Death & the Swinging Mood: Grieving When You Have Bipolar

Losing someone you love is one of the hardest things a person can go through. But what if you have bipolar disorder? Death affects people with mood disorders in different ways. I lost someone very close to me this past week, along with others since I began this blog, which is why I want to touch on some important elements of grieving when you have a mood disorder.

Emotions + Stress = Trigger Central
Normally people go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Of course there are variances for everyone, and not every person follows the textbook definition of how to be in each stage. Usually, in healthy-minded folks, they kind of just run their course naturally.

Someone with a mental illness, specifically a mood disorder such as bipolar (or unipolar depression), may experience certain stages more intensely or much longer than average, causing triggers, which lead to an episode or bipolar symptoms. Severe depression, irritability, irrational thinking/behavior, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicidal tendencies are some common symptoms triggered by death.

I know I mentioned in past posts that I often struggle with suicidal ideation. A little over a year ago I was triggered by a funeral I attended, which you can read about here, and I utilized certain tricks to push those thoughts from my mind. I recall also having this experience at a friend’s funeral a few years back. I was actually in the middle of perfecting a plan to take my own life when I received news of my friend’s overdose. That triggered me and my suicidal ideation sky-rocketed. Side note: I am currently in remission from suicidal feelings 🙂

The Funeral Mania Phenomenon
Funeral mania?! Yes. What the hell is it? Funeral mania when someone’s reaction to a death or a funeral is a manic episode occurring instantly or within a week of bereavement. This term can also be applied to those who become manic when a loved one is dying and has a very short time left. Funeral mania is a rare occurrence, and can be uncomfortable for the person experiencing it.

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I have absolutely experienced funeral mania. In fact, I almost became relieved when I read that this is a real thing. Four and a half years ago, my father was on Hospice, and I lost my shit. I was his caretaker during his last two months of life. Closer to the end, I never slept. I spent hours at his empty apartment organizing books, scrubbing ceiling fans, and perfecting the entire place before he had to turn the keys in. And when I did make the 45 minute drive to my own house, I still didn’t rest. I baked cakes. I reorganized my own basement. I moved everything from his apartment into my basement. At 3:00 in the morning. I went nonstop from a good week before his death, until I finally crashed more than a week after his death. I was 27, married, working, and in college. My dad’s death sent me soaring. I don’t remember crying once.

My cousin died two years ago, from cancer she had been hiding. She was only 44 years old. At this time, I was already struggling to find stability, and had recently experienced a severe mixed episode. I was freshly on my current med cocktail and I know my body wasn’t fully acclimated to it yet. Her death produced surges of adrenaline and a strong need to help with funeral planning. I camped out at my grandparents’ house for three days and didn’t sleep a wink. We have a large Italian family, and their house has always been the primary meeting spot. I thrived in the chaos. Every song that played, every old photo, every out of town aunt or cousin, I soaked it up. The food tasted so much better than food should taste. The fall air carried a fragrance like no other. I remember never feeling so alive.

If funeral mania sounds crazy to you, count yourself lucky. If you’re reading this, thinking that finally someone understands. Please know you are not alone! And that it is okay. I assume you already know that any time a manic or depressed episode linger around, it is best to talk to your doctor.

Too “stabilized” to feel?
As we know, mood stabilizers work hard to prevent you from sinking to Hades or flying above the clouds. Rather, you are functioning afloat this coveted baseline- not too happy, not too sad. I take my meds each day and night to achieve this. Therefore, I am stable, but never really too happy or too sad. This is fine for me. Until BOOM! Life thwarts my plans and my dear loved one dies. I am sad. I am very, very sad. I know that I am sad. But dammit, I cannot feel the level of sad that I need to be in order to feel better. It is beyond frustrating. Of course I attempted to use this as a reason to stop taking Lithium, and I presented my argument to my wife/med manager. She helped bring a little clarity on the subject, and while it really sucks to not have the ability to dip down super low, at least I know I can get through this without uprooting the safe stability I’ve worked to achieve.

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Hopefully this gave you guys a little bit of perspective. I think I needed to write it as part of my current grieving process. 

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Running Amok with Both Feet on the Ground

I tried to write yesterday on my train ride home, but my hangover wouldn’t allow it. Other than that, Chicago was really fun and it was great to see my friend. I got over my risky sense of adventure and complied with my medications. Well, that, and my friend apparently took notes from my wife, and insisted on med checks each morning and night. In a way it is kind of nice to have a friend respect my bipolar, and care enough to not let me get off balance. Personally, I also think she was afraid if I did become manic or do something regrettable, my wife would never be comfortable with me visiting her again. But that’s just speculation.

As you recall from my last post, I was teetering on the edge of mania. The excited flutters were on speed, and I was feeling more alive than ever. It was interesting to have such a sense of freedom away from home. My wife tends to be pretty strict on me because of my bipolar. I certainly don’t regard her as controlling or bossy, so don’t think that. But she helps me stay on track, refrain from heavy intoxication, and avoid over-stimulation, which leads to episodes. Traveling alone out of state for four days is definitely a situation that stimulates. Activities we partook in included attending an epic Tegan and Sara concert (my obsession), shopping in Boystown, chowing on sushi, playing downtown, and having a few beers. I was careful to not over-indulge. I was careful to not test boundary limits with my friend. I was careful to call home when I could. I was careful to spend wisely. Slow and steady.

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I did experience an incredible surge of energy while on my trip. The feeling literally led me to be really physical and run amok in the park downtown. I know for a fact my friend thinks I’m crazy. And I love it.

Linda is the name of the elderly liberal I made friends with on the train ride home. I’m not sure, but I think she could be a lesbian. She was a joy to converse with, in between book and iPod sessions, for those six hours. I even hugged her after I helped her with her luggage upon her departure.

It is nice to be home. I missed my wife and my son. I appreciate that she is comfortable with me having adventures. I know she understands how bored I can get. If I am not given playtime, I end up finding it. And that usually means finding trouble.

Thanks for following my little story. It was a bit of an accomplishment to remain balanced this week.

Am I a Stability Snob?

You’re all crazy and I’m perfect. This mental superiority crept it’s way into my consciousness last night at my bipolar support group meeting. When I had the floor I shared nothing but positive events, all trickling from my new-found stability. I had a smile on my face while I talked about the classes I’m taking, while I mentioned that my job finally keeps me busy, and that I’m on a good cocktail of meds. I felt like I was bragging. I am currently the most stable I’ve been in over 6 months. This is a huge accomplishment and gives me even more motivation. I couldn’t help but notice that very few others shared my sense of wellness. There were tears during others’ stories. Some spoke of loneliness and depression. There is a possibility that I was indirectly making others feel badly about their own lack of stability. I’m not saying I feel guilty about being well, because I don’t. However, am I a stability snob? Have I reached a point where I can display the shining example of what everyone else wants to be?

I suppose some of this is tongue in cheek as I poke fun at my seemingly bratty attitude. I sit, attentively in my group, and I listen to recent hospital stories, medication failures, various struggles and despair, and I know I can most certainly relate to so much of what my group-mates are saying. The thing is- I don’t want to. Not right now. Right now I’m enjoying feeling good. I’m enjoying my social life, I’m ecstatic over having a baby, I am psychosis free and haven’t had any crying spells, I am able to sleep soundly at night, and I started driving on the express way again. Maybe I am overly eager to share my improved conditions. Maybe I am aware that I’m in a place, mentally, that others aim to reach. But I don’t think I’m being boastful or rude about it. I’m climbing my way to the top of the world one day at a time.