Reinvention in your empty nest

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have all the symptoms of it. The worst of them is that I tend to not be able to control my sexual desire and have sex with various men, including people that are in my family. I am very ashamed of this, but feel unable to control this behaviour. I am desperate for help as I am aware that my behaviour is destroying the relationships of people that I love and care for.

I appreciate your willingness to do something about this problem related to your diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of bipolar, especially if left untreated, can wreak havoc in people’s lives.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. People who have this disorder experience high levels of both euphoria and depression, going from one extreme to the other.

Stressful life events, alcohol abuse, and recreational drug use can trigger mania and depression.

Both moods can last from a few days to a few months. Bipolar disorder can also affect your sexuality. Your sexual activity may be increased (hypersexual) and risky during a manic episode. During a depressive episode, you may lose interest in sex (hyposexual). These can create problems in relationships and lower your self-esteem.

Your sex drive and sexual impulses during a manic episode can often lead to sexual behavior that isn’t typical for you when you aren’t experiencing mania. Examples of hypersexuality during a manic episode can include:

Greatly increased sexual activity, without a feeling of sexual satisfaction.

Sex with multiple partners, including strangers.

Excessive masturbation.

Continuous sexual affairs, despite the risk to relationships.

Inappropriate and risky sexual behaviour.

Preoccupation with sexual thoughts.

Excessive use of pornography.

Across several studies, they have found that anywhere between 25 and 80% of people who experience mania also experience bipolar hypersexuality.

It also appears in more women than men. Some adults ruin their marriages, relationships and friend-
ships because they’re unable to control their sexual urges. Teens and younger children with bipolar may display inappropriate sexual behaviour toward adults. This can include inappropriate flirting, in-
appropriate touching, and heavy use of sexual language.

You may also experience hyposexuality(low sex drive)during a depressive episode. Depression very commonly causes a lack of interest in sex. Hyposexuality often creates relationship problems be-
cause it is difficult to understand these extreme sexual behaviours, moving from hypersexual to hyposexual.

Medication that treats bipolar disorder might also lower sex drive. However, stopping your bipolar medication because of this side effect is dangerous. It can trigger a manic or depressive episode.

There are things you can do to better understand and deal with sexual issues caused by bipolar disorder:

Recognise symptoms and triggers. Understand situations that may trigger your mood swings so that you can avoid them whenever possible. Stress, drugs and alcohol might trigger episodes.

Learn the side effects of your medication. Ask your doctor about medication that is the least likely to have sexual side effects.

Understand sexual and relational issues. Carefully think about the consequences of your actions. This includes protecting yourself and partners from unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Be mindful of the long-term costs on your relationships with significant others, including family members, before you act on your feelings and urges.

Consider psychotherapy or sex therapy, especially focusing on bipolar management and sexuality.

Getting bipolar disorder symptoms under control is the first step to help you manage your behaviour. Many people with bipolar disorder have healthy relationships and satisfying sex lives. The key is working with mental-health professionals to find and maintain the appropriate treatment for you.

I am a 50-year-old woman and my life feels meaningless at the moment. I feel worthless and don’t have any interest in life anymore. I just feel like giving up. Please help.

We all reach certain phases in our lives when we experience a kind of “existential crisis”. It seems this is what you are experiencing.

These crisis times often come at a point in our lives when our heart or soul calls us to change and reconnect more deeply with life.

Existential crises, which some people term mid-life crisis, may engender a sense that our current life has reached a dead end. Often it happens that people feel like divorcing their partners, having extra-marital affairs, buying a fast racy car, dressing like a youngster, going out partying until the early hours, making a drastic career change or they feel too exhausted and drained by this feeling of meaningless.

But there is something that stirs deep within that pushes for change. This urging is necessary and vital and may be more about looking at our lives and reinventing ourselves from the inside; understand the depths of our being and our purpose on this planet.

Usually this “crisis” emerges from within after many years of apparent drudgery and doing the same seemingly monotonous routines including working and providing for the family. Once the children start to move further into the world and away from the family, there is less need to be available and focused on family expectations and duties. And we then wonder about what our purpose in life was/is and should be.

Suddenly, life has changed. So we may feel a sense of emptiness, empty-nest syndrome, empty relationships and lives, and an empty self. But perhaps this is an opportunity to reawaken a deeper connection to yourself, to your spirit and soul and to a higher purpose that will serve your deeper self and humanity. Each person has to discover through their own personal journey that which engenders authentic joy, connectedness and aliveness.

However, this advice should not be a replacement for seeking mental health support from a trained professional, especially if your symptoms do not abate or if they become worse.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.