Living With Bipolar Disorder: Reconciling Loss
by Cassendre Xavier
Loss is a natural and inevitable part of life. There are many kinds of loss, including loss of a loved one to death, loss of a relationship from break-up, loss of a job, loss of children when they grow up and move out, loss of health when one is ill, and more.
I believe there are also some particular kinds of loss that come from having a mental illness. In particular, and speaking of myself as a person long diagnosed and living with bipolar disorder, I have observed a few ways we might experience loss related to our condition.
Because I’m neither an expert on bipolar disorder nor have I done a great deal of research on this issue, I’ll share my own experiences of loss, as a person living with bipolar disorder. I’ll share how I recently discovered them, their patterns, and accepted and forgave myself along the way.
If you identify with any of these, I send you a big hug and encourage you to accept these as a natural part of your particular life, and know that there are gifts in every life experience, even when painful.
Know that it isn’t your “fault” when you create loss, and that even if you recognize it’s related to or coming from your mental illness, there’s no reason to fall into a pit of depression about it or feel guilty or shameful when these things happen.
If you’ve read any of my other works, you know I’m always touting self-love and radical acceptance as the way to make the most out of life, and do the most healing.
No matter what I observe about myself and my mental illness, I always try to see it through the eyes of love and the divine. I forgive myself, and I try to see myself as God or Source sees me ¨C a beautiful imperfect human being.
Here are ways loss has affected my life as a person with bipolar disorder:
1) Relationships ¨Extreme irritability, moodiness, depression-caused isolation, grandiosity, and mania-caused “odd behaviors” have fractured dozens of my relationships, including friends, business associates, lovers, and relatives. I can think back to years of friendships I’ve had and lost without any reasonable explanation. They’re just not there anymore, and I don’t recall feeling a great sense of loss when the separation happened ¨C in fact, the opposite ¨C I recall feeling relief then, and I feel relief now when I think about it. It’s only now that I can see the sheer numbers of relationships I had and stopped having, because of my bipolar disorder. And how I can tell my disease is still in full strength is because even now I don’t really miss the stress that comes from maintaining most relationships. It’s as if my illness is really too much to deal with and have relationships at the same time. My main relationship now is with myself, spirituality, and all the work I do in managing my illness. Of course there are better days and I do have relationships, which are better managed because I’ve been in therapy and on medication for several years. But overall, I don’t have strong relationships, and it’s because of my illness. I accept this loss and I recognize my progress, and I try to be grateful for the entire experience, and for everyone I am able to have in my life.
2) Jobs ¨In part because of my almost constant state of hypomania, I “present well” and do well on interviews, and subsequently I am often hired. However, due to other behaviors, some of which are detailed above, I don’t tend to keep jobs very long, and in fact, for this reason, have been chronically unemployed for the last several years. (Someday I may write about applying for and receiving disability benefits for your bipolar disorder, but I haven’t crossed that bridge yet!) I have lost many jobs because of my bipolar disorder and if you search online or do any reading at all about our illness, you’ll see that’s very common among people with this condition.
3) Material Possessions ¨This issue actually is what prompted me to write about experience loss as a person with bipolar disorder. I realized one day recently that I’ve moved so many times, and put things in storage that I never reclaimed. At least three times I can recall having lost significant items and numbers of them in storage units I either was not able to keep paying for, or I just plumb forgot over time. When you have bipolar disorder, you move a lot. A lot more than the average person. There are penalties and losses to that, and one of them is you lose your stuff. This happened and continues to happen to me, a lot.
4) Artistic Creations ¨I’ve been creating writings, musical recordings, songs, and journals for many years, at least since 1990. I’ve lost many of these, including songbooks of works in progress, and count this as my most major loss. That’s the human talking. The spiritual me knows that the most precious thing I lost is my relationships. People come first, and relationships are paramount. Relationships are everything. I think that deep down, my human self knows that because I listed it first. But waking up one day and realizing you lost some of the songs you were going to record one day (and you don’t remember how they go). And you lost some of the recordings you were going to release one day, are all gone, well it’s a major day. It’s a major experience. However, although it was such a big loss, I also recognized immediately that I’m a creator and can always make new songs and recordings. I am grateful for this realization.
5) Mental Health ¨Once I seriously got into learning about illness management, (learning about my illness and how to care for myself), I learned a big, big thing: That I’m not in full control of my mind. One of the major features of bipolar disorder is denial. Because we are blessed with many positive and pleasant symptoms or gifts, like heightened creativity, and the euphoria that comes from mania and hypomania, as well as a touch or a lot of grandiosity, we just don’t think there’s anything wrong with us, or we don’t want to. I was the queen of this for many years. I was a smart kid who grew to be an intelligent woman and just didn’t think there was anything wrong with my brain. And society still had a lot of stigma around mental illness that really made me not want to admit there was anything wrong with my brain. I was ashamed, and ran right under the shell of denial. But in learning about my illness, I read facts that really resonated with me. I knew those things I was reading were true, that I did have those symptoms, such as not making a lot of sense sometimes, and not being able to communicate well, or be understood. Seeing how so much of my life went haywire, as listed above ¨C ruined or abandoned relationships, loss of employment, losing my material possessions and artistic creations ¨C well, I saw that my brain was not “normal”. Losing my mental health, or being aware of this finally, was a big loss.
If you can identify with any of these, I hope you can sense the self-love, understanding, and joy that I’ve put on them for myself, because I fully accept myself and the experience I (spiritually and before I was conceived) chose as a person with bipolar disorder.
Here are a few affirmations I suggest for anyone with bipolar disorder who is experiencing loss:
I love myself as I am.
I love my brain.
I accept all of myself.
My brain is my friend.
I have many gifts.
I can learn anything.
I adjust to my circumstances.
I accept life as it comes.
I am whole and healthy.
I am worthy as I am.
May you have many days of joy and learn beautiful lessons as a person living with bipolar disorder!
Cassendre Xavier has been writing the "Living with Bipolar Disorder" series at Wisdom Magazine's online edition since January 2016. Cassendre was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 1993, at age 23. She has been a member of Philadelphia's LGBT, polyamorous, and New Age/ancient wisdom spiritual communities since 1991, and from 1996-1999 facilitated Sisters Healing Together, a peer support group for women survivors of incest with a special focus on compulsive overeating, which she also founded, at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. Under her self-assigned spiritual name Amethyste Rah, Cassendre released the popular Affirmations for Survivors guided meditation audio series (“Self-Love” and “Spirituality” in 2007, and “Sexuality” and “Life Skills” are forthcoming). For more information, please visit http://cassEndrExavier.com