This is one of those posts that I’m writing because I just feel the need to write it. In the early 90’s I was diagnosed as suffering from Bipolar Disorder II. Though not as catastrophic as Bipolar Disorder I, II did, in fact, make my life a mess. I won’t go through all the things I did when I was suffering from the illness and not getting treated, but they involved drinking too much, jumping from job to job, being rude and obnoxious to the people I loved, and feeling if not suicidal, at least desperately unhappy. Desperate is a good way to describe it. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was. When someone finally told me I had a mental illness that could be treated, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Once I began to take medication for my illness, I finally settled into my life. I stayed in education until my retirement, most of my years of teaching being in one school, the school I graduated from.
I can’t describe for you the entire catalogue of effects for bipolar, and even if I could, yours might be completely different. Mine manifested itself mostly with depression and anxiety. It was everything I could do to get out of bed in the mornings. A fourth of the time I was manic. Manic is life at full speed … no probably speeded up beyond that, artificially fast. Manic, I believed I could do anything and that I was indestructible. I did a lot of stupid things when I was manic. It also gave me delusions of grandeur making me think that I was something special and that what I was doing (in my case I was freelancing and teaching at the same time) would turn into gold. One day my ship would come in. I fancied myself as the next Stephen King. Well, I wasn’t and I’m not now either. The biggest problem with the manic part is that sooner or later, if you are bipolar, you will crash and crash hard.
With bipolar disorder there is rarely any in between. I was either depressed, and this was most of the time, or so manic I had trouble functioning and concentrating. I would just wake up and get hit with a mood. It wasn’t anything I could control. I also had problems with rapid cycling — going from one extreme of emotion to the other several times in one day. I know people get depressed and I know they have good days, but what people who are ignorant about bipolar disorder don’t understand is that we have these moods for no reason and they can change for no reason and it’s all beyond our control.
My life has been a struggle, and I’m not telling you this to evoke pity or anything like that. In fact, my main motivation in writing this is to tell you that despited the struggle, I love life. I started out taking Lithium and imipramine. This combination of medications stabilized my moods. I didn’t have the ups and downs as I used to. It was such a wonderful feeling that I couldn’t even imagine before. I know naysayers will tell me that if I had had faith or if I had done this or that, I would not have needed to take medication. I say to you naysayers that if you truly have a mental illness and not just a temporary situational depression, you will not be able to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps and if you tell mentally ill people this, you are doing them more harm than good. Mental illness has enough of a stigma attached to it without people saying that we should just get over it.
I know because once or twice I have gotten to feeling better and I have quit taking my medicine. I crashed again. HARD.
Notice, I mentioned in the previous paragraph that I started out taking Lithium and Imipramine. I don’t take this anymore. The hard part about treating bipolar disorder is that for some reason that I can’t or doctors can’t explain , the medicine that works for you stops doing its job sometimes, and you start experiencing the same symptoms you had before you took medicine. I’m fortunate in that I know my own illness well enough that I know when I need to make a change in medication. Usually, I can get adjustments before I do something stupid.
Winters are hard on me no matter what medication I am taking, but generally I can outlast them. I can’t even begin to describe for you the restlessness and disappointment that hit me every winter. I know it’s coming. It will start between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it will last until Spring. When the sun starts shining more and the temperatures warm, my mood will start lifting. This depression and restlessness worsen my already existing bipolar. I know that I will generally have to take a higher dose of medication in the winter.
This winter is one of the ones that has been especially tough on me. My doctor increased my dosage of medication, and it wasn’t working. In addition it was causing me some noticeable side effects. Now, again, I am going through a medicinal transformation. Every time I do, I keep positive, thinking this mixture, my bipolar cocktail I call it, will be the one to end all others. I’m going to be taking Lamictal and Depakote. Now, my doctor has to be careful with me because lamictal and depakote if not prescribed correctly can react in such a way that I could die. We are going to have to be very careful.
I have been making the change slowly to avoid this very problem, but I’m already beginning to see some differences. My thinking seems clearer. With my other medication sometimes my thoughts seem muddled, kind of like I was in a fog, drifting along with any current that came along. But I have noticed that there is kind of a disconnect from my brain to my mouth. I have trouble at times coming up with the right words in my classroom or I mispronounce things or I completely lose my train of thought. At other times I have some dizziness. I tried Lamictal once before, and I think this is maybe why I stopped taking it. At any rate I am going to have to ride this change out to see where it takes me.
I struggle day in and day out, but so far the things in my life that I love far outweigh my desire to quit struggling. If I had not given medication the chance, I never would have seen that. If you know someone who is depressed or if you are depressed, please let someone check you out. You might be surprised at how relieved you are to know that you have a mental illness that can be treated successfully.