Living Well with Bipolar Disorder Part Two
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.
Many doctors refuse to diagnose a child with bipolar disorder. Because it is extremely difficult to treat a child with the normal medications given to adults, most doctors seem to prefer to look the other way, or diagnose the child with depression. I was diagnosed with depression in the second grade. The doctor gave me antidepressants and sent me home. This is a very dangerous thing to do to a person with bipolar disorder. My mother didn’t let me take the medication and she was actually right to do so. A person who suffers from bipolar disorder who is given only antidepressants can often go one of two ways – it can turn them suicidal, especially in children and teenagers, or it can send them flying into a manic phase. There must be a medication to even it out, as a bipolar brain cannot do it on it’s own.
I can see how I was bipolar even at an early age. I was prone to tantrums well into my teenage years. A slight shift in plans and I was sent into an angry rage. I even had a short spell where I was hitting my siblings. At age 8 this is not typical. I would furiously work on projects that I had created for myself, hiding in the dark with a flashlight because I could not bear to stop and go to sleep. I had no idea how to console myself, something children learn before they can talk. I was most definitely bipolar.
I found out that I have what is called bipolar two. I have more depressive episodes than manic ones, and the manic ones are usually not as strong as in somebody with Bipolar One. Often, people with bipolar disorder will be extremely reckless when they are in a manic phase. They can rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. They might drink or gamble excessively. They often can be irresponsible, seeking intimacy wherever they can find it, without discretion. Fortunately, I do not have these major issues. For me, my manic episodes are more like extreme periods of hyperactivity. I sleep two to three hours a night, if that. I get a hundred things done in a day. I rarely eat. I lose weight like it was melting off of me. I freak out if my plans for the day change. The problem is that I might ignore the things I need to do, in favor of projects I want to do. My productivity is not always actually productive in the way it should be. I go insane cleaning every nook and cranny in my house. And somewhere in the midst of it all, the exhaustion and lack of food and the never-ending energy catch up with me and I have a huge meltdown. It feels much like I expect a panic attack feels like. I feel trapped, and shaky and panicked. I sometimes cry, and for some reason a drive with the windows rolled down calms me. It usually ends with me crying myself to sleep, and sleeping for a day or two or three. Then I wake up fine again.
I wrote earlier about the fog that I live in while in a depressive episode. It is so hard to get anything done when in the throes of a depression in full swing. I am a clean person by nature, but my house can look as if a tornado ripped through. I take less care in my appearance; I usually gain weight. I am not as likely to keep appointments, or make deadlines. Despite that I am the one not agreeing to appointments or deadlines, I become extremely upset that I have none. In the course of the day, from the time I wake up I am worrying over what needs to be done. Even a small amount of responsibility weighs heavily, and it feels as though I am not capable of accomplishing anything. What would normally take me fifteen minutes can take me an hour. Often, it can take me an hour just to begin. I have little focus, and am frequently bored because nothing satisfies my restless mind.
At night I will lay awake, thinking over my day. I am upset at any little thing that went wrong, and can obsess over something I said that I felt I shouldn’t have, or that made me feel embarrassed. During a normal phase, these things would have been chalked up to “we are all human” and forgotten about. The smallest gesture of annoyance from a friend, an unreturned phone call, an unanswered text can make me worry that I am no longer liked. My self-confidence is very, very low. Three o’clock rolls around, and I am still awake, stressing over tomorrows tasks. By four o’clock I am upset that I will be tired the next day. It’s a vicious cycle. Five o’clock rolls around, and I fall into a restless sleep that last twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours. Then I start all over again.
It was an exhausting and grueling task to go through the therapy necessary to become healthy. I had to admit things that I hadn’t fully admitted to myself. I was physically and emotionally drained for months. I also had to start logging my physical and emotional health each hour I was awake. This was hard. I now can do a quick self-assessment like it is breathing, but back then it was difficult to figure out what I was feeling all the time. Before this time I never wanted to know because it was depressing. This was so very good for me though. I began to see trends in my daily tasks and how I was emotionally, and even the affect it had on my physically. This was the incentive I needed. If I could keep myself healthy in one way, the others followed. I could actually feel good most of the time! This realization was staggering. I tried to imagine what life would be like where I could be happy, make rational decisions and have healthy relationships. As hard as it was to imagine I dove head first into trying to make it happen.
As time passed by, I became more adept at reading my emotions. I noticed warning signs, and went through many trial and errors until I found pre-emptive actions that worked. It felt like a huge victory every time I was even a little bit successful. I was one step closer to where I wanted to be. Read on to find out what happened next, and how I am now 6 years later.