Proudly bipolar

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, April 12 2016

This week marks the 19th anniversary of my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The description “little girl lost” was never more apt than for me in Montreal, in April 1997 when I was in the throws of my first and only manic episode. I lost it all that year or enough of my life to feel completely terrified, alone, and branded with a label given to me when I was admitted to Emergency for a day at the local hospital.

Friends had told me for months, at my job as an editor for a medical journal, that they thought I was bipolar. I thought they were trying to bring me down. I wouldn’t hear of it. After all who wants to hear they have a mental illness or any chronic illness at 24 years of age?

I was no exception, and it was only when I stopped sleeping that the exhaustion stopped me cold in the hospital. My Mum came to get me but I didn’t want to go home. It was a fight to get me back to Vancouver. In the weeks that followed, I lost my relationship, was fired from my job and felt on the outside of everything that had ever meant anything to me. My family was the one thing I needed and my grandparents “babysat” me until I could get in to see a psychiatrist. My GP thought I shouldn’t be let out of anyone’s sight.

My psychiatrist in Vancouver has become my life-long friend.  I have only ever gone off my medication to have my two children. After my second child was born , I was diagnosed with post-partum depression (bipolar style). I returned to his office and was assured of a return to good health, eventually. But it would take time. That was eight years ago. 

So, I am tremendously grateful this week, for my life, for being able to manage an illness that devastates the lives of so many. 

If I were inclined to tattoos, mine would surely read, “Proudly bipolar,” because this illness has given me everything I could want. Top of the list is the ability to know myself. Who I am and what I need to do to be healthy. Surrounded by loving people like my Mum and Dad, my grandparents, and a few very dear and kind friends, I was able to rebuild my life. I could have lost so much more.

Two years later, I met the love of my life, and now have a healthy family, a life full of cherished friends and most of all my physical and mental health. At every turn, I have people that care, and support me, who know I am bipolar and love me anyway. Perhaps what’s most important is that I love the part of me that is bipolar. Yes, I experience extreme mood swings, highs and lows that without medication would lash me against the rocks every day. Instead I have days that are flat, days where I don’t feel myself and get down. But these occur once a week, less if I’m lucky.

Bipolar lets me watch my daughter swing out of a tree, with tears in my eyes, picking up her sketchbook and bringing it inside with my son who returns on his bike from soccer practice, the picture of health.  He heard we ate all the ice cream. Sometimes that happens when you’re enjoying a fantastic spring day. 

Making a really good time of this life is what’s most important to me now and using every minute I can to contribute in a small way to this island that I have loved so very much these past 11 years. At 42 years old, I can say it has been a life well lived and there is so much further to go. Like Robert Frost once wrote, “the woods are lovely dark and deep but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” And yes, I think he suffered with bipolar too.