I’ve been pondering the idea of recovery from Bipolar Disorder for quite some time. I’ve read references to “recovery” and I’ve read other ideas about “remission” — both referring to mental illness, and both ring false.
I ended my memoir about my struggle with bipolar disorder, Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide by stating “I’m not sure anyone ever recovers from bipolar disorder, but it is possible to get to a better place. I am in a much better place now, and I hope to remain here indefinitely.”
However, in some press I’ve done for my book, I’ve actually used the term “recovery” a few times. I’m not totally sure what prompted my “recovery” talk, except that people seem to think that I am so “normal” i.e. very functional and living successfully with BP. But, what is the measure of functional and what are the markers of success?
I’m jumping off here from Natasha Tracy’s Bipolar Burble blog post Bipolar Disorder and Remission:
Tracy writes: I’m not sure that remission is something we will all get to enjoy, as bipolars. And the remission from depression, the remission from hypomania, the remission from bipolar we do experience seems to be a very watered-down version of the lives we want, the lives we deserve and certainly the lives we’re promised by doctors and treatments. So if remission isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, what is remission in bipolar disorder?
So, I’m trying to figure out what remission is, then. I feel like and believe I am in a remission-type state, but what exactly does that mean — for me, for others? The term remission reeks of cancer, which is very instructive because those living with cancer (as opposed to those dead from cancer) usually live with the intense fear of its return. People with cancer are given percentages about their individual chance of recurrence based on some nebulous set of algorithm-type predictions that mean, in the end, nothing really. If one comes out of remission, that bunch of numbers wasn’t very helpful
The following definitions of remission and recovery are from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and I find interesting the fact that both refer to illness, even to mood, disorder and (economic) depression.
Definition of REMISSION
1: the act or process of remitting
2: a state or period during which something is remitted
Definition of REMIT
1a: to lay aside (a mood or disposition) partly or wholly
b: to desist from (an activity)
Definition of RECOVERY
1: the act, process, or an instance of recovering; especially: an economic upturn (as after a depression)
2: the process of combating a disorder (as alcoholism) or a real or perceived problem
2a: to release from the guilt or penalty of <remit sins>
b: to refrain from exacting <remit a tax>
c: to cancel or refrain from inflicting <remit the penalty>
d: to give relief from (suffering)
It seems, from the above definitions, as though remission might be a relaxation of the disorder — perhaps a lower level of suffering, then, while recovery invokes a casting off, a permanency, which to me doesn’t seem realistic in the bipolar world.
Natasha Tracy goes further in her extended post (referenced above) to muse about what remission from bipolar disorder might look like:
For a homeless person without a job, remission may be the ability to hold down a job and pay rent. For someone else, it might be having stable relationships and a happy home life with a wife and children. And for some it might be enjoying their previous hobbies and interests. We all have different goals and different levels of illness that we are willing to accept.
I both can and cannot relate to any of the above. I lived with and suffered through BP all the while working at “high-level” jobs, having primary intimate relationships, writing and publishing, etc. The “before bipolar” that Tracy and so many other bloggers write about, never existed for me. I’ve always struggled with BP at some level, mostly depression, often extremely severe, and three times even life threatening. I’ve dealt with rapid cycling and mania, too.
My existence in hypomanic stasis for the past six years both rebukes and confirms, for me, a theory of remission.
Tracy writes: What Does Hypomania Feel Like? Like a freight train running through the middle of my head.
To me, hypomania feels more like a sunrise.