I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was in my mid-30s. Bipolar disorder doesn't run in my family -- it gallops! Numerous relatives have it as did several others who have passed away.
I have seen this disorder torture many of these people and, in some cases, destroy their lives. I personally spent decades suffering from recurrent depressions. They always went away, but they always came back, too -- each seemingly darker, more painful and longer-lasting than the one before.
I had an outstanding psychiatrist but no medications he tried really helped any. And he put me on just about everything on the market. But as time passed more and more new medicines were developed. Finally, when I was in my late 40s, we got the depressions under control with some of the newest drugs. I honestly can't remember the last time I was depressed. That period of my life is but a distant, faded memory.
So now let's take a look at the upper pole -- being "high," in a word. Bipolar people who are "high" can do disastrous things to themselves and those around them. They may both spend and give away large sums of money, leading to serious financial problems -- even bankruptcy. They may be sexually promiscuous, which can have severe repercussions, including, but not limited to, unwanted pregnancies and contracting venereal diseases.
People who are "high" can be the life of the party, but they can also become obnoxious and destroy their relationships with their closest loved ones. At times they may be extremely irritable, leading to socially and at times legally unacceptable behaviors. There are numerous other symptoms as well. I, too, experienced some of these symptoms -- often with dreadful results. My most notable symptom was having repeated periods of uncontrolled spending, which has impacted my financial situation even now.
Being "high" is also now under control in my case, but I am just a little "high" most of the time. Not "high" enough to cause any serious damage. And that's where the joy of being bipolar comes in. I do have my moments of inspiration, and I derive immense pleasure from writing, no matter how good or bad the end product may be. And that's what I love most about being bipolar.
When I wake up early in the morning I am typically wide awake and ready to write. At times I can sit down at my computer and knock out an article in no time flat. And it may be pretty darn good -- at least compared to the relative quality of what I write when I'm not "high." (I do, however, consider myself to have only average abilities as a writer.)
Often in as little as 20 minutes I can write out in one draft (albeit with minor changes made later) what otherwise takes me hours of struggling for words and going through five or six drafts. Fighting to find the right order for my sentences and paragraphs. Working hard to decide just what it is I want to say. The times when I am most creative are truly joyful for me.
I am also prolific. Not to be immodest, but I should mention that in the past four years alone I've published more than 250 articles about Alzheimer's caregiving here on the Huffington Post and on the Alzheimer's Reading Room, Maria Shriver's website and other sites that have a focus on Alzheimer's. Regardless of their quality, I have enjoyed the endeavor enormously.
And then there's the issue of my book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Although not a blockbuster, it has done very well, especially if we consider that the average self-published memoir usually sells only around 50 - 100 copies, mostly to friends and relatives. My sales, though modest, are now up in the thousands. I was a little "high" the whole time I was writing it.
There's also the matter of the forthcoming new book of which I'm co-author, along with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN. It's entitled, "Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers." Dr. Potts and I believe this book has the potential to be extremely helpful to many of the millions of people caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's. I was in "the (bipolar) zone" much of the time I was writing my sections. At times the words tumbled out quickly and effortlessly. And I'm pleased with the results, though some might say the parts I wrote are mediocre at best.
I'm not saying that I'd wish this illness on anyone. And I'm not saying I wouldn't want to be "normal." After all, I did endure untold emotional pain with it for many years. I'm just saying that since I do have it I try to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. I'm saying that now that my illness in mostly under control with medication, I'm pleased with how life has turned out despite, and also because of, having this condition.
Before closing I must say that I thought long and hard before deciding to publish this article. I sat in front of my laptop for a considerable time before somewhat hesitantly clicking on the "Publish" button. There is still a strong stigma attached to mental illness. I had to think seriously about whether I wanted to reveal this very personal information. I wondered if people would begin to dismiss me as being "crazy." I was concerned I might lose what little credibility I might have as a writer. When I was still working I never would have even considered publishing such an article. It would have been professional suicide.
But I finally decided to go ahead with it now that I'm retired. I decided to go ahead because maybe it will help other people diagnosed with bipolar disorder by illustrating that, at least in some cases, medication can be successful in bringing the symptoms under control. Maybe it will lead others to seek treatment for the first time. Maybe it will give some hope that they, too, may have a rich life ahead of them. A life of happiness and contentedness.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, "Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of helpful information for Alzheimer's caregivers.