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Grief Comes in Waves – Watch for Bipolar Waves

On Monday, I was told that my kitty – one of my best friends – has less than a month to live thanks to a tumor in his belly. He went from a clean bill of health in September to now, soon-to-be euthanized, in November. I’m gutted; I’m grieving; and because I have bipolar disorder, I have extra problems to worry about.

Grief Comes in Waves

What I’ve found is that the grief is coming in waves. It’s extremely difficult to look into his little, innocent eyes and know that very soon the light will be gone from them. In fact, it’s almost impossibly hard.

But some moments are more impossible than others and I find waterfalls of tears wash over me like waves. And then I’ll be “okay” for a bit only to find myself surfing another crest hours later.

Watch for Bipolar Waves

Grief is a horrible to deal with but what's worse is grief plus bipolar. Use these tips to try to ward off bipolar symptoms while grieving.Luckily, right now, I’m feeling pretty stress resilient thanks to the right medication and coping skills. That means that what I’m going through is normal grief and not bipolar crap. But I know that could change at any moment. I know that this grief could be the stressor that pushes me over the edge into a full-blown bipolar episode. I know that my sweet darling’s death could easily make me downright suicidal.

So I’m on guard. I’m on guard for everything my cat is going through so that I can make sure he’s not in pain, but I’m also on guard for me. I’m on guard for bipolar symptoms and a mass exaggeration of grief. I’m on guard for depression and suicidality. I’m on guard for something that will be extremely hard to come back from.

Keeping Bipolar in Check While Grieving

To keep bipolar in check during grief:

  • Talk to your friends; talk to your doctor; talk to your therapist; just talk about what you’re going through.
  • Make sure and get support during this tough time. You’re already doing enough, if someone else can help you by bringing you dinner, then that can be a huge help.
  • Watch carefully for bipolar symptoms. What is depression or bipolar mania like for you? Are you seeing any of those symptoms that cannot be directly attributed to your grief?
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids that are not alcohol. Practice self-care. Your body and mind need it.
  • Use all your coping techniques and reach out for more if you need them (such as through reading about the stages of grief).

Because while waves of grief do suck, hard, and are incredibly painful, they are a normal pain and one that everyone goes through with a loss. The waves of bipolar disorder, on the other hand, are not normal and something to be avoided, if at all possible. So it’s double duty for me. Make sure he’s okay and make sure I’m okay. It sucks to have to be in that position when under such stress. But life, and illness, works out that way. And I know that the effort and avoidance up front now, is incredibly worth it in the long run.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

11 thoughts on “Grief Comes in Waves – Watch for Bipolar Waves”

  1. 5 days ago my cat died at home alone with me and the dog. He was only sick a few days and I didn’t realize he was going to die until a few hours beforehand. It was so painful to watch him die, take his last breaths, feeling his heart stop beating. I wish we had known more in advance so we could have had him at the vets to be euthanized. He didn’t suffer but a natural death is not a smooth death (in his case).
    So I’m here, 5 days out, crying constantly. The only relief from the pain is sleep, and even that gets interrupted by visions of his last hour on this planet. I don’t know what is normal grief, and what is bipolar grief. I’m so confused. My regular psychiatrist on maternity leave, and my family Dr who is taking over my mental health for now is out for the week. So do I go and try to explain this to a total stranger or try and drag through this overwhelming darkness. Neither seem like good options. These are not questions I expect an answer to from anyone (2.5 years after the article was written) , I just wanted to put it out there.

    1. Hi Kim,

      I so sorry you’re going through this. I lost a kitty once. It’s horrible.

      What I can tell you is that grief will end, but it takes time. Five days, likely, is just nowhere near enough.

      If you’re concerned about your mental wellness overall, you can call a helpline: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/

      And, course, if you feel like you’re in danger in any way, get immediate help (at an ER if you have to).

      – Natasha Tracy

  2. This article was so validating for me. I had to euthanize my dog about 4 months ago because of cancer. She was my best and only friend. I had no support and at times am made to feel like I’m over reacting when the grief overwhelms me.

    Thank you

  3. Natasha I just discovered your blog its the one that resonates the most to me. I am soo sorry about your cat. Hugs to both of you. If it were not for my cat I would have attempted suicide by now. Animals have such incredible healing powers. When I am in the darkest depths..only contact and connection with an animal begins to bring some light into my life.

    I read in one of your blogs that you are the #3 category as you described it. I am also in that category where unfortunately..none of the meds over the last 12 yrs since my BP2 dx have been able to stabalize me and allow me to be released from the symptomatic grip.

    I would love if you created a category called relationships. The blog you wrote about I think under the Lonliness category was spot on! How being on that beach and feeling alone and watching everyone pass by. Thats how I feel. Yet somehow I have been able to keep on.

    I want so badly to be in a relationship yet my illness sabotages each on Its like you get a glimpse of what it feels like to be in love and be loved..only months or yrs later for the bipolar beast to rear its ugly head and “bam” its over and what you most wanted you dont want anymore.
    Trying to be “normal” takes it toll. Its sucks to want something so badly yet the pain that comes once you have it is actually worse. I dont get it.

    Thank you for your blog!!

  4. I go through waves of grief every December:

    When I was 18 I sought out my biological family. I was devastated to find out my biological mother had shot herself (Dec 10th) the day before my half sisters birthday. My half sister is a year younger than me. Why was I given up for adoption, I thought to myself. Was I a product of rape? I had such mixed feelings I couldn’t cope. I made myself sick by taking a bunch of aspirin and temporarily lost part of my hearing. I kept this to myself for years

    When my dad was dying of lung cancer I spent the last 5 days in the hospital with him and watched him take his last breath on Dec 17. I got his ashes on Jan 1st. I felt so bad for not being a better daughter that I bawled my eyes out on New Year’s Day and scratched the words fat pig into my thigh until it bled

    My grandpa died Dec 28th and his funeral was on New Years Eve. I think of him every year when I wear his mother’s gold locket. It kinda puts a damper on the typical New Years Eve party though

    When my grandma was 96 years old she passed away (on Dec 26). I think of her often. I know it was her time to go but I miss her dearly. She was my rock. I have many of her things to remember her by too

    When my step father also passed away of lung cancer (in August – his birthday is just two days after my biological mothers) I was so happy. I know that doesn’t sound nice but he had been such an abusive man to me sexually and emotionally. When he was starting to see things that weren’t there (because of the high doses of medication he was on) and started to cry I considered it karma for the way he had treated me all my life! (Yes I have suffered psychosis as part of the mania that sometimes goes along with being bipolar)

    When my mother received an inheritance from her mom the year my step father died she gave me $60,000 on Valentine’s day and I went on a HUGE spending spree. By Dec 26 we had a fight over my step father among other things and I went to the nearest emergency ward after she left. I was given medication and sent home. It wasn’t until the following year that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after I was taken forcibly by the police from my doctors office to the hospital as an involuntary patient

    I am much more stable now that I am on the right combination of medication (no more extreme moods) but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel waves of grief for the people I’ve lost now and again. My lows (and highs) are much more manageable these days, thank God for that!!!

  5. Watch out for unexpected sources of grief. Feeling grief over the current situation can trigger unresolved grief from past situations.

    Sounds like you are coping well at the moment. Take it one moment at a time.

  6. Hello Natasha, please remember that putting your cat down is the most loving, final act of compassion you can give. It takes courage and you have that..I had to put down my Siamese, Tigger-after 4 years of battling a megacolon disease she developed as a kitten. When quality of life is no longer there, we must do for them what they cannot do themselves, love them enough to end their misery with dignity. My heart goes out to you as you struggle with the loss of your loved one, they are truly family and give us unconditional love that no human can provide..which is why the grieving is so deep for those of us with mental illness, it is a loss of that unconditional love we grieve…because we need it so badly…With my deepest sympathy and compassion I reach out and support you during this trying time…may you find peace in knowing your loved one will no longer suffer, the kindest thing you can do..remember that as you grieve..time is the only great healer of loss- hang tight until then. You are capable of doing this- we forget that as we suffer loss greater due to our illness since loss is a trigger for episodes- but you seem prepared for that..continue to prepare for the loss of your companion and loved one. With my deepest sympathy and understanding, Denise

  7. I just had to help my best friend, constant companion and confidant of over 16 years, my siamese cat, pass over the Tuesday last. She went from ‘all was good and right with the world’ to ‘I have to all the vet to help you dearest friend’ in the span of 4 days. Needless to say, I have had my world rocked to all ends and then some. Oh, Natasha. I am so very sorry and know the havoc you are going through right now. Yes, it is definitely waves of grief. I am at a shallow ebb at the moment. Last week was a vicious pounding. It is so very hard. We can get through this, though. I know we can. It isn’t the first time, and I know it won’t be the last one, either.

  8. Dear Natasha,

    I know how you feel. I’ve just recovered from a wave to do with my finances and freedom. (I told you about it.)

    I have 2 cats. One is 22 and may have dementia – weird miaowing – and the vet wants to see her again soon. Also gengivitis & arthritis. So she may have to be put to sleep or “euthanized”, as they say here. But I’ve had a cat put down before and it is not painful for the animal. We all die and you want to save her suffering. And there are so many cats to adopt! Don’t stress out about this. I’m sure you gave her a very comfortable life. Love, S. xx

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