The following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, BrainStorm: From Broken to Blessed on the Bipolar Spectrum:
Socializing is excruciating when in the grip of Bipolar II disorder—but to what degree should I isolate? Wouldn’t it negatively affect my kid’s experience? A brief portrait below on how Bipolar II disorder affects family and friends and me. A scene from 2006.
Our friends Stan and Dalia are coming to Florida in January with their daughter who is the same age as my kids. Joe’s back in Massachusetts working. They invite me and the kids to go camping with them, on a pristine beach, one of the few left on the Florida coast where you can still camp by the sea in rustic cabins. Stan and Dalia are expansive hosts and gourmet cooks who live life in huge gulps and are unfailingly generous in sharing their abundance. Where I’d bring Ramen noodles and trail mix on a camping trip, Stan roasts duck over an open fire, bakes potatoes snuggled into the coals, and then serves these with Margaritas and fresh lime, a linen napkin draped over his wrist.
But Stan and Dalia don’t know much about my illness and they aren’t people I felt comfortable sharing the details with. Dalia knew I’d been struggling with something and I do tell her that it would be tough for me to organize packing for a camping trip especially with Joe away.
“Don’t worry,” Dalia tells me over the phone. “We’ll do it all. We’ve already got the cabin reserved; we’ve got coolers and ice chests and tons of food. You know Stan loves to cook—he won’t let you help anyway. I’ll bring sleeping bags for the kids—just bring your toothbrushes and we’ll be fine.”
“OK,” I say, knowing that this adventure with two healthy boisterous adults will be excruciating for me. But the kids will love camping with their friend, and I want to do this for them.
Because of his joie de vivre and sunny nature I imagine Stan has never known anything close to what is going on in my head. He phones me the morning we are leaving with a simple request: “We’ve got everything, but I forgot a bottle opener. Could you pick one up and a six-pack of beer on your way here?”
This is how Bipolar II disorder affects family and friends; I feel my throat clench and a sense of panic come over me. I can’t explain to Stan why this simple request is putting me over the edge. That if I have to stop for a bottle opener and beer, I don’t think we can come. Packing overnight gear and clothes for two kids, navigating to a new place on my own and keeping the kids from meltdowns on the way was already daunting. I didn’t want to sound selfish, but I had no choice but to tell a very small part of the truth.
“I’m not sure I can. I’ll have the kids in the car seats and I don’t want to stop.”
Flooding with shame and embarrassment, I know Stan must think I’m bizarre, uptight, ungrateful. They are doing everything and I can’t pick up a six of beer?
“I’ll ask Mary to get it,” Stan says. “She’s coming to the site today too.”
I survive the weekend thanks to Stan and Dahlia’s generosity. But the entire time instead of enjoying myself I am anxious to leave. Keeping a façade of levity sucks me dry. I am bone-exhausted, dehydrated and shaking, driving the three hours south on Florida’s highway 41. Thankfully Joe is home on our arrival. I pass off the kids to him, drag myself to my room, close all the curtains, and slam the door. I am exhausted by human contact, yet too scared to be alone.
It’s 2021, fifteen years later. The twins are strapping college Freshman, surviving and thriving. I have been well — thanks at last to the right diagnosis and medication — for many years. It is a miracle that I’m grateful for every day. Much more to share about this in my upcoming book. I wrote to help heal folks who are suffering from BP II: save lives, reduce suffering, end the stigma..