Happy Mental Health Month!

This is a post I wrote back in September 2008. I’ve updated it a bit to make it more relevant to my current situation.

A few facts and figures from the National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults, or approximately 2.6% of the U.S. population aged 18 and older in a given year.” It is an equal opportunity disorder, affecting people of all races, sexes, and ethnic groups. It is an inherited disorder–more than 2/3 of the people with Bipolar Disorder have one close relative with the disorder or unipolar depression. And the most frightening of all–one in five people with bipolar disorder will complete suicide.

If you’ve been reading this blog any time at all, you’ve probably figured out that I have Bipolar Disorder. I’m very out about it, so I thought I’d do an entry on my experience living with being bipolar.
1. Manic Depression vs. Bipolar Disorder
Back in the day, there was no “bipolar disorder”. You were a “manic depressive”, which was code for crazy. Then the scientists got on board, and much research was done, and they discovered that there’s a lot more to manic depression than just those two states. Currently, the scientist types are leaning away from bipolar disorder and leaning towards “bipolar spectrum disorder”. There is also a certain contingent who prefer manic depression because it describes the state of a person’s feelings versus the sanitized Bipolar Disorder. Either way, it’s a description of a brain that doesn’t work like anyone else’s. The research continues.
2. I have Bipolar Disorder vs. I am Bipolar
I go back and forth on this one. It seems like semantics, doesn’t it? It’s more than that though–it’s a matter of ownership of your weird ass brain. There are some days when I feel like I have a disease, that can be treated, but not cured, by the right medication. The other days, when I’m on the fence about how I’m feeling, or if I’m feeling some sort of identity with a group–those days I am bipolar. My goal for every day, in reality, is to just not really think about it too much, LOL!
3. The Devil’s Tic-Tacs–Crazy Meds R’ Us
A friend of mine refers to her Effexor as the Devil’s Tic-Tacs, which always cracks me up. The same could be said of all psychiatric meds (“crazy meds”). Most bipolar people take meds to keep their moods stable. Some of them go on and off their meds because they make them feel like shit. They don’t do so hot. Me? I take four different medications–Seroquel (for mania), Topamax (mood stabilization), Neurontin (mood stabilization/anxiety) and Effexor (for depression). Beginning about 8 years ago, I don’t go off my meds–ever. I remember what it was like being off meds (I didn’t take them for years, because they made me feel like shit, duh). What changed? I realized that my life was too good to throw away because I spent a few days feeling like shit.
4. Mania–Just Plug My Brain into a Light Socket
Mania is some wonderful stuff. Until it’s not. You can feel great, smart, organized, high, and generally, like the queen of the world. You have all kinds of wonderful ideas, you spend thousands of dollars you don’t have, do crazy things you’d blush to even hear about, and make decisions that make absolutely no sense once you’re sane again. That’s the GOOD mania. Dysphoric mania, or mixed states (mania and depression together, woohoo) is sheer hell. Anxiety doesn’t even begin to describe it, irritability that drives everyone away from you, and deep, dark thoughts of doing terrible things to yourself. I’ll pass.
5. Depression–Life Sucks, and Then You Die
Lots of people have depression. Lots of people don’t swing between I feel like crap every day to maybe I should take all my pills and just end it all….10 times a day. Bipolars commit suicide at a frightening rate, compared to the rest of the population. I’ve been down that far more times than I care to admit, and I’ve carried myself off to the hospital to keep myself safe. Hospitalizations suck but it’s better than dying. At least I had the presence of mind to actually admit myself. I don’t ever want to go back though and I hope I never will.
6. Success vs. SSDI
Sometimes, I feel like an odd man out–a bipolar person who is a successful executive and respected in my profession. I’m quite sure there are plenty of other bipolar people out there who are also successful and are managing their disease well. For every one of us, though, there are those whose disease is so severe that they can’t work, and must live on SSDI. I’ve met a few who could work but chose to go down the SSDI route because they felt they were owed that for being bipolar. Me? I want to be as normal as possible, and I want to be a success.
7. Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder
Something like 55% of people with bipolar disorder are substance abusers. It’s a way of self-medicating. Some get sober, some don’t. I’ve been sober for over 10 years, and I’ll stay that way. What helps? Taking my meds. Living on very strict schedule–I eat, sleep, and do just about everything by the clock. There’s some fancy word for it–chronotherapy or something like that, but it’s what works for me. I’m in the bed at 10 sharp, up at 7, lunch at 11, etc, etc.
8. It’s a “Family” Disease
I’m the third generation with bipolar disorder and alcoholism. My paternal grandfather was a suicide. My father has never been able to beat his alcoholism, and has never received treatment for his obvious bipolar disorder. I wish they had known it, and I had been better prepared as a young woman to deal with this. My life wouldn’t have taken so long to get on an even keel, and I wouldn’t have left so much destruction and regret and pain along the way.
9. Day in the Life
The alarm rings at 7:00, and I eat a bowl of cereal while checking my email. Take meds. Get to work, suck down the first of several gigantic iced coffees to take the edge off the sleepiness that hangs around from the Seroquel. By morning meeting at 9 am, I’m 90% awake. At 11, I eat lunch with the same nurses I’ve been eating with for 7 years. Get another coffee, and I’m getting my second wind. I work like a fiend until 4-ish, and go home. Take meds as soon as I hit the kitchen. Play Farmville to relax, go through my Reader (about 300 items). Eat dinner at 6. Hang with hubby and watch TV, walking dog every hour or so for fun. Take meds at 10 sharp and go to bed. If I stay up too late, I start getting manic. If I don’t eat on time, sleep on time, etc., etc., the mania creeps in. It’s my evil twin, just waiting for me to fuck up. Which is why I never, ever, ever, miss my meds.
10. The Future
I don’t have a clue. I’d like to think that the meds will be improved, with less side effects. I’d like to think they’d get cheaper, too. I wonder sometimes if being bipolar pre-disposes you to earlier dementia (I try not to think about that one too much). I used to wonder about kindling (increasing episodes of mania/depression as one gets older), but I don’t anymore because I’ve actually experienced it in the last couple of years since I wrote this original post. I’m not excessively thrilled that I’ve proved THAT particular theory right, I must say. I wonder if menopause is going to affect me weirdly because I’m bipolar. Mostly, I just try not to think about it too much, and try to live my life as “normally” as I can.