At the difficult time of losing a pet, it’s important to have a plan in place to prevent bipolar disorder symptoms from taking hold.
My beloved kitty Bibi is gone. I was ready for her death and want to share with you what I’m doing in order to keep myself stable while going through the grief of losing one of my best friends.
Do you have a pet you love? Many of us find such comfort in our wonderful animal companions.
This next question is harder: As a person with bipolar, do you have a plan in place for real loss? In other words, are you ready for the loss of a beloved pet? Especially if this animal helps with your symptoms? I used to call Bibi my depression companion. What a lovely soul in a beautiful body!
Now she is a soul.
The death of a pet is a bipolar disorder trigger. We need a plan in place for when loss of a pet happens. It can be sudden or it can be drawn out as it was with Bibi. We need a plan now that we put into place when the news that a pet is ill or a sudden death happens.
When I heard Bibi had cancer, I had to think of many things outside of my grief. I made sure that I honored her every day she had left. But at the same time, I had to take care of my bipolar disorder. My motto is Treat Bipolar First. It is the only way I can move through life without getting sick.
I wrote the following the day after Bibi died.
I hope it helps you if you are going through something similar. And, if you have a pet and want to make sure you stay well enough to grieve and feel the normal sadness we all experience with loss, I hope you will start a plan now that can be in place when the death happens.
The hardest part of this by far was not knowing how her death might affect my bipolar.
On the day she died, I could not sleep. I wanted to write about her in my journal and remember her and cry. All natural behaviors. What was not natural was the fact that it was past midnight. At 1 AM, I realized it could be dangerous for my bipolar as I could easily not sleep at all.
I decided I could love her and think of her the next day. I forced myself to sleep.
I took extra sleep meds and got 8 hours. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I had a plan in place for what I would do if I could tell that my sadness and grief were morphing into mania or depression, and I used it.
Please think ahead….
What is your plan if your kitty gets sick? What is your plan if your best friend who happens to be a dog, simply gets older as all animals do and his time is near?
I want us to prepare for bipolar disorder triggers so that when they arrive, we know what to do.
Here is a short list of what I did to make Bibi’s death as gentle as possible for my brain:
1. When I realized that my sleep would be affected, I asked my mom to help with her care-taking. We were a team in this until the end. I could not stay up at night with Bibi. The guilt was enormous at first, but everyone helped. It also helped that she had a very compassionate vet.
2. I imagined life without her. I thought of what I might feel and opened myself to what might show up in terms of bipolar. Yes, I did this before she died.
3. I regulated my sleep. This meant sleeping in for two more hours than usual the day she died. It would be hard to do this if I were at a work place, but I have my own business, so it is possible. If you need this and do work with set hours, take sick time.
4. I decided to fully feel everything, but gave myself a time limit for grief. If I don’t do this, it will spiral into depression. This means I can cry naturally, but I will not let myself cry for five hours straight for example. When the panic attacks showed up, I felt them, did my breathing, talked to myself and worked through them. It’s so much easier to do this when you plan ahead.
5. I told my friends that Bibi was dying and asked for help.
6. When it was time, I took her to the vet and had a loving goodbye.
I want to learn from this experience so that when another pet or someone I love dies, I will know what works. I am not doing anything to push down my feelings or have less grief. That is normal.
But I am doing everything I can not to get sick. Depression is knocking on the door. I will not let depression in this hotel!
What is your plan? If it is very painful to think about this, I see that as a positive. It means you will need to plan ahead or the grief might be too much if something happens.
Let’s all have a plan ready for when a beloved pet leaves our lives.
When we manage bipolar, we can have the space needed to remember and celebrate all of the joy our beloved pet brought into our lives
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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