How do you deal with bi-polar?

My brother is lovely. He’s kind, caring considerate and will help me in any way he can. When he’s well.

You see, he also has hyper bi-polar disorder. Or really really bad manic depression if you aren’t sure what bi-polar disorder is. Of course, he’s never truly well. A manic depressive never is.

He’s on medication at the moment and seems quite stable, although he still cat naps during the day and is up most of the night because his brain won’t shut off. In the past he’s been on injections, different medications, in fact I can’t honestly tell you how many different ones as there have been so many over the years. One of them actually made him look like he’d had a stroke, so he needed another to counter balance it.

After 16 years of many many highs and lows, as a family we can see when his mood changes. It’s almost instinctive. When he walks into a room now I can tell what mood he is in by his walk, the speed he walks at, even the way he puts his keys and wallet down.

He lives with my parents – being in his 30’s this is unusual for someone without bi-polar, and I’m sure a lot of people with it function perfectly well. Unfortunately my brother is typical of many sufferers in that he, when stabilised by his medication, believes he no longer needs it. This of course leads to him stopping taking it, which leads to either an epic high or an epic low.

He has tried to live on his own several times, but this hasn’t worked out purely because if we didn’t see him for a few days he could be off of his medication and genuinely believing he’s a multi millionaire (and spending like one) or on the flip side and much more distressing, being so low that he’s contemplating suicide. There were also several small kitchen fires, as he would get up in the middle of the night and maybe put some bacon under the grill – then completely forget about it.

This is a truly awful illness that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. However the real scandal lies in this Country’s mental health service, or lack of one.

I can’t remember the last time my brother saw the same psychiatrist. I’ve accompanied him to these appointments and we sit and wait, only to go into a room and be greeted by a stranger. This nameless face asks my brother if he’s OK – generally he isn’t, which is why I’m with him. But what he is, is exceptionally clever. So he could be on a real low for days beforehand, with my parents having to encourage him to wash, shave, change etc., but when he knows he has to see the psychiatrist he’s clean shaven, smart and eloquent. He knows what they want to hear and because this person has never seen him before they take him at face value. If only to make their own lives easier.

I have complained to our local health authority about this on countless occasions. They don’t listen. It’s about budgets, cuts in service, lack of staff, long term sickness – anything but the patients and their needs. I know that money doesn’t come with a piece of elastic attached, but honestly, I’m not a bloody idiot. When a service has more managers than staff (as our local mental health service does) then something’s wrong.

I don’t pity my brother, but I do sometimes feel sad for him. I feel sad that he doesn’t have a long term partner, I most definitely feel sad that he has to still live with my Mum! (Dads OK 😉 ), I feel sad that he has the most brilliant brain and could have been anything he wanted to be – if the system hadn’t let him down in the most spectacular way. But the thing I feel most sad about is that even when he’s smiling, laughing & joking, when I look at him he has sad eyes.

They make me sadder than anything else….