I Have Bipolar Disorder. Here’s How I Coped During Quarantine

After a recent bipolar disorder diagnosis, this man struggled with thoughts of suicide during quarantine for Covid-19.  Over time, however, he found that "pushing pause" on his life may have helped his mental health.

As Covid-19 cases increase throughout the U.S., so have mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. About half, or 45% of adults in the U.S., said their mental health was negatively impacted due to stress and worry, according to an April survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In addition, the outbreak has created more barriers for people with existing mental health conditions. Here, Raul, a 44-year-old husband and father of two in Virginia, shares his experience and how he’s managing his bipolar disorder during this time. You can also read his wife Lizzy’s story about what it’s like to be a caregiver for someone with bipolar disorder during quarantine.

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dealing with depression and bipolar disorder during quarantine illustrationnadia_bormotova/Getty Images

I didn’t want my wife to worry

Men in my family don’t get depressed. We’re from Mexico and so if we have a big emotional reaction, it’s always because of our “Latin blood,” not because we’re depressed. We can be angry or loud or cry or even be “crazy” but we can never be mentally ill. If I ever brought up this dark feeling, I was told not to talk about it, or to work harder and it would go away. So, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure when my depression started—I think I’ve probably had it my whole life—but I didn’t get diagnosed until about a year ago.

I’m a business owner and my first thought is always to take care of my wife Lizzy and our kids. No matter what else I might screw up, I always make sure they’re provided for. It’s my biggest source of pride, but also, the source of my biggest worries and fears. But it was never something I felt like I could talk to Lizzy about it. I didn’t want her to worry. I know it sounds cheesy, but I’m the strong one and I like being the strong one.

That strategy worked okay for most of our 14-year marriage. Until it didn’t. A couple of years ago we had an opportunity to sell our business and invest in a partnership in what would potentially be a much bigger business. The industry that I’m in has a lot of ups and downs and so we decided we should jump on this opportunity. We sold our home on the West Coast and moved all the way across the country to Virginia. We left family and friends and a secure situation to go do something that would hopefully be bigger and better.

Thoughts of suicide lead to a diagnosis

The [job] opportunity wasn’t what I thought it was, but I decided that if I just worked hard enough, I could make it work. That was my mistake, I think. For years I’d had times where I’d feel really dark and really unhappy, but I’d always managed to come out of them on my own eventually. This time, as my business kept going down, I just kept feeling worse and worse and nothing I did helped. Finally, one day after work, about a year after our move, I called Lizzy on my way home and told her I was going to put a bullet in my brain. Just like that: “I’m going to blow my brains out.” I really was going to do it. I was done. I was so tired of the struggle. I just had to drive home and get my gun first.

Lizzy met me at the door with one of our friends and they took me straight to the hospital. I found out later that she’d been worried about my mental health ever since our move. I had lost weight, couldn’t sleep, quit going to the gym (an activity I’d always loved before), stopped calling my family, was always distracted, and was much more short-tempered at home, especially at the kids. I hadn’t noticed it myself, but thankfully, she had recognized the symptoms of depression, so she was ready when it happened.

I spent a weekend in the hospital and was diagnosed with a severe depressive episode and bipolar II disorder—meaning that while I am depressed, I also sometimes have some manic episodes. This was in September 2019. They put me on medication, an antidepressant, and a mood stabilizer, and I started going to therapy. It was helping and I was starting to get used to the idea that I actually was sick and needed treatment.

Covid-19 and emerging suicidal thoughts

Like so many others in the service sector, I had to mostly shut down my business [due to Covid-19]. My mental health was still fragile and now that my ability to support my family was taken away, I felt completely lost. The first couple of weeks were really rough. I called the managers of my stores constantly and watched the stock market and the news obsessively.

At the end of March, the governor put the state under a stay-at-home order and I had to shut down the business completely. My brain started to unravel, I lost weight, and stopped sleeping again. My doctor called in a prescription for sleeping pills, but that first night, instead of taking one to sleep, I wondered how many I’d need to kill myself. I sat up all night thinking about dying. Yeah, I was back to that point.

My wife couldn’t take me to the hospital again because they were trying to keep hospitals free for Covid-19 patients. No one was sure when the rush of critically ill people would hit. So Lizzy took away the sleeping pills—I think she flushed them—and we’d already put my guns at a relative’s house. For the next few days, she watched me like a hawk, even going into the bathroom with me.

Prioritizing mental health during quarantine

Lizzy made sure I took my antidepressant and mood pills every day. She got me to walk outside. Take showers. Eat food. Nap. Laugh. Pray. Talk. I started phone sessions with my therapist. (You can also try these 13 tips from therapists for dealing with depression during quarantine.)

And then… nothing happened. We stayed at home and played games with the kids. I started watching movies more than the news. We FaceTimed our families and made a lot of cookies. It was such a gradual thing, but I started to feel better. Our bank account was emptying and my business is probably dead in the water. But, because I couldn’t do anything, I stopped worrying about it as much. I just stopped trying to control things.

It was incredibly freeing. Here was proof, for the first time in my life, that even if I let everything go and “failed” at everything a man was supposed to do, things would still be okay. Basically, every bad thing that I had ever worried about happening, happened. (Except no one has gotten sick, thankfully.) I didn’t have a nervous breakdown and we were all okay. Lizzy had always told me that she loved me for me and not for my ability to provide, but for the first time, I’m believing her.

Quarantine and treatment costs

I’m doing a lot better, but there are still things that are tough about quarantine. I have a weekly Zoom meeting with my staff that I’m usually a wreck after. I love to lift weights and that’s my favorite way to de-stress, but my gym is closed. I still haven’t figured out how to tell my extended family about my mental health issues, but I know I need to, especially since I think my brother is the same way as me.

The real issue is that the medical bills are starting to pile up. Because I own our own business, we couldn’t afford regular health insurance, so we joined a health insurance “co-op.” It has cheaper monthly premiums, but it doesn’t cover much. It has helped pay for my hospital visit, but the mental health coverage isn’t great, and we have to pay out of pocket for my medications. Thankfully my pharmacist is a great guy and helped me find coupons through GoodRx to bring the price down. My therapist is giving me a reduced rate for the phone visits. (You can also try these expert tips for lowering medical bills.)

Covid-19 was an indirect ‘blessing’

My family and I have decided this whole experience is a sign that we may need to walk away from this business. I don’t know that I’ll be able to recover financially from this hit, and even the thought of going back to work makes me feel depressed again. Plus, I have an amazing idea for a new business. So, after the quarantine ends, we’re planning to sell the house, and move in with family for a while until we can figure things out.

If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have told you that quarantine and the coronavirus were the worst things that ever happened to me. Now, I think it’s been a blessing and I’m not sure that I want it to end quite yet. It has allowed me to push pause on my life, take care of myself, and really figure out what I want. It’s shown me that I need a lot less than I thought I did. And even though my life is a lot simpler now, I like it better. I’m not in the most stable place, and some days I can feel the depression creeping into my brain, but at the end of the day, I am much more chilled out and happy. I’m happier than I have been in years.

If you or someone you know has had thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), which provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress. 

—As told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, MS, is an award-winning journalist, author, and ghostwriter who for nearly two decades has covered health, fitness, parenting, relationships, and other wellness and lifestyle topics for major outlets, including Reader’s Digest, O, The Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, and many more. Charlotte has made appearances with television news outlets such as CBS, NBC, and FOX. She is a certified group fitness instructor in Denver, where she lives with her husband and their five children.