When you have bipolar, grieving the death of a loved one can be complicated and downright dangerous (Complicated Grief, PTSD, and Your Brain). Since the stillbirth of my son almost nine years ago, I continue to learn how to cope with this deep loss and remain mentally healthy as I care for my bipolar disorder. Complicated grief with bipolar after the death of a loved one is not an easy thing.
Bipolar Complicates How I Grieve the Death of a Loved One
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I couldn’t imagine that anything could be worse than living with this illness for the rest of my life. And then, at the end of a healthy pregnancy, my husband and I lost our first baby boy at 36 weeks. Even though I thought I knew how to care for my bipolar disorder, this catastrophic grief changed everything.
Even though my grief feels very different than a manic or depressive episode, the sorrow I feel is still so strong that it can tilt the axis of my sanity (Grieving a Loss: Mental Illness and Bereavement). Like a tidal wave pushing through the center of me, grief continues to catch me off guard (Grief Comes in Waves-Watch for Bipolar Waves). In those moments of disarming sadness, I wonder how I’ll ever survive this level of suffering for the rest of this minute, hour, or day.
And if I’m not very careful, I can get swept away by the overwhelming reality that I will live with this pain for the rest of my life. Suddenly, I can find myself just wishing to be in heaven with my son just to be done with all of this pain. And that moment of desperation can become very dangerous very quickly when you live with bipolar disorder (Suicide: A Very Real Threat to a Person with Bipolar Disorder).
Grief is Complicated by a Longer Healing Time for Me
Soon after my son’s funeral, I realized that because of bipolar, grief was going to be a very long journey for me. It seemed more difficult for me to process than anyone else around me. Was it because I was the mother? Was it because I have bipolar disorder that I love so very deeply and feel emotions down to my marrow? Maybe it is because I had wanted this baby for so very long? Maybe I struggled to contain this grief because it was my first, deep loss? Whatever the case, I learned quickly that grieving for my son was not going to be something that ended for me. Because of this, I needed to figure out a way to manage this tidal wave of sadness before it swept me away.
Complicated Grief and Staying Mentally Healthy
The right way to grieve your loved one is the way that will help you affirm life and stay healthy, period. Surviving your grief with bipolar without becoming manic or depressed needs to be your primary concern (What is the Difference Between Depression and Grief?). For me, this means taking extra time to care for my bipolar disorder. I see my doctors more frequently during the times my grief seems to surface: the holidays, my son’s birthday month, and when new babies are born into our family. I get the help I need before the waves of sadness catch me off guard (Planning to Minimize the Impact of Death on Bipolar Disorder).
When I am overcome with sorrow from time to time, I reach out and tell someone who will empathize. I do not isolate myself, especially if I am having feelings of despair. Sometimes just voicing my feelings helps me to navigate my way through them.
So if you are grieving the loss of a loved one and you live with bipolar disorder, know that there is no wrong way to grieve if it keeps you healthy and stable. There is no timetable for grief. Give yourself permission to honor your pain in whatever way you see fit for as long as it takes. Take care of your bipolar disorder and you will find a way through your loss.