I am wondering if people with bipolar disorder have a more difficult time with transitions in life such as middle age? More specifically are people with bipolar more likely to have a “mid-life crisis”? And if they do experience a “mid-life crisis” is it more difficult to deal with if one has bipolar?
I didn’t get manic symptoms until I was in my late twenties. I got married when I was 24 and my first child was born 3 years later. I held a fairly high stress job as a legal assistant and, although I had dealt with a lot of serious severe depression up to that point, I had not had anything that remotely resembled mania. As the stress level of my job and my responsibilities at home increased, the manic symptoms appeared in a huge way.
When my second child came along five years after the first one I was 34 and, although it was a little early for a “mid-life” crisis, I think my bipolar disorder pushed me into exactly that. I was always angry at my husband and I was resentful of having to take care of my children. I had no reason to feel this way, as I had always wanted to get married, I loved my husband, and I wanted children more than anything in the world.
By the time I was 34, I was in full “mid-life” crisis mode. I had a third child. I quit my job. I went back to college and wracked up thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for full time childcare. I shopped incessantly. I got us so far into debt, we ended up having to declare bankruptcy. I was getting involved with other men online that I didn’t know and having “emotional” affairs behind my husband’s back. I got four tattoos within a one year period. I was completely out of control.
My husband finally confronted me about everything I was doing after I left my journal lying in plain sight and he read it. I think on some level, I really wanted him to stop me from all of the things I was doing that were so hurtful to him and our family. I ended up in the hospital for four days, was given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and placed on medication. That hospital stay saved both my marriage and my life. If I had not gotten medication and therapy at that point, I believe that I would have attempted suicide when I realized how much damage I had done and because of the shame I was feeling.
I believe that bipolar people are much more prone to “mid-life” crises that are more out of control and more extreme than those of so-called “normal” people because when you have bipolar mania, you are extremely impulsive, irritable, and flying high. Your decisions make perfect sense to you, even if they make no sense to anyone around you. You can’t hear everyone in your life screaming at you to stop and take a look at your actions.
Although bipolar symptoms are supposed to become more manageable as people age, I think that if the symptoms are not being properly treated with therapy and medication at the time a person hits middle age, that “mid-life” crisis is going to be over the top destructive and the person with bipolar is going to look back later and think, “What the hell was I thinking?” The answer is, of course, that we don’t think when we decide to do these destructive things. It’s like our impulse control filter simply doesn’t exist when our manic symptoms are flaring and when you put that with a middle aged “malaise,” it is a recipe for disaster.
If you have bipolar disorder and are concerned that you are either approaching a “mid-life” crisis or are in the middle of one, the best thing you can possibly do is get to a psychiatrist and get some help. It’s the best way to avoid making mistakes you will later regret.
I was very lucky that my husband loved me enough to ride out the very rough “mid-life” crisis that I went through with me and forgive me. I “broke” our marriage, but we have built a much more solid one with a lot of very hard work. Now that I am 47, I can look back and see how disturbing, destructive, and unforgiveable my behavior was. But at 34, I was completely out of control. I did things I am still ashamed of, I almost ruined my marriage, and I could have lost my children. If I didn’t have bipolar, I suspect that the crisis I went through (if I even went through one at all) would not have been as severe as it was.