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Bipolar and My Unpredictable Aging Brain

By: Lori Lane-Murphy

I turned 50 this year.

That’s cause for celebration. I have been on this planet for 50 years and experienced the highs and lows that come with a half a century of living. I continue to experience the highs and lows of living with bipolar disorder.

Lately, I’ve started to wonder about bipolar and the aging process. Frankly, I’m too afraid to look into the research. I’m scared I will learn something grim and disheartening about growing old with this disorder and what its affect will be on my aging brain.

I have enough to worry about just living in the present day without imagining what will or won’t happen twenty years from now. Twenty years goes by fast. I can fast forward to that time in a snap. Problem is, when I do that, I’m always transported to the worst-case scenario.

I imagine not having control over my brain at all. For some reason, my medication becomes less effective, memories fade, my disposition becomes hard to tolerate and I’m a burden on those who love me.

Maybe these are common fears of anyone who is contemplating the last part of their lives. Maybe what I’m feeling isn’t all that special. Still, since bipolar disorder (along with depression, anxiety and panic) are so present in my life, I can’t help but be worried about how it will play out as I continue to age.

When I am feeling well, I recognize that aging is a privilege. I am thrilled to have gotten to where I am and look forward to continuing to grow and watch my son do the same. My husband and I have plans and spend hours mapping out all the things we want to experience together during retirement.

But alone in the dark, in a quiet house the unnameable fear takes hold. Will my illness rob me of the years I should be enjoying the fruits of a life well lived? Will it allow me to enjoy the next generation of my family, confident that I will be a positive part of my potential grandchildren’s lives? God, I hope so.

I look at my mental illness as an that unpredictable family member. The one you are never quite sure how they are going to behave at important family functions. You’re never sure what mood they are going to be in or who they may offend. On the other hand, they could show up as the life of the party and everyone’s favourite entertainer. Trouble is, you just don’t know.

That’s sort of how I feel about bp all the time. Who am I going to get as I get older? I guess, in the interest in not scaring myself to death, I think about how important self-care is to avoid some of the more dramatic pitfalls. Taking care of my physical health as I age is a no brainer. If I want to be active, I need to stay active. I need to eat well and get enough sleep. Curiously (or maybe not), these are things I can do to keep my illness in check. Along with taking my medication and seeing my doctor, I can take preventive measures to age in the best way possible.

I can’t fortune tell the future but, If I let the fear take hold, it won’t be bipolar disorder that robs me of the joy of the second half of my life, it will be me.

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