Blue hair

My Mother has bipolar disorder.

In the past I have shied away from writing about it – it has taken up so much of my life already, it’s really complicated and I don’t want a pity party. Yet as I speak more about neurodiversity it keeps coming up. And I‘m a firm believer in vulnerability and authenticity….So here’s a glimpse of what hypo-mania can look like, and what has helped me cope with being close to someone bi-polar. 

 

My Mother has bi-polar disorder.

She is a slow cycler and tends more towards prolonged periods of hypo-mania (often months long). It began when I was 8 years old (I’m 46 now). I was whisked away from our trashed house to the safety of my grand-parents’ so can’t be very insightful about that particular time, but I have since come to learn that hypo-manic episodes are very strange and complicated things. Not least because they are aren’t always easy to spot, especially to the novice eye.

 

My Mother has bi-polar disorder.

Today when I visited she had blue hair (which is usually my festival look). She has taken up smoking, wearing hats, and drinking gin. Any of which might be considered endearing or just eccentric, were they not so foreign to her usual tee-total, non-smoking, slightly-disapproving-of-my-appearance demeanour. Our conversations teeter on the edge of disaster, as she is quick to fly into a temper or tears and equally quickly reverts to happily singing or rhyming or playing word-association games (known in the trade as “clanging”). She isn’t sleeping more than a couple of hours a night, has put on a lot of weight very quickly because food tastes so great, and isn’t looking after her general health.

 

My Mother has bi-polar disorder.

Truth is that during a hypo-manic episode every sense is heightened. Food tastes great, music sounds amazing (the louder the better), colours look fabulous, even the sense of smell is on fire. And it’s a more, more, more kind of thing. I want more food, more perfume, brighter clothes, louder music. Creatively too, when hypomanic, my Mum creates endless collages and writes both poetry and prose. Things that for most of us have no connection all string together in a way that seems “obvious” and it’s frustrating to her when we can’t keep up, when the links seem strange to us and the ideas disassociated.

Sometimes this frustration tips over into demonization. Try and stop the hypomanic from indulging their senses and fantasies and that quick mind can be deadly. My mother often takes issue with someone when hypo-manic, and sometimes that person is me. She has managed to isolate people with frightening effectiveness and has voluntarily cut herself off from friends and family members alike. She has even reinvented herself almost entirely a few times in order to perpetuate her manic state – once going missing for weeks (only to eventually be found working as a Nanny and housekeeper several miles away); Once pretending to be an American tourist; Once moving half way across the country on a whim.

 

My Mother has bi-polar disorder.

At a recent conference someone asked what helped me to cope. Here are my top three things:

  1. A strong network of support. I am lucky enough to have two wonderful sisters and we are very close-knit. We know the importance of keeping each other in the loop and we look out for each other. We remind each other to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Sometimes if we didn’t laugh we really would cry (and sometimes we do both anyway). Occasionally things really are funny. But we even laugh at things that might not seem funny at all to someone else. I guess it’s a defense mechanism.
  1. Self-care. You can’t help care for someone else if you are not in good shape yourself. I understand that I need to especially focus on staying healthy when my hypomanic parent is too exhausting to keep up with. For me one of my best stress-relievers is physical exercise – preferably something really tough – every day that I can. I try hard to eat well and get enough sleep. Boring maybe but definitely helpful. And I give myself little “holidays” from that too. Nothing makes me want to smoke a cigarette quite so much as a visit to a psychiatric ward. And an important part of self-care is knowing when you need a break. Sometimes I just need to back off for a while, because it’s all too intense, or too painful, or too exhausting. My sisters and I are like a relay-team. When one of us has no more energy left one of the others will spring into action and reassure that “it’s OK, you’ve done a great job, I’ve got this now”.
  1. Remembering that this is just one aspect of my life. Taking time to focus on the other bits – my work, my family, my friends, my interests and hobbies. In fact, this is also just one aspect of this person. Their behavior, although hard to understand, sometimes hurtful, maybe even deceitful (my Mother is brilliant at twisting the truth and manipulating in order to perpetuate her manic state), is not the whole of them. My Mum is still the clever, loving, artistic, sociable person she always was. If you ride out the storm (and there many who have not been able to, which is totally understandable) the relationship you always had is still there.

 

My Mother has bi-polar disorder.

Nothing has taught me resilience more. I’m strong. And if you yourself have, or you are supporting someone with, mental health issues then you most definitely are strong as well. And I take my hat off to you ♥.

Now where did I put that hair dye.

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Sal.
    My father had Bipolar. He ‘self medicated’ with blue label smirnoff and weed.
    Some of his antics were tragic and hear breaking, some hilraious..and now years after his death I remember most of his dramas fondly.. Through choice i try not to think about the horrors. ( but sometimes thats impossible )

    I have my issues too around mental health and feel its important to share when we feel we can.

    Thanks again for your blog it was moving and insightful.

    Vicky

  2. Thanks Sally Ann, very moving and important knowledge. We had a bipolar employee in our office for several years until the revolution, in which she totally immersed herself in every way, I can imagine now the heightened intensity of the feelings she must have experienced, especially considering how intense it was for all. She is also a lovely person.

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