Having a chronic illness is like being in a relationship. Like every relationship, there are ups and downs, things you are thankful for and things you are not. As time goes on from your first diagnosis or first date, through treatment or your first fight, you get to know that illness or person as if they are your other half, a part of your very being. Yet both always remain something separate from you at the same time. Both will always be a force to be tested and there to test you.
For six years I was on the same medication for my Bipolar Disorder. This meant that my disorder stayed largely the same for a long period of time. In the relationship with my illness for many years I did all the work, the growing, and the changing. My “other half” stayed static, unchanging, predictable. Then a few weeks ago I changed my medication and it is like she has woken up and decided she isn’t pleased with the way I’ve been treating her.
The rebellion I’m currently experiencing with my illness brings to mind a rough patch in one of my previous real-life relationships. During this time, thanks to a Gender in Advertising class, I suddenly awoke to realize that my real life significant other was a misogynist. I rebelled, and stomped my feet. I screamed about injustice and was probably being quite baffling. My boyfriend at the time expected his regular girlfriend to be cooking dinner on a Wednesday evening and came home to a foaming at the mouth feminist. I had a point, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an alarming change overnight. Suddenly the status quo was not okay with me. In my relationship with my illness, suddenly the long held status quo has changed in a manner almost just as alarming.
Just like my twenty-one year old self screaming, “I am woman, hear me roar,” my illness wants a little more attention and respect than I’ve been giving her. For years when I had an off day I knew how to handle it instinctively. If I was feeling faint and as if the world was moving as slow as molasses, I would leave work or call in sick and just go back to bed. If I was manic and believing I was smarter than everyone around me, I tended to keep my mouth shut until the feeling passed (or I tried to, anyway). If I was in the mood for an irritable rant, I knew which friends would rant along with me. These were coping mechanisms I had developed to handle symptoms I knew well. These mechanisms took years to hone and had become a first-aid kit for coping. They didn’t solve the underlying reasons for moods and symptoms; they just handled the weirdness in the moment.
In the last few weeks, it is like I have been picked up out of my comfort zone and plunked down into a new brain, body and relationship. It is like my well known, quirky but manageable girlfriend has decided she needs to go on a soul searching, find yourself trek to Thailand or something. Most of the changes are actually positive; I need less sleep, I’m more forward thinking, less irritable and generally happier. All these things are wonderful for only being five weeks into the new medication. However I can’t help but think of myself five weeks into any new relationship; things are lovely, she’s the smartest, prettiest and funniest girl you’ve ever met. The whole relationship is rose tinted; it’s the honeymoon phase. I guess I’m just wondering how I’m going to handle her when she goes off the rails, because I don’t think my old band aids are going to work. As with any new significant other, I worry, what is that first fight is going to look like? And is she going to be any fun at parties?
About Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com