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“You Know She’s Bipolar…”


There it is again. That whispered phrase, “You know she’s bipolar.” 

To remind you, or let you in on what I’m talking about, I work in a hospital. And where I work, we don’t have a mental health unit, we don’t have mental health doctors. In fact, in this area, we barely have anyone who treats mental health cases. We have MHMR, one private doctor, and a mental hospital that, apparently/supposedly, releases people before they are stable. 

So with that little bit of knowledge, when we have patients that have a mental health diagnosis, some nurses seem to think that they are more difficult because of their diagnosis. Or that they are crazy, or something. But bipolar, that’s the one that always gets whispered. 

I don’t really understand it. I know that some bipolar patients can be difficult to work with because of our swinging moods, but that doesn’t mean that we’re crazy or trying to be difficult. 

Understand, too, that there are people in the hospital that just aren’t all there in their mind, regardless of their mental health diagnosis. And this particular patient was talking out of her head, kind of like she wasn’t all there. I was being kind and trying to help as much as I could. But she said that she wanted to report a couple of nurses. So I went to talk to the charge nurses, who was giving report to the night charge. They were both very understanding of the situation. They knew that she wasn’t all there mentally and that she “says things that just aren’t true.” But then the night charge goes and says, “Well, you know she’s bipolar.” By this time I had been closing the door, thinking the conversation had been over, but when I heard that, I said excuse me and he repeated his statement. To which I replied, “Well so am I but you don’t see me talking out of my head!” They both just looked at me for a moment. Unsure of what to do or say. And then he was saying something about her being severely bipolar. I was walking away already. 

How is it that in a hospital setting, we have such a stigma on mental health? Shouldn’t there be less stigma in a hospital setting, you see these kind of people every day. People who are sick and dying or whatever, needing life saving medical attention who happen to have depression or bipolar disorder, it shouldn’t change the way we approach them, how we treat them. 

The stigma is everywhere. And I want to change that. If it takes standing up to one nurse at a time who thinks that bipolar is something to be whispered and is something that is scary or makes someone difficult, then that’s what I’ll do. 

The Doctors

I’m so frustrated with doctors.

They are the ones who are in charge of medications because they know how they interact with each other and how they work with the body… That does not give them authority over my body.

One goal, or dream, that I have held very dear to my heart, is to have a family. To have a child, born of my body, carried and conceived by me. Why is that such a hard concept? Women do it all the time. Women who don’t even want babies, have babies. But when a woman who has bipolar or BPD wants to have a child, it feels like the world is against it. 

“It’s dangerous!” They say, while looking down on you. 

“You’re dangerous!” He said, with his mouth in a firm line, looking over his glasses, as if he just said the most obvious thing in the world. 

“You think it’s going to be easy? Because it’s not. You won’t get any sleep. Because there is no such thing as sleep with an infant. And they poop all over everything.” She exclaimed, as if I don’t know anything about babies, or what happens with babies. Yes, I’m very aware that babies poop and don’t sleep through the night, and they eat, a lot. 

“Negative.” The nurse said as she poked her head through the door. “Oh, thank God. That’s great news!” The doctor looks so relieved as she peers at me with this look of elation on her face. All the while, my heart is breaking inside. 

She asks me if I’m stable, I say yes. I tell her that I am working and that I have goals and one of my goals includes having a baby. But, of course, I understand that I can’t be on these medications and have a baby, that’s why I’m asking for help. 

“You do realise that bipolar is genetic, right? So you’d be passing that along to your child. And you’re ok with that? And, what, you’re going to do this alone?” Well, no I have my husband. (And heart disease and diabetes is genetic, too. That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have it what’s your point?) “And he’s ok with this?” Well, yes we want a child. “Are you trying to wean yourself off of these medications, because this would be disasterous to a baby.” Yes, I’ve gotten off of several medications, and I’m just down to this.  “Well ok, but I’m not going to be a part of it. And I won’t prescribe you these medications, you’ll have to see someone else, this isn’t my area of expertise.” That’s fine…that’s kinda why I was here… not for a lecture… but until you get the referral can you at least give me a refill for what I am taking so I don’t run out? “Fine, but I’m only giving you a 30 day prescription, and don’t try to get pregnant, because I don’t want to be responsible for this. And tell him to wear a condom for a while.”

I guess I’m just frustrated that ever time I tell a doctor that I want to have kids I get a lecture. Why is it such a bad thing for me to want? I know kids come with responsibilities. It’s not like I’m a child coming into motherhood, I’ve thought about this. I’ve helped raise babies, and while I haven’t been the sole responsible party, I know how much work it takes. I know that the current medication that I’m on is not good for a baby, which is why I’m asking doctors for help to get off of them, safely. But everyone wants to put in their judgements about how someone with bipolar shouldn’t raise children. If you don’t know much about bipolar disorder, don’t talk about it. And simply say that it’s not your area of expertise and that you can’t make any claims to what would be the best case there. I’m not asking for parenting advise at this time, I’m simply asking for help to start a family, safely, and off of medications or on something that can be viable to the pregnancy and my sanity. 

To sit there and talk down about me, in front of me, judging me, without even truly knowing me and all I’ve gone through is not right. You have no idea how far I’ve come on my journey. How many chapters are in my book that have me overcoming the most challenging things that I have ever faced. You don’t know, because you’ve spent a whole 15 minutes with me and you think you know enough about me to tell me that I shouldn’t have kids. Why? Because I have bipolar disorder? Because I have borderline personality disorder? Because I have panic attacks? Because some days are really hard but I drag myself out of bed anyway? I’m stable. I’m maintaining a full time job. And while my anxiety is getting a little high due to stress, I think I’m doing very well. I have goals, I have decided that I want to go to school to become a nurse. Because I have become confident enough in myself to know that I can do it. 

If you would have met me years ago, you wouldn’t know the person I am today. I’m not the same. And I’m tired of people treating me like I’m a basket case because of some label. 

I just want to be me. And I want to be a mom. 

Whispers

I started a new job, I’m working for the hospital now. It’s different, and so far I like it. I’m still doing CNA work, but it’s a lot different from the nursing home. 

I have a great nurse on my shift. She’s from England and has the cool accent. She’s a hard worker, and is always checking on me to see if I need any help. 

One day, we were talking and she was telling me about a former patient she had. She was telling me how crazy they were to work with. And then she whispered, “they had bipolar disorder.” 

I have to tell you, that my heart stopped. I don’t usually disclose my diagnosis at work, it makes people look at you differently. People just don’t understand. And now, I know for a fact, that my nurse is one that just doesn’t understand. 

Bipolar disorder is not a bad thing. I used to think it was. The ups and downs are hard to deal with sometimes, sure. And there are several things that you have to do in order to stay healthy and stable. And sometimes, in order to get stabke, you have to go to the hospital. 

But the way she said it, it just hit me wrong. She whispered it, like it was a curse, or something much worse. 

I wanted to scream at her that I was bipolar. See, I’m stable now, you wouldn’t know! Do I have my days, yes! But it’s not like we’re homicidal maniacs waiting to chop you up or something. We just need stabilization. 

Bipolar disorder can be hard to live with. But it’s doable. You can live with it  you can get stable. You can have good days. You can have a life. And you can hold down a job. You have to work at it, which is hard, because your mind works against you. But you can do it. 

The thing that helped me, I found someone who listened to me, found a proper combination of medicines. I have to ensure that I’m eating and sleeping, make sure to drink water and stay away from caffeine and alcohol. But I finally feel like I’m stable. It’s possible. 

But the way she said it, reminded me that the stigma is out there. That we still have to work to bring awareness to disorders and normalize what is going on in our brains. To remind everyone, we’re not crazy, we’re sick. That you shouldn’t be stigmatized for having to take medication, because you wouldn’t say anything to someone who has to take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure, so why are you judging me for taking meds for my brain? We have work to do. 

But I can tell you, you can be stable. Will you have bad day? Yes, I have them. But your track record for bad day survival so far is 100%, so keep going. And if you need help, reach out. There are people who will listen. Call a friend, call the lifeline. Anyone. Don’t struggle alone. You’re real, and you matter, you are not alone. 

Dangerous

Such a stupid, simple word. Used to describe horrible situations and despicable people. I never thought that it would be used to describe me…

I went to the doctor last week. This is my second meeting with him. It’s been a month since my first appointment, and a lot has transpired since we first met. He adjusted my meds… A lot, I might add. He took me off of everything, the antidepressant, all save one mood stabilizer, and kept the Seroquel. It’s a drastic change. He said that I was over medicated. I guess I could agree with that. I was on Lexapro, Trileptal, Topamax, Seroquel, and I’m pretty sure that there was another one, but I can’t think of it right now. Maybe, I was over medicated. But it wasn’t a gradual reduction, a weening off of the meds, it was a cold turkey stop of everything and an uptake in the Seroquel and Topamax.

He said, why are you angry? Who are you angry with? Well… If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. I wouldn’t have the anger that I have right now. But I’m not always angry. There are times of peace and joy in my life. They may not be ever present, but they are there. There are times that I laugh uncontrollably. But there are times of extreme sadness, and there are times of unwarranted anger and aggression too.

So, last week, I went back to the doctor. He asked me how I was doing, if there were things that we needed to talk about that we didn’t think of the first time. And there were. Because during that long month, there was an episode. A suicidal episode. I made it through. My husband made it through. No one got hurt. I overdosed a little on the pills that I have left…. Oh, it was.  a sleeping pill — because I wasn’t sleeping, that was the one that I couldn’t remember. But during that episode, the person that came through, wasn’t me. And I know, or feel, that it can’t be disassociative identity disorder, because there is no memory loss or gaps in time. But it wasn’t me. I felt everything in me change, my facial expression changed, my eyes changed, my posture changed, even my voice changed. Everything in me changed, and it was something that I couldn’t control. I could hear everything that was being said. I just couldn’t do anything about it. It has to be a coping mechanism. Right?

Anyhow, I told the doctor about it. He was quiet for a minute. And he looked at me with a solemn expression and he’s like “you know you could hurt someone like that, right?” And he called me dangerous. My memory at this point is fuzzy because all I can think about is that he’s calling me dangerous. I haven’t been hurt this much by someone I haven’t known personally in a long time. But he just sat there and called me a dangerous person. And he’s fiddling with his phone, and I’m scared that he’s fixing to call and have me locked up. I just want to scream at him and punch him in the throat, which would only prove his point. But still. How could you say that to someone?

I have never had a history of violence toward anyone but myself. Have I wanted to hurt someone else? Yes, who hasn’t? BUT have I acted on those thoughts? No. When I have those thoughts, I take them out on me. I would rather hurt me than you. It hurts me to think of hurting someone else. And having someone sit there and tell me that I could kill someone just struck a nerve. It scared me, and it really hurt my feelings.

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the conversation, I’m wondering if, maybe, he didn’t hear me correctly. Maybe he thinks that I said that I didn’t have a memory of what happened. Maybe he thinks that the alter took over and I had no idea of what was going on.

I don’t like this doctor. If all he is going to do is put MORE stigma to people with BPD, that’s not fair. People with BPD are far more likely to be the victims of abuse than the abuser.