Last week, the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran an essay entitled “The Problem With the Way We Treat Bipolar Disorder.” As the daughter of a bipolar patient, my first reaction was “which problem?” The issues with how we treat mental health are countless and complex. Where could the author even start with just one?
The problem that Linda Logan addressed in her essay wasn’t one I was expecting, but is one I have thought about. Logan writes that through years of treatment for Bipolar Disorder, including many hospitalizations, one of the biggest problems that she encountered was the loss of sense of self. The woman she was before her treatment was different than the patient who emerged. The depressed Logan was different to the manic, who was different to the healthy. So who was Linda Logan?
A daunting question for anyone. But Logan found that throughout her treatment, the issue of self was pushed aside in favor of solving clinical issues. “The doctors could treat my symptoms,” she writes, “But they didn’t much care about my vanishing sense of self.”
When I read Logan’s article, I could relate right away. However, my perspective is different, as I struggle to accept my “new” father. How do I reconcile the boisterous, social man I was parented by, with the subdued, lethargic man to whom I often feel that I am the parent?
My dad was a social butterfly. A magnet. Someone people wanted to be around, and who wanted to be around others. Looking back, it is clear that my father’s “normal,” ran on the manic spectrum through my childhood. But how much of my father’s flamboyance was his personality, and how much was his disease?
It’s hard to tell, since now his Bipolar has swung the other way, and he has been in a crippling depression for years. I know my dad in the grips of mania and depression, but do I know who my father is? What is harder to accept is that the dad I grew up with, is - at least for now - gone. My husband hasn’t met him, and my future children may not. Even my younger siblings struggle to remember the dad I knew, and still love.
I try to be zen about my father’s Bipolar, and to accept that there is nothing I can do to influence the outcome. There is little he can do. It can be frustrating to be patient with the small steps, and more frustrating to handle the seemingly continuous setbacks. However, I know that as tough as the process is for me, it is worse for my father. I may not know who he is, but Logan’s essay made me realize that he probably does not know himself. And that is much scarier.
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