The Fine Art of Isolation

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“Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt” – Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”

Not surprisingly, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading about bipolar disorder. I’ve read articles by psychiatrists, blogs by other bipolar people, and several websites dedicated to mental illness. I am constantly looking for people with whom I can compare symptoms and advice on coping mechanisms. I found some excellent sources, and some that are sub-par. When it comes to coping mechanisms almost everything I have read include what most consider essential when it comes to coping with bipolar disorder: a reliable support system. A group of friends, and/or family that can help not only recognize symptoms but help you cope with them. This seems fairly obvious, but what if something prevents you from maintaining that support network? To quote from Hamlet, “Aye, there’s the rub”.

As an example, I had a great number of friends at one time. Each and every one of them was like family. Once I had mostly ruined my life through my hypomania and crashed into crippling depression and was finally diagnosed as bipolar, people began to distance themselves from me, or so it seemed.

I’m not saying they ran away or abandoned me because I was bipolar. Quite the opposite. One of the symptoms of my depression is that I withdraw and isolate myself. I don’t return phone calls, I don’t socialize, and I even stop any social media activity. I did that a lot; so much so that a lot of friends got tired of the frustration of dealing with me. I pushed a lot of people away, many of whom really did try to help. When I was forced to resign from teaching, several people made suggestions as to what I could do next, such as tutoring or teaching SAT prep courses. The problem was I couldn’t do it. I was in such a depressed state that I couldn’t even imagine returning to any kind of work at that point. My response, however, was to yes everyone to death and then ignore their suggestions. Again, people got angry and frustrated and gave up.

I’m not angry at anyone for their reactions and I don’t feel abandoned in any way. I so completely isolated myself that I made damn sure almost everyone was gone. Not everyone was put off by my behavior. Several friends put up with my infuriating behavior and helped as much as they could, often going above and beyond whatever help I asked for.

This isolation is detrimental in a couple of ways. I have cut myself off from my most important support and also it adds to my irritability when I am hypomanic. Those are the times I look to get out and socialize and interact with other adults, but instead I wind up home in front of the TV.

So how do I cope with having such a small support system? It’s not easy and it’s exhausting, but I manage. I write, I try to keep myself occupied and on a schedule, and most importantly, I stick with my treatment. Medication and therapy have brought me a long way. I’ve now stayed in treatment for six months, and his is the longest I’ve done so. The previous times I would go for a few weeks, start to feel better and then disappear from therapy and toss out the meds. With my limited options, treatment is a necessity and so is holding on to the small group of friends that I still have.

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