Living with Bipolar Disorder in a Global Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has been harmful to millions of people living with mental illness around the world. My mother was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 32. Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. The moods range from periods of extremely “up” behavior (manic episodes) to very “down” periods (depressive episodes). A depressive episode is not necessarily linked to a specific motive. Therefore it can happen at any time because the illness is based on the patient’s genetics. But the pandemic have led to a variety of emotional and physical problems on my mother, which result in a wear of her health.
Depression causes feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. But my mother’s condition also adds another pattern: to live constantly worried and sometimes fearful. And fear was a key factor during lockdown. Not only was she confined to her house meaning that she was separated from her friends but also exposed to mostly negative if not tragic news on the TV regarding the spread of the virus. Being 70 years old she felt very anxious and desperate on a daily basis.
Mom has been taking medication for almost 40 years now but she uses religion as her main support system. Along with her friends she prayed by the phone day and night for the virus to disappear and to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Sometimes she attended virtual Catholic Retreats or sings coral songs by herself inside her room. Next to her bed stands out an altar where she gathers many images of Virgin Mary and different saints that bring solace to her life.
When my mom’s state of mind was triggered she immediately lost sleep. A bad night was usually followed by a morning that started pretty late. During daytime she dragged herself around feeling drained and taking up to 4 naps in order to rest her body.
When news arrived that it was her turn to receive the vaccine she felt relieved. The day of her appointment she had to attend with the help of a wheelchair because of an episode of labyrinthitis. She was very talkative to the nurses and received a treatment full of warmth and graciousness from all the medical staff. After receiving the vaccine she expressed mixed emotions of gratitude and relief. “The biggest stimulus I have now is that I can finally visit my mother”, she told me. Since then she keeps battling with depression.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic according to the World Health Organization bipolar disorder affected about 45 million people worldwide.
Story & Images by Paco Chuquiure