Trigger warning: self-harm
I deal with bipolar that includes anxiety issues, body dysmorphia, and undiagnosed body/joint pain. But I didn’t always have a diagnosis for the things I was experiencing.
As a child I dealt with cycling through a number of medications after receiving a number of diagnoses (the common one being ADD). Due to many changes in my young life, I took a break from medication. As a teenager, when I felt helpless about my extreme anger and wanted to figure out how to cope with my extreme depression, I tried again to find a medication or type of therapy that may help.
I was just 16 when I went back to a psychiatrist, hoping for a solution that could help. Instead, within moments of looking at my file, the psychiatrist told me I needed to “get over my self-pity” and reluctantly agreed to give me some antidepressants. I felt so ashamed and disrespected by his accusation that my feelings were actually just “self-pity” that I declined getting that prescription filled. If someone thought it was simply a question of self-pity, I guess my sadness was all pretend, right? It was then that I no longer felt safe in the mental health industry and instead began finding other ways to release my anger — via self-harm.
I started to believe my anger and irritability was just a part of my personality. It wasn’t until I was grappling with a long-term abusive relationship, a stressful work environment, and suicidal thoughts that I finally went to another psychologist. This woman was understanding, but I could only afford a few sessions with her. She listened to my mental health past and what I dealt with, oscillating between anger, depression, anxiety, and being erratic. Finally, at 21, she determined what I’d been dealing with: bipolar disorder.
Sadly, our sessions came to an end, but in knowing what I was dealing with, I began keeping track of my highs (mania) and lows (depression). The knowledge of what I’d been dealing with helped me understand what I had to cope with.
Just be happy
In time, I finally moved on from the abusive relationship. I found someone who is not only extremely fun to be with, but who tries his best to understand my highs and lows.
Yet being with someone so awesome brought about a whole new book of questions. The main ones all derived from my inability to “just be happy” despite being with someone so perfect. In the end, I had to realize it isn’t as simple as that. (And don’t let anyone tell you it could be!) One person, a whole group, an entire family is not going to change actual chemical reactions in your brain. The mental health professionals can’t do it so simply, despite their years of training, so being in a sweet, loving, perfect, understanding relationship doesn’t end all of one’s problems. This was such a hard thing for me to come to terms with.
Sometimes I still feel bad because I get treated extremely well; my husband is so terribly understanding. When he asks “What can I do?” my answer is a tearful, “I honestly don’t know.”
‘I was foolish’
For me, 2013 was a year full of depression. It’s not because of any one thing going on in my life, a fact that generally elicits an annoyed sigh from people that ask me why I’ve been depressed. Why is a big question. Why I’m depressed could be partly this and partly that, but all in all, it simply just is.
I tried to deal. As time passed, I soon felt hopeless, extremely lazy, and didn’t feel anything would kick in and bring me back to a balanced state. So after nearly two months of talking myself into calling my doctor, several months of getting over the medication phobia, and quite some time researching new anti-depressants, I called my doctor and got an appointment.
My doctor paused when I told him a fraction of my mental health history. I wanted to be honest, so I told him about my bipolar and self-harm (though since my big cut on my arm, I had only relapsed a few times with very small scratch-like cuts, and not any recently). I know why he paused. Bipolar takes a lot to figure out; one of the main reasons I didn’t want to try medication after I’d been diagnosed is because people diagnosed with bipolar have an extremely hard time finding a combination of pills to work for them. Any combo can seem like they are working and then turn volatile in a month or two (for an idea, most bipolar people take 3-4 pills daily to balance them).
I was hoping a simple small-dose SSRI would balance me out. I was foolish. The doctor prescribed Lexapro, 10 mg, once daily. SSRIs generally take about six weeks to incorporate into your body. I was prepared for that. However, once I began Lexapro, I became extremely lethargic and what I call “zombie-like”. It took days to talk myself into doing a load of laundry and several more to put the clothes up.
I slept. I slept a lot. Sleeping was the good part of Lexapro; I had dreams and that was nice. (Before Lexapro, my sleep was erratic.) When I was awake, though, I was essentially useless. I still had the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, I had panic attacks, and I began thinking more about suicide. Mind you, I wasn’t technically suicidal but I kept feeling quite empathetic for people who did commit suicide. At week six, I called my doctor. He insisted on no changes. I continued for 3 more months.
Finally, as Christmas approached, I decided to begin weaning myself from the medication. Again, my doctor wouldn’t listen to me, so I tried to follow advice of those who had dealt with the same thing as me. After I weaned, I had to deal with SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome, which basically feels like electrical flickers throughout my body and brain jolts in my head (which I am now calling my temporary spidey sense, because it totally reminded me of the squiggly type of art they use to signify the spidey sense). These didn’t bother me as much, but then the headaches and nausea kicked in. Honestly, it was terrible, but I was still glad to be off the medicine.
An uphill battle
I am now past the SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome; however, going off an SSRI sometimes triggers a manic phase in those dealing with bipolar. And, of course, sleep is nearly non-existent (bye to the only good thing about Lexapro); I am constantly angry and I am super irritable. I cannot focus and my thoughts are constantly racing. No sign of the “fun” manic symptoms like being chattery, joyous, and excitable.
I am back to being slightly afraid of medication. I know I only tried one and perhaps it’d be different with a doctor that listened to me, but it’s hard not to be afraid of something that can drive you very quickly to such an extreme.
I feel hopeless. I feel like I will never have another balanced period in my life. I constantly feel ashamed trying to cope with myself and I constantly feel angry with it. I sometimes wish I wasn’t so self-aware because I am constantly apologizing for myself and my emotions.
But I understand that mental illness is an uphill battle.
Things to remember
Sometimes you don’t win but you should keep going. I have to re-evaluate how I go about coping with myself and maybe eventually I will seek out a doctor that might do better with me and listen to me.
It’s important to have a team both personally and medically that you can turn to. An understanding partner or friend can be very rare, so do hold on to them when you find them!
The battle with depression, bipolar, anxiety, and anything on the mental disease spectrum isn’t easy. Despite your hopelessness, exhaustion, and frustration with the “invisibility” of your disease, you have to be vigilant. Each person who has to deal with figuring out what works for them is awesome and courageous. Remember that.
Sometimes one therapy doesn’t work. Sometimes a medicine doesn’t work and sometimes bullshit people say to you about your illness makes it worse. But you have to be your own best friend in this battle. I am hoping for balance sometime soon – maybe for a few weeks or, if I am super lucky, even a few months. I am exhausted and frankly enraged that I have to deal with this, but I will deal with it. I will keep going, and you will, too.