Embracing My Bipolar Disorder (!)

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30/03/2021

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30/03/2021

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Over at my Facebook world, I sort of dropped the bomb last Tuesday by announcing to my friends that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 last year. While the immediate context for this was that I had a relapse, the act of disclosing my condition was something on my mind for some time. My reasons for sharing this were because:

  • I hope more people can know about this condition,
  • They can be better equipped to accept it in those they love, and
  • I want to remove the stigma surrounding this and other similar mental health conditions.

How I found out I have bipolar disorder

So, I am recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. More specifically, October last year. But I didn’t share this earlier as I was in denial, and was hoping it was a wrong diagnosis. At first I thought it was only clinical depression, but it turns out to be a lifelong struggle.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood. Symptoms can include an extremely elevated mood called mania. They can also include episodes of depression. Bipolar disorder is also known as bipolar disease or manic depression.

Bipolar type 2 is less extreme between its swings compared to type 1, but that makes it harder to detect.

Looking back, the signs were there all along:

  • I had major depression in 2007. For those who knew me then, you know what happened.
  • I lost my father suddenly in 2010. I went into depression for 3 years.
  • A beloved pastor and mentor passed away in 2011. That deepened my depression.
  • During my grandmother’s funeral, the depressive state hit again and I suffered a meltdown.

Throughout these years, I went into bouts of extreme highs followed by depressive lows. One of my ‘maniac high’ periods, as they call it in bipolar terms, include extended periods in which I dabbled in the world of finance and investments, and even dreamt of doing a CFA (it fizzled out soon enough). When I went into the lows, they can hit me real bad. Bipolar attacks come to me in the form of burnouts, panic attacks, anger outbursts, emotional breakdowns, insomnia, and frantic behavior. Sometimes all at the same time.

When I first learned I have this condition, I thought it helped me make sense of all I have experienced in the past. I even thought it was cool to share the same condition as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Carrie Fisher, who probably have bipolar disorder as well. The emotional highs are creative bouts that can make you feel inspirational and even invincible.

But the depressive lows are not cool. Some bipolar sufferers may struggle with prolonged depression. If left untreated, it may lead to more dangerous consequences.

Bipolar disorder does not define who I am. It explains why I do what I do, but it doesn’t excuse me for my behavior and choices.

Bipolar disorder does not define who I am. It explains why I do what I do, but it doesn’t excuse me for my behavior and choices. Yet it is part of my lived experience, and the struggle is real. We live in a broken world, and I confess that I am more broken than I would dare to admit. But, our brokenness is also being redeemed by God through the transforming power of Jesus. His death and resurrection secure for us a future, in which all our brokenness is fully restored.

I will continue to wrestle with it and, with God’s help and by His grace, I hope to own it. By owning it, I meant that I live by faith, knowing that good can come out of it, and I can inspire others who struggle with similar conditions that it is possible to thrive and be a positive influence despite our challenges. I owe this to my beloved wife and children, my church and my friends, my colleagues, and my students.

Responding to some of my friends’ concerns

Some of my friends have personally reached out to me after my disclosure that I have bipolar disorder type 2. If you are one of them, I truly thank you for your concern and encouragement and prayers.

1) “Marcus, you are jeopardising your career!”

A few of you were concerned whether sharing this publicly will affect my job and career. While I too share this concern, let me assure you:

The only difference between me now and 6 months ago is the diagnosis.

And the treatment process that is now helping me cope better with the swings.

I am still the same me. I can still deliver sound classroom instructions, present at meetings, manage CCA, design lessons and mark assignments. My bosses and colleagues are supportive and encouraging me on.

So my career is intact. And being type 2, I do not have super major upswing or downswing like type 1. I can still function most of the time.

Except perhaps now I know why I had a hard time doing planning and action management in the past. Those of you who worked with me before, you may have found me quirky and a bit eccentric. I have thousands of ideas and always eager to carry them out, but the enthusiasm fizzles out after a while and I can’t sustain it. I am truly sorry if that has frustrated you in the past.

Now I realize that I must have made those plans, those promises in the midst of what bipolar patients known as the ‘maniac episode’, where extreme high bouts of energy and creativity sometimes impair our judgment. I can this be too idealistic and unrealistic about what I can do. And when the maniac episode fizzles out as it eventually will, my internal system crashes and I cannot sustain.

This is all on me, and no fault of yours. But knowing this after the diagnosis helps me see that I should avoid making promises and plans during times of ‘high’, and thus avoid disappointing you in the future.

Besides, I believe I do keep most of my promises. When I struggled to keep a few, know that the guilt weighs ten times heavier on my heart than the average person. So, I will do everything in my power not to let you down.

2) Treatment process

Currently, the main treatment for my condition is medication. The thing about bipolar treatment is that the initial phase is a lot of trial and error. I was started on minimal dosage and slowly increase over time. The medication has side effects. I get drowsy, tired at times. I put on weight 😭 Sometimes the medication is not right, and I might get a relapse. This was the case on Tuesday, when my dosage wasn’t enough to prevent a maniac episode where I basically tell all my Facebook friends about my condition. (I thought I was low, but my psychiatrist said it was actually high. See, I’m still trying to make sense of it).

Conclusion: How to embrace our calling like that?

I told my friends on Facebook, |”What’s done is done. I do not regret telling you all my condition. I hope that will make it easier for you to work with me, as we now have this mutual understanding. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, and don’t avoid me! I am still the same old me. I enjoy friendships and crave the support of fellow humans. As an INFP, my personality type is Healer/Meditator. I will continue to work towards healing relationships and restoring the brokenness in others, even as I cope with my own brokenness.”

But what about you, my blog readers? How do I continue to write about embracing our calling with a condition like this?

My answer is: it is precisely in our brokenness and “conditions” that we should all the more embrace what we are called to. Embracing our calling – living vocationally – is not a rosy picture of a super-charged hero taking on the world in a come-what-may fashion (even though my blog banner seems to suggest just that!). It is in spite of all the hurts, the suffering, our own internal struggles and self-doubt ,that we keep on embracing. Keep on moving forward. Keep on loving.

That is the spirit of embracing our calling. So I will continue to write, with you my readers fully aware that I am writing as someone with bipolar disorder, and understand the struggles of fighting against a debilitating mental condition day in and day out, and yet refusing to believe that life should be lived any other way than vocationally by faith in the Son of God.

Thank you for supporting me and encouraging me in this journey.

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