Together at the Poles

Michael Ligtenberg: Bipolar at 47, Part Two – After

This is the second part of a blog relating my struggle with Bipolar Disorder. Part 1 discussed its affects on my life before diagnosis. Part 2 follows my path of acceptance and the proactive steps I am taking to understand who I am and what I can do to temper the tempest.

Part 2: After

Last autumn saw me fall into my deepest depression ever. So many events in the months preceding my last suicide attempt were many and traumatic. A sister-in-law and a brother-in-law passed away and my spouse had a stroke requiring long-term rehab 1000 miles away. My family and I moved and then I had to leave them for 6 months. My mother fell ill and I became her primary care-giver in the last months of her life, first at her home and then in the palliative care unit. I was with her when she passed. Shortly thereafter, a family member had a major auto accident and the marital problems began, ending in another separation. After a 4 ½ year hiatus from alcohol, I began drinking again. I’m sure there is no need to go on. But all of this finally led my GP to get me a good psychiatrist here in my northern community. She only comes every 3 months however.

Snowy Road

Copyright © 2012 Michael Ligtenberg

January 8, 2012 was a day of revelation. After a 75-minute interview with the psychiatrist and her resident in training, they simply looked at each other saying they had no need to consult outside, that it was clear that I am Bipolar…probably type 2. I was prescribed lamotragine in conjunction with the escitalopram I had already been prescribed. I suddenly felt free. Nonetheless I have had to work extremely hard to arrive where I am today.

My therapist has been an incredible help to me. He has shown me many different tricks to help me deal with difficult moments and situations that push me to the edge of that cliff we all know. Now I realize that the cliff has always been there, it was just that I couldn’t see the precipice through the fog. I feel like the bad weather has finally lifted and the sun is poking its warmth through the clouds. I have figured out that which is important to me in life. I call them the 3 L’s…learning, laughing, and loving. I’m turning that horrible vicious circle into a wonderful delicious circle. The more I learn, laugh and love, the better I feel about myself and the more I want to learn, laugh and love.

I quickly made the decision to be open and honest about my affliction. I told my family, my friends and my colleagues. They have mostly been very understanding and we are building better relationships. Even my children have come to an understanding of my disease which has thus allowed us to reconstruct our relationship. Indeed, for the first time in 10 years, I was wished a Happy Father’s Day. I have not and will not let the “poison” people back into my life, the people who used me against me, the ones who would actively push my buttons, setting me off.

Logs at Sunset

Copyright © 2012 Michael Ligtenberg

Whenever I feel myself sinking into a circular thought pattern, focusing on one event in a day of events, I have used a mnemonic device, COPING, an acronym for a 6-step process to lead me out of the anxiety which is inherent in circular thinking. It’s like being stuck in neutral; you can rev the engine but you don’t anywhere. My imagination can run really wild sometimes. This is what COPING means when confronted with a situational dilemma.

C – control emotions. Are you thinking emotionally or rationally? Try and put the emotions aside for a moment.

O – orient facts. So often we evaluate facts in an emotional state and the facts become skewered. So, what really happened? Be objective, not emotional.

P – patterns of behavior. What behaviors are simply your “traditional” ways of dealing with a problem? What does your special brain usually lead you to do? Are you doing this now?

I – investigate solutions. What are the different paths you could take to solve the dilemma? Which are truly viable? Which are emotional? Which are rational?

N – negotiate solution. Which is the best solution? Think about it.

G – give time for empowerment. Don’t react immediately; if you can take the time to go through this process, you will be happier with the results. Even if it doesn’t solve the problem, at least you took the time to react rationally instead of emotionally which so often leads to regret, remorse and guilt.

Michael in Hat

Copyright © 2012 Michael Ligtenberg

Oddly enough, or maybe not so odd, I became Bipolar about being Bipolar. I started by reading, looking for information that would explain the disease and help me discover the “red flags” of impending ups and downs. I would talk about it to my friends and family. I found Bipolar Today, reading dozens of blogs, digesting my past behaviors, and then writing about it. For a whole week I did nothing else. I fixated on it, on the term “mental illness”, thinking, “Yeah, I am crazy”. I only realized all this after the week was over. I told my friend that I’m thinking about being Bipolar all the time. He answered, “That’s all you’ve talked about for a week you know”. But it also showed me how intense I can become about a new subject, a need to understand, and how quickly I can learn about myself, laugh at myself, and love myself.

I still have a long way to go. It has only been 6 months since my diagnosis. And even with meds, therapy, and study, I will still have episodes. I love the highs, getting an incredible amount of stuff done, both at school and at home. I fight hard against the lows, looking for anything to distract my attention from whatever event has gotten into my brain and won’t let go. I exercise regularly, enjoying it when I feel good, and forcing myself to do it anyway when I feel down. I am also using Daniel’s mood chart; I find that it is very detailed. It provides an accurate view of how the month is going. It gives me the information I need to relate to my therapist and doctors.

As I said to begin, I would never choose to get rid of my Bipolar Disorder. I think it has given me so much creativity, humor, comprehension, and empathy. Now that I have a better understanding of what is going on in my head, I can avoid the pitfalls. Well mostly anyway. Remember everyone, knowledge is power.

To read part one of Michael’s Post, please click here.

9 Responses to Michael Ligtenberg: Bipolar at 47, Part Two – After

  • “Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable” is the first step of (any of) the 12 Step programme(s). In other words, admission of the existence of the problem is the start of the beginning. In my experience the same apples to dealing/living with a bipolar diagnosis. There is no cure per se but playing the cards dealt rather than denying the condition is all that can ever work.
    Well done!

  • I was very moved to read your two part story. I was finally diagnosed late 2010 after (another) long depressive episode. I am also on the mend, but it takes time, doesn’t it? Keep blogging about your experiences and recvovery. You are an inspiration to me. You may wish to check out my blog about my journey through the land of manic depression……

    • Hi Nicolas,
      Thank you very much for your encouragement. It does take time, a lot of time. I’m not sure, because the diagnosis is recent, but perhaps we never stop mending. Bipolar Disorder is chronic disease, logically then I think we must chronically heal and deal. And I certainly will read your blog. I’m just discovering how similar our stories are, and how sharing them helps each of us to understand ourselves in a new way.

  • Thanks for your honesty. It is great to have fellow sufferers share their story. I love the “Learn, laugh, love” advice. Keep writing, hope to hear more as your story develops…

    • Thank you Richard.
      Honesty, both with myself and others, is helping me deal with the suffering. And with feedback like yours, I am certainly inspired to continue participating and sharing here.

  • I enjoyed part 2 aswell. You embrace the illness well. My only point of difference is that if I could press a button to have had a life without bipolar I would. The manic highs were great at times, particularly when I thought my creative outout could help change the world a little… But the suicidal attempts and ideation, the constant internal monologues, the addiction to alcohol, the 5 month stay in a psychiatric hospital? Thats not living. Really enjoyed your story. Stay safe and well.

    • Thank you again for your warm response. I can’t say that there aren’t moments I wouldn’t like to have the button (last week being one of them), but I can see its positive aspects as well now that I know. It helps me get through the low periods.

      Have a great day,

  • Bravo!!! You have reached the acceptance level…let the coping begin!!!

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