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Lessons from a Bipolar Angel

How the Actions of One Sweet Friend Taught Me How to Handle My Newly-Diagnosed Disorder

Bipolar disorder, aka “Manic Depression”. In courtroom dramas, they're words often brought into play to describe a defendant's criminal behavior; in real life, I've heard them used as a crude verbal swipe at those with whom someone just doesn't get along.

And I bristle at either usage. Here's why:

Although I live in Ashland, Kentucky, I went back home to Charlotte, NC for a brief visit in 2015. While there, I met and befriended an amazing young woman named Becky. We were only friends and, at times, we would go out for a bite to eat or just shop together.

One day she asked me to stay overnight on her sofa so I could help her with a yard sale early the next morning. I would create and put up signs around the neighborhood so early commuters could see them.

At about seven that evening, she said we'd have to cut the lights and to go to bed. I asked her why, since we wouldn't have to be up for at least another nine hours, we had to turn in so early. Turning off the living room lamp, she said, “I'll tell you the reason tomorrow after the sale”.

The next morning at about 3 AM, she was up. She let her three Shih-Tzus out in her fenced-in backyard to do their business and, while they were there, began to fix their breakfasts as well as coffee for us. When she let them back in, they knew immediately to go to their food bowls.

As the coffee was still brewing, she sat down on the adjacent sofa and began reading from a devotional book that she had on the coffee table. After about ten minutes, she got up and said she was going to take a shower.

Before she left the room, I stopped her. “Is this something you do every day?” She came back and sat down for a moment. “Chuck, this is a routine I follow every morning. You see, I'm bipolar, and it helps 'ground' me. I go to bed early and get up around two or three in the morning every day.” I was familiar with the disorder and was about to ask a few other questions, but she cut me short and went on into the bathroom.

As time went on, I found that she also gave herself a specific window of time in which she ran errands, paid bills, washed clothes and cleaned house. She was often quiet though; when she talked, it seemed to be in almost metered speech. Her posture was perfect, and her walk soft but deliberate.

When it came time for me to return to Ashland, Kentucky, I began thinking of those attributes as well as her routine. Since I'd had almost cyclic ups and downs, I thought perhaps I had something like bipolar disorder, too, and these would be excellent examples to follow.

In March of 2018, after a bout with depression, went to my regular counselor and asked him about the possibilities of having it. Jim studied my chart, then excused himself. While he was gone, I suddenly remembered one instance when Becky felt she was beginning to “cycle” (ie, her mood was changing) and warned me about it. “Just give me a few days,” she said. “I've got to write how I'm feeling and today's time and date. Then I'll have to take this to my counselor.” I thought that, maybe, when I began to feel depressed, I could do the same thing!

Shortly, Jim came back into the room and, with paper in hand, sat down next to me. “Chuck, I want you to look at this paper. But don't get upset, okay?”

On that sheet was the official finding:

I, too, am bipolar.

But, as I studied it, something struck me as odd. “Jim, this paper shows that I was diagnosed as bipolar three years ago! Then why am I only hearing about it now? There was no discussion? No medications prescribed? No follow-up visits ordered? What gives??” He stammered a little as he looked at the paper. “Well, the … the only thing that anyone would tell me is, ummm, it was just lost in the paper shuffle around here!”

I sat back in the chair, shook my head in disgust and thought, “Man, if I had only known and been treated back then, a lot of this stuff I've been going through could've been handled!”

As I left his office, my mind went back to Becky and the way she handled her disorder. Since returning home in May 2016, I'd implemented the same things that she did: (1) a morning routine that closely resembles hers; (2) devotions or, in my case, motivations; (3) windows of time to accomplish errands, both in and out-of-house; (4) practiced talking less and making my sentences slower and more understandable, and (5) improved my posture.

I still practice all these things every day.

A few days later, I went back to talk with my psychiatrist about this. Since she was relatively new, she had only assumed that the prior doctor had followed up with me. Somewhat alarmed that he hadn't, she finally prescribed a good medication to help me level my moods. Then she also recommended that I do exactly as Becky did: should I ever feel my mood changing (cycling from mania to depression), I need to write how I'm feeling at that moment and add that day's time and date. Then I can take that journal to my counselor and we can go over it.

I've been doing that as well. So, by combining all that I've learned to do, adding my daily medication and realizing that I have bipolar disorder – it doesn't have me (meaning that I'm in control, not it!), then it's infinitely more handleable and my life more enjoyable.

Today, I'm a record promoter for both country and rock acts, but also am a freelance writer. My “cycles” have leveled off tremendously. But I still visit my counselor on a regular basis and, with his (and the medication's) help, am able to keep it that way.

And to think it all started by casually observing, and absorbing lessons from, a single, sweet friend of mine in Charlotte!

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