Just because I have disorders doesn’t mean I can’t have fun!

Happy friendsWritten by: Brenda Nikkel

A different approach at looking at mental illness

I have decided to undertake a different approach to living with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder. Although being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and for that matter two other disorders I must allow myself to have some fun with my family, friends and most importantly myself.  That is not to say that I take my illnesses lightly.  However, laughter and a good sense of humour are good for me and play a huge role in my healing process.  I am confident that you will be able to relate to what I have to say.

I can laugh at myself and by myself!

In fact, when I am somewhat stable I embrace my good health.  For sure I am known as the crazy lady of the neighbourhood.  Going for walks in the neighborhood with my IPod on, you will catch me singing out loud to the music, enjoying the songs, the scenery and the great outdoors.  It’s fun, cathartic and it helps with my anxiety.  Yes, I have gotten some odd stares but I don’t care.  I’m well and feeling good.  Head held high!  My point, don’t forget to have fun!  Enjoy the moment, all moments, however short or minute they are.

Getting lost along the way…..again!

During an out-patient program I managed to strike up a friendship with one of the participants.  We talked about each others demons, weaknesses, difficulties and hardships. A bond developed over our similar and yet not so similar disorders. We soon met each others partners at a few evening program sessions. One evening he and his wife came over for dinner.  It was a very lovely evening and we realized that a real friendship was starting to develop. This also introduced our partners to more of our pains and tribulations, for those two do not have any disorders and it is very difficult for them to understand exactly what someone goes through with partners with bipolar.

Being such kind people they wanted to reciprocate by having my husband and myself over for dinner at their home.  We gladly accepted.  We got their address, loaded it into our GPS and made our way their.  Yet again we had a wonderful visit.

Since our initial meeting I have gone to their home on a number of occasions.  You would think by now I would know the route to their home.  Not once but three or four times I have gotten lost.  Not only on the way there but on the way home!  I know in part that this has something to do with my medication but getting lost three or four times….really?

Needless to say this has become our little inside joke whenever I make my way to their home.  I am happy to say I finally have the route down pat.

Where is my car?

We’ve all experienced not being able to locate our cars in a parking lot.  In most of the malls that I frequent I attempt to park in the same area each time so that I will easily find my vehicle.  The use of a landmark, or something along that nature is magic, under ideal situations this works very well, but isn’t always full proof.  Again, some of the medication that I am on makes me very forgetful and absent minded.  On more then one occasion I have found myself wandering rows upon rows in search of my car.  This is so frustrating but at the same time I have to laugh at myself.  Sometimes if I wasn’t with someone the likelihood of my finding my car would have been pretty well next to nil!

As the saying goes, “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”

To have a friend with a mental illness such as bipolar can be very exhausting because we are very high maintenance.  But with my friends, the love and support they have given to me, enables me to summon up courage to empower myself to be the person that I am today.  Without them, I know I would not be here today and in the shape I am in presently.  A pretty heavy statement to make, but it is the truth.  They all have been with me through bad times and many, many good times.

When I was first diagnosed I shared my illness with my friends.  One of my friends went so far as to look up bipolar disorder so that her and her husband would have a better understanding of what I was going through and what to expect with my behaviour.

My family is very passionate and extremely emotional.  We have a tendency to cry at the slightest provocation.  We’ll cry over commercials, or if someone is telling somewhat of a sad story, where most people would feel empathy, we’ll cry.  So now I have a standing joke with one of my friends where if I tell her something that is slightly sad she’ll immediately ask me “did you cry”.  The answer is generally….yes.

My friends have taken so much interest in my illness they will send me things that I may be interested in or opportunities where I may potentially volunteer.  In fact, if it wasn’t for a friend of mine I never would have known about the Krasman Centre.  She sent me an announcement on how the Centre was contributing to a website called mentalhealthtalk.info.  I gave the centre a call and briefly told them about my experience with bipolar and that I was already on two websites and Facebook.  They immediately took an interest.  After some discussions with Trish from Mental Health Talk, she asked if I would like to put my blog on the website.  Now the rest is history.  That’s what friends are for!

The family dynamic

Of the five children in my family four of us suffer from mental illness, ranging from mood disorders, manic depression, borderline personality, bipolar 1& 2 to paranoid schizophrenia.  In addition, my mother also suffers from bipolar disorder.  Not wanting to leave anyone out, recently another family member was diagnosed with bipolar 2.  We are a blast at a party I can tell you that much!  Hell, we now have the makings of a baseball team!

The support I have received from my family has varied over the years.  A large part of my family is in denial or not following the proper course to help with their mental illness.  As a result the support from my family has dwindled over the years.  It’s sad really because we could help and support each other so much.  However, the family dynamic is broken.

I unfortunately lost my brother to this terrible disorder several years ago.  He left us far too early. But boy was he a lot of fun.  He lit up a room and would talk to anyone.  Some of the silly things that he had done are legendary.  I remember during a very hot summer he called me up and asked me over for a bbq and a swim.  Well, my brother didn’t have a pool but he assured me that he purchased one and to come over and cool off.  Little did I know the pool that he was referring to was a kiddy pool that was about 10 inches deep.  When I arrived he was sitting in his “pool” with a drink by his side and music blaring from his outdoor radio.  I laughed so hard I cried.  That was my brother.

However, when my brother was alive he was always there for me.  He protected me like a big brother should.  But he is gone now and I no longer have any support from my siblings.

My parents understand, especially my father because he has had to live for the past 60 years with a wife who is bipolar and who suffers from other mental illnesses.  Plus he has 4 of 5 of his children that suffer from mental illness.

My mother has suffered from mental illness since her early teens so growing up visiting my mother at mental health institutions was the norm for me.  During the course of my mother’s life she has endured over 30 shock treatment procedures.  The best way I new how to cope with my mother’s hospital stays is with a bit of humour.  Each time she came home after a hospital stay and after a series of shock treatments there was always a loss of memory.  So each time she got home and would look in her closet she would think that she had a brand new wardrobe and was very excited by this.  I don’t know, but I always thought this was rather amusing.

I just wish that I could better understand this disorder

My husband who has been truly supportive unconditionally has had his struggles understanding my disorder.  I must mention that during one session with my psychiatrist he declared that to understand the turmoil I was going through he wished that he could experience being bipolar for a week just to see what it’s like to feel such sadness, self loathing, and depression and in some cases the highs.  Bless his heart, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.  During that session I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!  At least my psychiatrist had a little chuckle.

Humour as a coping skill

On more then one occasion I have had to use laughter and humour to cope with the adversities this disorder brings.  My friends and family have always said I have a great sense of humour.  With that in mind I try when I can to enjoy the moment and find humour when ever and where ever I can.  Being rather self deprecating I like to share funny stories about me and different situations I sometimes find myself in.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it has helped me cope with many situations that could or would take a lot of people down.

Finally…

  • Make sure you learn and allow yourself to have fun!
  • My mantra and model is “knowledge is power and so is laughter!”
  • Make sure you have very strong ties to your therapists, psychiatrist or counselors.   They are the people that understand you the most and may carve a path for you to find laughter again
  • Make sure you have ‘go to people’ when you are in crisis, these can be family and/or friends. These stars will be there, will listen and will understand. Sometimes that is all you need.

I always like to end with a saying from a pamphlet that spoke about mood disorders that I read and it really resonated with me.

It said, “Blessed are the cracked for they let the light shine through.” [Tweet this!]

It’s true; we do let the light shine through even if we are a little broken.

 

Photo credit: dananthony11

 

Due to her illness Brenda is currently on Long Term Disability.  Initially this was very difficult for Brenda to accept because the memories of being a successful I.T. consultant was still very fresh in her mind.  She suffered from depression since her early teens but was only diagnosed with Bipolar 2 in 2007.  After going through multiple in/out-patient programmes she was then diagnosed with rapid cycling and mixed type in 2011.  Wanting to put her time to use she is now embarking on being an advocate for mental illness. She has blogs on three different websites and is also on Facebook.   Next steps for Brenda is to embark on public speaking engagements to share her journey living with these disorders and to assist in alleviating the stigma around mental illness. 


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Comments

  • Earla Dunbar

    Laughter and able to laugh at myself has brought me far. It is such an important tool to have.

  • Ida

    I think laughing is best medicine and it is good for you too laugh and have fun with friends
    and people that support you

    • Brenda Nikkel

      Thank you for your comments and taking the time to read my blog,

      Keep on laughing!

      Regards,

      Brenda Nikkel

  • Rowena

    Hi Trish…I’m enjoying your website so much. As you know I WAS bipolar for many years until just over a year ago. Unfortunately I went through Lithium Toxicity,I was comatose and had to have kidney dialysis.Quite a scary time. After being discharged from the hospital I saw an excellent psychiatrist and he informed me that as we age one can be clear of the bipolar disorder. What great news!
    From taking 16 pills a day I am now on 1 thyroid pill a day and am a new person. Everyone—family and friends have welcomed me back as the “old Rowena” It is so wonderful to feel well again.
    Keep up your good work Trish. I’m sure many people will benefit from your column.
    Hugs, Rowena

    • Trish

      Thank you Rowena for your kind words of encouragement and support and for sharing your story. I am so glad you are feeling well again! Much love, Trish xo

  • Brenda Nikkel

    It is so wonderful to hear that people feel the same way about laughter and learning to laugh at themselves. Thank you for your comments.

    Regards,
    Brenda Nikkel

  • Mark

    Thanks for this uplifting post, Brenda. I like how you are able to have such a good-natured laugh at your own expense, just as you would for a very dear friend. I think is a sign of loving self-acceptance. I know for me, losing my sense of humour is one of the early signs of an onset of depression. And one of the most heart-warming things I have ever heard when I bounce back is “It’s great to see you smile again.”

    Keep on laughing!

    • Brenda Nikkel

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your feedback and comments. I can’t tell you how much it means to hear about other people going through the same things that I have and will continue to go through.

      As difficult as that may sound at times, laughing and sharing those “up” times with friends and family is truly good for the soul,

      Even though you may not feel like laughing and smiling just give it a go and you’ll be surprised with the results.

      Mark, you keep on laughing too!

      Regards,
      Brenda

  • Suzie Grogan

    This is the first time I have vistied this site but I will defintiely check back regularly now. I have experienced clinical depression and anxiety for a fair few years now and like you I have learnt that sometimes the only way to manage is to find a little humour in a situation. I love the image of you walking and singing along to your iPod. If it makes you feel good, go for it!

    And Trish this is a wonderful site. I wish I had found it before. I have a page where mental health stories are shared on my own blog and knowing there are others out there experiencing and managing mental ill-health is so important to me. Thanks!

    • Trish

      So nice to have you here Suzie–welcome. Thank you very much for your kind words. I have subscribed to your blog and I look forward to reading your posts. I am also happy to connect with you on Twitter. I look forward to hearing more about your upcoming book. Love, Trish

    • Brenda Nikkel

      Hi Suzie,

      I’m so glad to hear your feedback and I appreciate that you found my story uplifting.

      When we are not well we must continue to remind ourselves how we felt when we were laughing, enjoying and sharing our funny side to friends and family.

      Keep on smiling Suzie and again, thank you for you kind words.

      Regards,
      Brenda

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