first episode at work. Your boss and colleagues sound like kind, compassionate people. You are so fortunate to work in an environment where everyone is so accepting. Hopefully, you’ll be able to stay at this job for a long while. You’re right – this blog is my way of being open about my illness. I still have members of my family who don’t know about my diagnosis. Now that I think about it, even if they knew, I wouldn’t want them reading Manic Muses. Everyone needs a place where they can vent in safety – LOL!

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