Read the Signs by Joyce Herzog

Originally published Spring 2012

2012 OCHEC Conventions Speaker

My husband was diagnosed bipolar at a young age. His condition is generally well-managed by combining medicine with determination and foresight, plus much prayer. It takes all that and more. We are continually learning new ways to deal with his condition. Recently a situation arose from which our family learned an important lesson. It was a case of learning to read the signs, something we all need to do. Many of us do it automatically, but some will never learn it without help. One morning I was able to speak in a word picture to his need. When I shared it with a daughter who struggles with the same things, I realized it was universal enough to share here.

My husband’s job was the immediate trigger at this time. They were scheduling him for nine-hour days, after a month without a day off and a twelve-hour day somewhere in there. Tom is strong, dependable and a man of integrity. If they ask him to work, he is there, on time, ready to work. But, like all of us, he also has limits.

There were some other factors entering in here, as well. It was the end of the convention season, and we had been running pretty fast for four months, so we were a bit tired already. Several close relatives and associates were struggling with some fairly big, emotionally charged issues which Tom was having difficulty resolving or withdrawing from. In addition, his work hours were irregular, sometimes getting him up early, and sometimes keeping him up late.

There are two things we know about Tom’s condition: he “rides the waves,” and he needs his sleep. Being bi-polar means there are ups and downs of emotional strength that are somewhat unpredictable. On a high, he has energy galore and needs very little rest. On a low, his rest needs increase, and he is more easily overwhelmed by work or anything that takes him by surprise. Tom has learned to work with these limitations, but having a job outside the home has complicated matters.

I had noticed that Tom was not getting the rest he needed and was having difficulty separating from other people’s problems. In many ways he was doing fine—especially with the job and the hours, but I was seeing little signs that he was pushing too hard: the desk piling up, temper being short, mundane tasks being ignored.

Tom thought he was doing fine, but he was ignoring the signs that there was trouble ahead. It is like ignoring a detour sign. You can drive on for some distance with no difficulty. The road is safe, the scenery is delightful, and everything seems normal. But if you keep going, you are going to drive right over the cliff when you come to the place where the bridge is out. You have already passed the warning and are headed for big trouble, but are oblivious to it unless you think back and make yourself aware of the signs you have ignored, and that is just the point. It is time to turn around now. The farther you go in this direction, the more certain it is that the difficulty will increase. Though the ride appears to be smooth at the moment, the sign is behind you, and the danger is real. Ignore the sign, and the cliff looms before you. You may not have time to see the cliff—but you do have time to respond to the warning signs, if you do it now.

I once read that “there is a point in the life of every problem when it is big enough to see, and small enough to handle.” Responding to the early signs is one step toward solving the problem while it is small enough to handle. Ignoring the signs just gives the problem time to grow.

For those who live with bi-polar tendencies, it will likely be disastrous to ignore the signs. We must all learn to recognize the little things in our own lives which signal trouble, but many (especially those who have ADHD, are learning disabled, or bi-polar) will need help learning to recognize their unique signs. If you are the parent, spouse, or close friend of such a person, you can help. Make the word picture come alive with a lesson the next time you see a detour sign. Keep your emotions under control and respond in ways that do not escalate the problem. You will be glad you did!

© 2012 by Joyce Herzog!/joyce.herzog!/pages/Joyce-Herzog/189645883973