Sunday, July 1, 2007

What I Have Learned From Being Bipolar

While everyone talks about all the bad stuff associated with being bipolar, what about the good stuff? Tonight as I visited my 85-year-old mother at her assisted living facility, I thought about how much better a daughter I am to her because of my illness.

In truth, I have always been a wonderful daughter. But, what has my illness taught me that enables me to be a better daughter to a mother who's suffering from dementia, who has naturopathy due to diabetes (she's in a wheel chair because she has no feeling in her legs), who's incontinent, who is so very glad to see me when I arrive that she sometimes tears up with relief (even though she is living in a wonderful place with caring caregivers and an ocean view), who sometimes calls me and thinks that my father, (who's been dead for 18 years), and my grandparents (who have been dead even longer) are still alive and who cries when I have to tell her that they died long ago, and who was a wonderful mother while I was growing up and still is...in many ways?

I once wrote an essay called The Throwaway People about me and my mother. I tore it up years ago but my point was that in our society, old people and people who are labeled mentally ill are throwaways. People feel they can dismiss us because we are damaged.

It would be sad enough if those people were strangers, but sometimes they're closely related to us. It's so easy for them to say, "She's not aging gracefully" (my mother) or "I don't like her behavior (me).

I have often wondered what "these people" will do when they age...when their children no longer find them entertaining...when and if they suffer a serious and debilitating illness...when their friends stop seeing them because they can't tell great stories any longer and seem forgetful...

(to be continued)

6 comments:

ac said...

Much has to be said about being bipolar being a good thing. I do believe that it can be a good thing. When I had my episode seven years ago, I've felt slightly different from everyone, like I had this secret that no one could know. Now I'm much more open about it.

james said...

In some ways I have felt bipolar to be a blessing. My relationships with others have been especially enriched - my marriage is much stronger, and I'm closer to family and friends (especially those with mental illnesses). I may be fortunate in this respect, as I know many people with bipolar have a much worse experience.

JayPeeFreely said...

Your points about what happens to relatives and friends once they get old is very true...

Personally, I have a ton of relatives, but never connected to them on either side. I wonder, who does visit them?

Happy 4th of July!

marja said...

So true about people not thinking that they might themselves be senile one day. Even more people think they could never become mentally ill. Didn't all of us bips think that when we were younger? If we could all just learn to put ourselves in other people's shoes! The world would be a so much better place.

Marissa Miller said...

I really liked this:

I once wrote an essay called The Throwaway People about me and my mother. I tore it up years ago but my point was that in our society, old people and people who are labeled mentally ill are throwaways. People feel they can dismiss us because we are damaged."

Very, very good observation.

Meredith said...

Oh, I wish you hadn't torn up the essay! I was saying something similar to my boyfriend the other day, and I'd love to see what you had to say on the topic.