Managing your bipolar disorder is difficult enough when you are only dealing with daily stress. Add the loss of a loved one, and you can soon find your emotions spiraling out of control.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, family member or pet. The loss of a loved one can be especially devastating if you are bipolar.
The June 2014 edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders published a study that found stressful or negative events often triggered bipolar episodes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience severe mood swings, only that you need to take extra precautions.
Stages of Grief with Bipolar Disorder
Grief typically has five stages;
While not everyone goes through these stages in the same order or experiences all of them, this is the “textbook” definition of the grieving process.
For those of us with bipolar, any of these stages can trigger a return of our symptoms.
Severe depression and irritability can occur, and getting these emotions under control is difficult. Irrational thoughts and mania can also be a serious problem when you are grieving.
For some people, any of the “5 grief stages” can trigger suicidal thoughts. If this happens, even once, speak to a mental health care professional or your support team immediately.
The death of anyone in your life is difficult, and there is nothing to be ashamed of if you need help coping. This can’t be emphasized enough.1
Funerals and Mania
Are your symptoms of mania returning with a vengeance as the funeral draws nearer?
If so, you are not alone. This is a particularly stressful time. You have to “appear” in public, and even worse, try and comfort others. Not to mention, in some cases you have to “dress and act appropriately”. This factor alone, is stressful even if you aren’t already dealing with a mood disorder.
“Funeral mania” doesn’t always occur when a loved one passes, it can start when you know that the end is inevitably coming.
Watching and waiting for those final moments can send you into bipolar mania. Suddenly, you can’t sleep. Sorting your loved one’s belongings takes priority over a good night’s rest, and even after they’re gone you’re still finding things that need to be taken care of.
Sleep is the last thing on your mind, and you refuse to give yourself time to cry. This is what “funeral mania” is when you’re bipolar.
Then the reality sits in.
The person or pet is gone and you’re alone. Everything is sorted, cleaned and boxed, leaving you with nothing to do.
One minute you’re okay, and then you find yourself crying uncontrollably. It is a cycle that comes without warning, and seems to have no end. This is referred to as “bipolar waves”, and it is something that you need to prepare yourself for.
The bouts of feeling okay and then breaking down in tears is normal, even for people without a mood disorder. If you are bipolar, then it is typically more severe and can trigger other symptoms associated with the disorder.
This is when you need to fall back on your support group and coping mechanisms. While none of these tools can fix everything, it can help you get your bipolar episodes under control.
Medications “Deadening” Feelings of Grief?
The medications that are prescribed to you are important. They are a necessary part of your treatment plan.
However, lithium and other bipolar medications can leave you feeling empty inside when all you want to do is cry.
Bipolar mediations are designed to stabilize our moods. That’s why we take them. Unfortunately, they can also dampen our responses to feelings of grief and despair.
That’s when you need to watch out for those “tidal waves”.
Crying, feeling alone and depression are part of the normal grieving process. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen at the “right” times when you’re on bipolar medications.
This doesn’t mean that the treatment plan that you are on is wrong or that you need to change medications. Just be prepared.
While the Academy of Psychiatrists states that “funeral mania” is rare, it does happen and the subsequent consequences can be devastating.
Tips for Managing Bipolar and Grief
You can manage your bipolar symptoms and grieve over your loss. It’s not easy, but there are things that can help.
- Join a grief support group
- Face your feelings of loss head on
- Take care of your needs, emotionally and physically
- Talk to a mental health professional
Keep a journal of your feelings, no matter what they are. Sometimes, just putting your feelings down on paper can help you get over the rough patches.
Learning to cope with the grief in your life is difficult, but if you don’t reach that balance the results can be devastating.
It Will Get Better
It can seem like you are alone when you are grieving, especially if you are bipolar. Depression and mania are supposed to be your primary concerns, but all you can do is think about your loss.
This isn’t always helpful in your treatment plan.
What does help is knowing that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do what feels natural to you. Lean on your support group. Talk to health care professionals before you feel the sadness wearing you down. Also know, that there is no set timeline for grieving.2
Take care of your bipolar disorder and recognize your grief. Eventually, in time, it will get better.