Isolation and Bipolar Disorder

Hey, y’all –

I have known for a long time that isolation can be a trigger to a bipolar episode; however, I didn’t realize how slowly isolation can creep up on you, whether you have bipolar or not.

I truly enjoy working from home, don’t get me wrong. I love it, in fact — flexible hours, working in the comfort and peace of my home, my husband being close by, and getting to work in my PJs! :)

I never thought of it in terms of being lonely, because I’m not that. But I am isolated — I live out in the country (and I love it, the peace and quiet), and what neighbors there are, are very quiet as well. Actually, none of us even know each other — it’s not the type of place where you borrow a cup of sugar or anything like that. We’re all pretty reserved and stick to ourselves.

And I don’t really go out, except for doctor and therapist appointments, or to the store and, of course, for Date Night with hubby on Fridays (just so I can’t be accused of being agoraphobic).

But isolated? Yeah, I guess so. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I really don’t have a social life (alot of it is because I don’t go out to bars). I really hadn’t cared about it until I thought of this post. And I was convicted by my own words, since I’ve written so much (so many articles) about how isolation is one of the biggest triggers to a bipolar episode.

I was always ok with being isolated. I was ok with not having friends. I’m married to my best friend, and I thought that was enough. I have a strong support network (I talk to my AA sponsor and my mom every day).

But I don’t have any friends. Thought I didn’t need them. And yet in my articles, I tell people that in order not to become isolated, they need to have a social life in order to stay balanced and be stable with their bipolar disorder. I tell them that they need to have a social life in order to manage their bipolar disorder.

And yet here I am, convicted by my own words.

I met someone in NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), who told me I should get on Facebook.com, and I would meet some friends. I did! Online, granted, but friends, nonetheless. People I knew (out there) that I hadn’t talked to in quite a while, and we caught up on things.

That led my curiosity to classmates.com, where I was able to get in touch with several people I knew not only from High School, but Jr. High School, and even Elementary School! What fun it turned out to be!

Now, I don’t feel so isolated. I actually have friends. And my little “home” world doesn’t seem so “off by itself” any more. When I take my breaks from work (or my husband is watching the race — like yesterday — or his wrestling :)), I can spend a little time chatting with my friends.

For those of you like me, whose bipolar disorder has affected your social life — even if you don’t go out much, there are other avenues to avoiding isolation. Getting online can help, as it did me.

The point is, isolation CAN be a trigger to a bipolar episode, and we need to avoid that, as we do all other triggers to episodes.

If you have other ideas, let me know.

Wishing you peace and stability,

Remember God loves you and so do I,
Michele

6 Responses to “Isolation and Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Nomad says:

    First, thanks for sharing. I also have isolated myself because I am bipolar and isolation equals less stress and less stress equals less medication problems and fewer episodes. Isolation is like a butter knife with a sharp edge. It’s a good utensil and a weapon that preys upon my mind.
    The few times I have ventured out and tried to make friends, I disappear from the scene w/o further contact usually because my situation will come to light if I continue to grow a friendship. You see I can’t hold the weekly card game at my house when it is my turn, because I live in an old RV in my mother’s backyard. How do I jump that hurdle and others that come up with new friends? I’ve lost many “friends” when they found out my illness. Why should I subject myself to more rejection? Yet, I am so lonely, so isolated. I don’t want to grow old alone. It is easy to give advice and not live it. Many people do it now that the internet offers itself as an invisible yet permeable wall. You are very lucky to have a partner that loves you and is willing to share your worst days with your best.

  2. Michele says:

    Nomad –

    You said “it is easy to give advice and not live it.” I assume you’re referring to me. And I answer, “It is easy to judge until you’ve walked in that person’s shoes.” You don’t know that I was once homeless, labeled mentally ill, a drug addict and alcoholic (who was self-medicating my bipolar symptoms because I was not diagnosed yet). Yes, Nomad, I lived it. But I will agree with you on one thing — I am very lucky to have my supporter now. Yet it took years and years of being as lonely and isolated as you say you are, before I had him.

    Hang in there, Nomad… things get better. They always do. And I know that sounds like a platitude, and maybe you’ll take it that way and, if you do, I apologize, but I do mean it. You don’t know me or what I’ve been through all because of this dreaded “dragon” of a disease. But if you did, you’d know that sometimes that thought was all I had to go on.

    Hang in there. It DOES get better. Not overnight. But it does get better. Just ask some of the people on here. They’ll tell you the same thing.

    Blessings,
    Michele

  3. Michelle says:

    I am very glad that I have children who require me to get out daily, even if it’s just to make the school run. There are parents I talk to there. Then there are all the people at church who depend on me to lead the music, so we go every week. And my best friend, who sees nothing wrong with piling 6 kids and 2 women in her SUV and just going to the store to get out of the house. Even though I have days where I would prefer to just sit at home, very comfortable and antisocial, there’s all these reasons why I can’t…. and I am very grateful.

    I checked in with my phsychiatrist today, all is going well, and I am feeling great. If a bit on the tired and hormonal side…. :-)

  4. Michele says:

    Michelle –

    Sometimes we have to be “forced” to go out — there was a time when I was almost agoraphobic. But, even if it’s just because I have to now, I at least go to my therapist and psychiatrist.

    Sorry you’re feeling tired and hormonal, but glad you’re doing great otherwise.

    Michele

  5. goodenough says:

    I am glad you joined Facebook. Now we are friends there too!

    Yesterday I did a presentation for some mental health providers. I was asked to “tell my story.” I’ve done that before and I am always uncomfortable with the possibility that people think because I am speaking that I have it all together. As I was driving to the venue, I reviewed my morning. I woke up actually quite anxious. Not about speaking – just anxious. I woke up next to my new husband of 8 months. Got out of bed, took a shower, brushed my teeth, put on makeup and a nice suit, got into my car, ran by the office where I work every day to pick up directions and went to the auditorium. I was standing behind a podium and people were listening to me. I talked about struggling with bipolar disorder for 8 years before the meds were correct. I talked about years of self-injury, hospitalizations and suicide attempts. As I stood there, I must have looked like “But that’s all behind me now. I’m healed!” While much of the old ineffective coping skills are gone, i’m not healed. I asked them if I had been brought by public transportation, been late because my night time meds kicked my ass, arrived disheveled and unbathed and got up to the podium – would they have listened to me? My story is no more impressive or important than any one else who lives with the ravages of mental illness and tries like hell to get out of bed. I am one episode away from relapse. I am one med failure away from psychosis. I am one stigmatizing word away from depression and despair. Does that mean that no one should strive toward recovery? OF COURSE NOT! It just means that recovery is not linear. It isn’t climbing a ladder or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs toward ultimate self-actualization. It is 2 steps forward, 10 steps back. It is scratching, clawing, digging in and getting a hand up. It might not be pretty along the way. For most, there won’t be a parade or party or even a casserole given in honor of their recovery. But recovery is recovering quality of life. And that smells beautiful.

  6. Michele says:

    goodenough–

    I am absolutely awestruck by your comment. I hope everyone reads and learns from it. I know I definitely did. I could so, so relate. A lot of people think because I write for bipolarcentral.com and write this blog that I’m so “together,” but I’m only one episode away, at any given time, of “losing it” again.

    You so poignantly put into words what I would have loved to be able to say.

    You are a very strong and courageous woman.

    Michele

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