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. 

Suicidal Ideation is A Manageable Symptom

Some of us experience it, some of us don’t. It takes over your mind and consumes you. Suicidal ideation doesn’t necessarily mean you will kill yourself. Or that you really want to. It means you are preoccupied with the thought. These thoughts drag you to a very dark place, focusing on, or even obsessing over the notion to end your own life. People with these ideations often lack the desire to fully commit suicide. In fact, many people in this position would rather not discuss it. Ideations include methods, plans, notes, the aftermath, etc. Is this morbid? Does this make someone a sick person? No. Suicidal ideation is a symptom of bipolar disorder. I am one of those people who are affected by this symptom. For me, it flares up at certain times, and goes away at other times. While some may take great comfort in their dark thoughts, it makes me more negative and depressed. I do a lot of work on myself if I start getting like that, and I practice therapeutic techniques to clear my mind.

What triggers my suicidal ideation? A key trigger is whenever someone I know dies intentionally, a.k.a. suicide, or from a preventable cause, such as an overdose. It triggers me even further when the deceased is around my age. I begin to take mental notes, as if I’m learning a lesson from these people who passed before me. What did he overdose on? How did he do it? Why her? Why not me? Now these thoughts manifest into full on imaginative scenarios, thus romanticizing the notion of death altogether. I find myself sitting at funerals, in complete awe of the entire procession. I philosophize every aspect of it. From the excessive sobber, to the take-charge family member, to the hugger, to those apprehensive to see the casket, to the hospitable funeral director, and all the awkward others who seem to follow suit along with everybody else.

Where am I going with any of this? Well I attended a funeral yesterday for a young family member of my wife, who indeed took his own life. By young, I mean a day younger than me. An unthinkable tragedy, the pain he was going through must have been indescribable. I watched as family members mourned, their hearts broken, questions unanswered. And of course while I was beyond saddened for my wife and my dear in-laws, I started to feel the sprouting little buds in my mind. I pushed it away, and have been doing my damnedest to prevent anything from growing. It’s important to know your triggers, and catch them early in development. Using positive self talk can help as well.

The focus is to celebrate life. We celebrate those who have passed before us, those who are here with us, and those who will be joining us soon. (Our baby is due next month! Yay!) I know this is a hard topic to chew, but I really felt it was important because surely there are others with this symptom as well.

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Information on Bipolar Disorder

I thought this was a pretty clear breakdown of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

A Short Bipolar Disorder Summary 
Bipolar disorder, is a serious brain disorder. Also known as manic-depressive illness, it is a mental illness involving episodes of serious mania and depression. The person’s mood usually swings from overly “high” and irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with periods of normal mood in between.

Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognized as an illness and people who have it may suffer needlessly for years or even decades.

ImageEffective treatments are available that greatly alleviate the suffering caused by bipolar disorder and can usually prevent its devastating complications. These include marital breakups, job loss, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.

Facts about bipolar disorder:

  • Manic-depressive illness has a devastating impact on many people.
  • At least 2 million Americans suffer from manic-depressive illness. For those afflicted with the illness, it is…

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Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder

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I stumbled across this article recently and I thought it was a pretty simple breakdown of early Bipolar symptoms. I’m a little concerned at the casual tone the author uses when describing the signs, but at least there is a depiction between mania and depression. Check it out & share your thoughts.

Click on link below:

Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder