I have lived with Bipolar Depression since I was a teenager but only recently (2 years ago) was I given a diagnosis. What is ironic about the whole situation is that I am a therapist. One would think that if anyone could see the signs that it would be a therapist. I am great with helping other people but pointing the finger at myself is a whole different story. In retrospect, I can see all of the signs and symptoms that I displayed that is the road map of Bipolar Depression. Severe depression that lasted for weeks; sudden increase in energy and hyper behavior that too would last for weeks then short periods of time when I was “normal”. I try to explain it to my patients as a roller coaster.
The Bipolar Roller Coaster is how I refer to the illness and what a person goes through that is diagnosed. One thing that I want to make perfectly clear is that “I am not Bipolar! I have Bipolar disorder. It is like any other illness. It is not who I am; it is something that I have. Bipolar does not define me.” It makes me angry when people, and yes colleagues, refer to those with mental illness as “being” the illness. It makes me want to scream.
Mental illness has such a stigma attached to it. Terms like “crazy”, “nuts”, “mental”, “psycho” are just a few of the labels that people give to those diagnosed with mental health illnesses. I was called crazy and moody quite frequently. I wanted to hide my diagnosis specifically for that reason. I’m a therapist for heaven’s sake. The last person that should be “crazy”. It has been said over and over that doctors make the worst patients. The same can be said about therapists too.
My life has not been an easy one. I put my mother through a great deal of grief. My poor husband had no idea of what he was signing up for. The patience he has shown in our 22 years of marriage goes far beyond that of Job in the Bible. We have learned about this illness and how to cope together.
The best way to describe how I felt during my depressive episodes is that of a black hole. Bouts of uncontrollable crying, excessive sleep, suicidal thoughts and feeling like my bed and dread was holding me hostage. Irrational thoughts that my family would be better off without me would invade my thoughts everyday. I felt hopeless and unworthy of life or love. It was debilitating. These emotions lasted for weeks at a time. Loved ones would tell me to “snap out of it”. I would have liked nothing more to snap out of this sadness, but easier said than done.
The highs were not so bad from my perspective. I was full of energy, very productive and felt like there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish. In reality, I wouldn’t get anything done; just the opposite. Starting projects and not completing them was a vicious cycle. Shopping became an obsession and a financial nightmare. I would go for days without sleeping.
Bipolar Depression is different from Bipolar Disorder. My mania was not as severe as with Bipolar Disorder. I had what is called Hypomania. This means that my highs were not as severe. I didn’t shave my head or demolish my kitchen planning to remodel (just a few examples). It was still a drastic swing from the depression.
I still struggle. What is different now is that I have sought professional help for my illness. Bipolar Depression as well as many other mental health illnesses are a chemical imbalance in the brain. If you had heart disease or diabetes, you would seek a doctor’s help in managing these illnesses. Mental health disorders are no different. There are numerous medication on the market that can help manage the symptoms. Will I ever be cured? The simple answer is no. Bipolar Depression is not a curable illness but it is very manageable. I see a psychiatrist monthly, take several different medications and counseling helps me cope with my changing emotions.
My mood swings occur less and when they do arise, my medications can be adjusted. It took a while to find the right combination of prescriptions, but once I did, I have been able to function and somewhat control my symptoms.
I’m not writing this for my own encouragement but for yours. If you or someone you love has any mental illness, find out more about the illness, its symptoms and the treatment. You don’t have to live in misery. Don’t fear the doctors or the medications or therapy. You can combat these symptoms. You can live a fulfilling life. You can fight what is happening. Most importantly, you are not alone.