Living Well with Bipolar Disorder
I am Bipolar. I have been this way since I was a child, and through my early adult years it went undiagnosed and untreated. This is the story of my road to diagnosis, treatment, and eventually control without medication.
The world assumes a foggy haze. I see, but it’s as though a film is over my eyes. I can hear, but it sounds like there is cotton in my ears. My breathing resonates loudly throughout my body. My feet feel like lead and my muscles burn, it feels like I have been running for days. I shuffle through my morning routine, though it is well after noon. I’ve been asleep for over twelve hours.
Bipolar disorder is an ugly disease. It can cause a wonderful person to act like an awful person. It can turn good days into bad ones. It can tear families apart, ruin marriages and jobs, and make someone feel hopeless. Other than the drug regimen, there is little uniformity in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Some doctors feel drugs are enough. Some psychiatrists think the twenty minutes a month they question a bipolar patient is enough to know what they need. Others feel that a psychologist is necessary. It is a scary, rocky road to diagnosis for somebody who is bipolar, and it doesn’t stop there. I’ve been there. It doesn’t have to stay like that, however. I’m living proof of that. I am Bipolar, and I have successfully been off medication and controlling my disease for six years now.
I’m not a therapist. I can’t tell anybody how to get out of that depression funk, or how to recognize they are even in one. I know that what works for me won’t work for everybody. I can’t help you get better. But I can tell you my story. Maybe you will see a little bit of yourself in me. Maybe you will read my history and decide to talk to your doctor. Or decide you don’t need to. Maybe you are not affected by depression or bipolar disorder but somebody you know is. Maybe by understanding you can make life better for them. Maybe, you just need to know that you are not the only one out there who feels like this. So whoever you are, this is for you.
Sometimes I could be in that fog all day. Occasionally it can last weeks. Functioning can be very difficult when everything appears muddled together. For a long time I had no idea why I felt like that. I questioned if I was sick, or had a physical problem. In later 2003, the same year I got married, I became increasingly frustrated. I knew I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I began to do research. All of my symptoms pointed toward bipolar disorder. It fit because my father is bipolar and it is hereditary, particularly passed father to child. I saw my doctor and he questioned me. “Do you ever have periods of time where you need little sleep, and your body seems to speed up?” Check. “Do you ever have periods of time where you sleep too much and your body seems to slow down?” Check. “Have you ever gotten yourself or someone you know into trouble because you unusually felt invincible?” Check. “Have you ever seriously considered or attempted suicide?” Check. “Do you feel like your moods are never level?” Check. There were a lot more questions, but I could answer yes to over eighty-five percent of them. I was bipolar, and I hoped that this diagnoses meant that things could change, that I could begin to feel better. I had no idea the road ahead of me to reach that goal.
On my way out after I was diagnosed, the doctor gave me a prescription for Depakote and Paxil. No blood work. No follow up appointment. No weaning myself onto the drug. I was just thrown in headfirst. The first three days, I threw up the medication that I took twice a day. After that, I kept it down but was severely sick to my stomach. I was sleeping a ton, barely eating, couldn’t concentrate. I hated it. But I hated how I felt before even more, so I stuck it out hoping things would get better with time. Six months into taking steady medication and my mood swings were less, but not better. I was sick all the time and miserable. At some point during 2004, I quit taking them and things went back to the way they were. Life was unpredictable and unstable. I had mood swings, was unhappy and every change or bump in the road felt like the end of the world.
It was 2006 before I realized that I could not go on the way I was living. I was miserable. I was making my husband miserable. Life was not good. After navigating a long maze of doctors who all had to follow the chain of command and send me to the next guy up, I went to see a specialist who deals only with bipolar patients. I expressed that I did not want to be medicated for very long, that I wanted to explore other ways of dealing with things. I was referred to a psychologist, who turned out to be exactly what I needed.
I spent a long time telling him what medications I had already been put on, what didn’t work and what I did know about my disease and me. I expressed my frustration and my goals. He said if I would put forth the effort, we would get me to a place where I could live the way I wanted to. My whole life was examined. We looked at who I was as a child, how the actions of others had affected me, and how I had grown into the person I now was. We explored my adult life and what my disease had changed and what it didn’t change. We struggled to find the constant positive moments in my life. We both agreed that I have likely been bipolar since childhood. A bipolar diagnosis in a child is extremely unusual. Find out my telltale signs and what my manic and depressive episodes are like in Part Two.