Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lost in the crowd

I know that social isolation is a symptom of depression, but I've never really thought about it from a cause-and-effect perspective... Today I realized with alarming clarity why I choose to spend so much time alone when I'm depressed. In thinking about how to ease my way into more social interaction in a safe and welcoming environment, I decided to volunteer to help out with an Extreme Makeover event at my new church today. In return for donuts and coffee in the morning, and a pretty tasty lunch, a few dozen volunteers showed up to clean, paint and spruce up the landscaping. All week, I'd been looking forward to the opportunity to get some exercise, do something positive for a worthy cause, and meet some new people while doing it. I guess two out of three ain't bad.

When I'm at home alone, I choose to believe that I've made a choice. For whatever reason, I've chosen solitude. I can chose what I want to do (or not do), I can chose what, when or even if I'm going to eat, I can chose to go to bed early or stay up late reading or watching TV. There's no one to answer to, compromise with, or make allowances for. Yet, despite the obvious advantages, I know that long periods of self-inflicted isolation are unhealthy, particularly in the case of bipolar disorder or depression.

Yet socializing for the sake of being around other people isn't all it's cracked up to be either. The absolute lonliest times of my life were when sharing a house and a life with a husband who no longer loved me. How ironic that one can be utterly alone when there's another body sleeping inches away in the same bed.

But my experience today confirmed an even more troubling thought that I've been trying to avoid for quite some time now. Now that I'm no longer married, my lonliest times are spent in church. How sad is that? That's the one place that I'd expect to feel loved, valued and appreciated most, but sadly, it seems that you're either in the in-crowd at church or you're not. Sometimes the awareness of being "different" comes when and where we least expect it.

Last week I attended a bipolar support group meeting. It was very small, there were only 5 of us present, but I honestly can't remember the last time I felt so accepted and supported. How is it that this group of complete strangers was able to connect and offer each other support and encouragement and a safe place to explore their thoughts and feelings so effortlessly? I think it has to do with an undeniable kinship born of understanding and compassion that people living with bipolar disorder or depression share. If you've tried to explain what it's like to be bipolar to your family members or your closest friends and you've seen the blank stares or heard the well-meaning but hurtful replies, you know what the saying about walking a mile in a man's (or woman's) shoes really means.

So, where does this leave me? Going to a bipolar support group meeting every chance I get. As for the rest of the time, I've given up on marriage, but I'm not quite ready to give up on church yet. I'd hoped that my church-shopping days were over, but I suppose not quite.

Welcome to my world

Hi. My name is Syd and I'm Bipolar. There... I've *said* it. That's supposed to be the first step isn't it? I'm very new to all this, having been diagnosed only a week ago. It's amazing how much my life has changed in that short time. Even if I wanted to deny the verdict, an honest look at the multiplicity of emotions I've felt about it since those words were first uttered clearly supports many aspects of the diagnosis.

I've been feeling relief, fear, sadness, shame, acceptance, hope, hopelessness, anger, confusion, fatigue, regret, optimism... and those were all in the first 24 hours! In the days since then, I've started reading everything I can find and I've begun the hard work of examining my past in an attempt to identify patterns, symptoms and triggers. When looking back at both the high and low points of my life, I can tell already that it's going to be difficult to distinguish where my personality ends and this disorder takes over. Already I have more questions than I'll ever find answers for, but the process itself is helping me gain some semblance of order out of the chaos that has been my life up to this point.

I am blessed to be able to participate in a clinical research study on bipolar disorder that will provide a much greater level of medical care and support than I would have been able to afford since my self-pay health insurance (I'm self-employed) considers anything related to depression as a pre-existing condition. However, I also realize that becoming an active participant in managing my own health care is critical to my long-term prognosis. Which brings me to this blog...

My goal for this space is twofold: First, I intend to journal my insights on living with bipolar disorder, hopefully in a way that is meaningful and productive. It would be so easy, particularly when I'm depressed, to write in excruciating detail about how awful my life is. But what good would that do me or anyone else? And besides, there are lots of blogs about BP that already do that. Instead, I need to be honest about the darkness, but never lose sight of the light. My hope is that over time, I'll be able to see personal growth and spiritual maturity as I come to terms with the disorder, learn to forgive myself for it's manifestations, and find the proper medication(s).

Secondly, and equally as important, I firmly believe that each of us has the opportunity and the obligation to invite others to travel with us on this journey called "life." If there is any joy in living through difficulty, if there is any sense to be made of tragedy, it is found in helping others. Because it is only through helping others that we can truly help ourselves. That said, I hope to make this blog a resource for people with BP - a place where they can find useful information, links to other BP blogs, and a feeling of hope, of support, and of community.

I'm sure it's going to be a hell of a ride, but I intend to make the best of it... care to join me?