Bipolar disorder: Putting together the puzzle pieces

My son started doing puzzles at a very young age. Complicated puzzles. When he was three-years-old he could put together between 24-48 piece floor puzzles. When he was four-years-old he could do 100 piece table puzzles. I have always admired my son’s ability to put together puzzles, against the contrast of my own efforts.

For many years without success, I have tried to put together a different kind of puzzle — one in my mind. Finally I am beginning to think that all the confusing pieces in my brain that never fit are revealing something I can see with more clarity. With clarity that I have searched and searched and searched to find.

The picture on the puzzle box?

A bipolar disorder.

The complicated part is that now I have to learn to live with it. Now that I am finally acknowledging that my brain is not normal and that all the signs and symptoms have been there, I realize that one of the missing pieces has been my inability to put it in place by myself.

Suddenly, with professional help, I think I have that ability. But it’s an adjustment. And it’s been emotional because looking back so many things make sense to me. And I am so grateful that I am putting together more missing pieces and that the clear picture on the box isn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be.

Today I received my medical records from April 2011 when I first received a bipolar diagnosis. I was somewhat apprehensive to look at them, but more than anything I was curious. I’ve always been curios, looking for answers within myself when suddenly I know the answers are part of an illness that I cannot control.

But I can treat it.

A few interesting things that doctors quoted me as saying while hospitalized:

  • When they asked me my chief complaint I said, “I don’t know what is going on with me. I don’t know what is real and what is not.”
  • When they asked me my reason for living I said, “For hope, change, and love. I love my baby.”
  • After I admitted that I could see things, I was asked to elaborate and said, “That is hard to describe, but I can usually navigate through what is going on.”
  • When they asked me about sleep I said, “I was unable to sleep for days and felt like I was running in a race and that I was solving a puzzle.”

A part of me feels a little egocentric for trying to analyze all of this, but I wholeheartedly know it is part of the process I have to go through to make peace with my struggle.

Overall, the 35 pages of records I reviewed are satisfying. They answer so many of the questions I have searched for inside myself for as long as I can remember. Turns out the answers involve something bigger than me, even though I have fought and fought and fought to figure out something that I am not capable of figuring out by myself.

I have to look at the literature and let medical professionals help and let my family and friends support me. I am thrilled that I am at a point where I am ready to learn about what is wrong with me — that I have a chronic illness. That it has a name. That I am now willing to say the name out loud. To shout it, even.


It’s a fantastic discovery and unbelievably enlightening. What’s difficult is that I have to learn to live with bipolar, and I am not sure how to do that.

I know I have to acknowledge it and not be scared of it and not run away from it. In fact, I am not capable of running away from it. Knowing that is actually a huge relief. There are so many good medications to treat bipolar. So many resources that I look forward to delving into until I can get to a peaceful place about my diagnosis. I am getting there, but I am not there yet.

I have to keep writing and keep at therapy and take my meds and possibly ask for more of my medical records, though at this point my diagnosis is clear to me. I still wonder, Why haven’t I been able to see this? As I reviewed my medical records they are so clear and precise. Why haven’t I been able to see it?

Suddenly I know why — because that is part of the illness. And when the drugs are working it makes it very easy for me to think I don’t have a problem. But watch me go off meds… and DANGER ZONE!

I realize now how utterly important it is to stay on medication. I realize now that I have let the stigmas about mental illness prevent me from being able to openly live with a bipolar disorder. I’ve lived in denial.

From now on, I refuse to live in fear and secret embarrassment about my illness. I want to learn how to calm my nerves about it. Maybe then my anxiety will subside a little.

I still have more extended family to talk to about my illness. This week I have a therapy appointment and a psychiatric appointment. I am definitely not canceling. In fact, I look forward to learning about any support groups in my area or what else I can do from here to keep making progress. Perhaps, I’ll find even more puzzle pieces — solvable or not — that might be useful.

I wonder, maybe there will always be missing puzzle pieces. But I have to learn to live with that. I have to un-train my brain to think that this is something I will get over or that I can treat with will-power.

The next time I watch my son put the last piece into a solar system puzzle or a Batman puzzle and see him smile with satisfaction at having solved it, maybe I can eventually smile like that, too. Maybe I might even like what my atypical puzzle looks like.

Interestingly, there is a new movie coming out called Touched With Fire. The movie is about bipolar disorder. I am not sure I am strong enough to see it yet, but someday I hope I am. I just need to find the right person/people to go with. My hope is that there is an awareness piece about bipolar disorder beyond the Hollywood aspects.

I leave you with the trailer:

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