Bipolar and Grief
The loss of a friend or loved one is a deeply personal experience, and something we all experience differently. No two people grieve in the same way. But does bipolar disorder inherently change the way we experience loss?
I think the answer is yes, absolutely. I've had more experience with grief and loss than I care to in recent years, and I've noticed a few difficulties I've faced that I don't see reflected in the people around me.
I've also thought long and hard about what makes these experiences so different, and how I might be better able to cope with them in the future. Here are some of the challenges bipolar people are up against, and some adjustments you can make to help keep the grieving process as manageable as possible.
Losing Your Hold on Stability
When we lose someone close to us, sadness and anger are common reactions. We move through some or all of the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — at our own pace and in our own way. For most people, this is a healthy way to process the painful loss of a loved one.
For those of us with bipolar disorder, however, these responses can become more extreme or overblown, and can lead to a serious episode. While a healthy person might experience deep sadness that lessens over time, the trauma of death might trigger a severe depressive episode in a bipolar person.
Anger and denial may manifest as mania and psychosis. Shortly after losing my father-in-law to cancer two years ago, I suffered a mixed-state episode (mania and depression together) with a psychotic break that culminated in being hospitalized for a month.
Holding on to stability can be difficult during the emotional upheaval that comes in the wake of profound loss. One of the keys to hanging in there, though, is to keep other aspects of your life as normal as possible.
This can be difficult in situations that demand a lot of your time (when a parent is hospitalized, or someone's house needs to be cleaned out and their possessions sorted, for example), but do your best to find every possible shred of normalcy and hang on to it.
Try to go to bed at the same time, keep your morning routine intact, eat meals at regular times, and make room for a hobby or other activity you enjoy whenever possible. Regular exercise can also be of great help. By keeping your surroundings and daily routine as consistent as possible, you're keeping stability within reach.