1. You don’t see the effects of the meds. I am constantly sick to my stomach because of the medications I take, a rather interesting cocktail. As well, my right hand shakes, and it shakes enough at times that writing on a piece of paper can be difficult as can signing my name for a credit card receipt or an important document. They can also make me tired and lightheaded. Oh, and they have made me gain lots of weight: I was running 20-50 mile a week and managed to gain about 40lbs, which makes doctors who are not my psychiatrist a little nervous.
2. You don’t see the work. I work very hard to keep my mental illness controlled and that work goes basically unnoticed. And I still feel bad that I’m not doing enough (my diet is not what it should be, but when I’m depressed I want that nasty food and when I’m not hypomanic I think I’ll live forever so it doesn’t matter). So that I stay well, I have a rhythm to life that keeps me sane. It’s not natural for me and I work very hard at it.
3. You don’t see the triggers. Triggers are those circumstances and events that can set off my mental illness, both the downward spiral and the upward. These can be anything from certain types of rooms, to crowds, to certain conversations, to too much coffee/caffeine, too much alcohol, etc. Also, certain days and places are also triggers and can be especially dangerous when I am in the throes of depression. So, when I say I don’t want to relive the past or that I don’t want to go somewhere or that I can’t talk about it, I really can’t. And that is a constant struggle.
4. You don’t see the isolation. One of the most difficult things about having bipolar disorder is that it is totally isolating. Even when I am talking to a person and engaged, I feel alone, isolated. When I’m depressed, I know that the person across from me, the people around me, are judging me and don’t like me and are just tolerating me. The deeper the depression, the more that I feel that. But, when I am hypomanic, no one is quick enough, fast enough, can keep up, etc. And that is agitating and makes me not want to be around people. It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. And, this isolation makes it hard to feel loved.
5. You don’t see how much I value life. With my mental illness, I value the moments of joy and bliss and pure connectedness that I experience. I experience them too few and too far between to take them for granted. So, when my children and I chase butterflies and all else fades away except chasing the butterfly, it is a moment of pure, unadulterated bliss. It is pure joy. When my wife grabs my hand and we are just one for a few moments because I feel her love, it is bliss in the purest of forms. And when I’m playing music and we’re jamming and we all fall in with each other and hear each other, it is a joy that no one can describe. And, I feel bad for the people that don’t experience this level joy, of connectedness, of being rooted in life.