Okay, so bipolar by definition pretty much means you’re crazy, but I read a book with that title and it made me happy. Last week, I called my doctor and was talking to her nurse [named Joy, who happens to be one of my favorite people in the world] and I was talking too fast, and bursting into tears, and generally not making much sense, and she said to me, “Um, you need an appointment. What are you doing this afternoon?” It was 1:12 PM, and I was going to have to pick up kids from school at 2:30, so she said, “Can you be here at 1:30?”
“Yeah. Let me brush my teeth and I’ll be on my way.” I might have changed my clothes, too, ’cause I don’t remember if I’d gotten dressed yet, but I was there by about 1:35. They weighed me and did vitals, and in comes my doctor, asking what was going on. I burst into tears mid-sentence, said I was feeling too crazy, told her about a trip through the internet I’d had earlier, and how I’d stumbled upon the term Bipolar 2 and so-called ‘Soft-Bipolar’ and that Bipolar 2 was scarily familiar.
I told her about seeing a psychiatrist years ago right after my son was born, and telling her about my crazy mood swings, and asked her then if I might be Bipolar. She asked me if I’d every disappeared for weeks at a time, gambled all my money away, or gone on spending sprees or alcoholic binges. I hadn’t, so she said I was just depressed.
I was on Zoloft at the time, and it worked amazingly well. I’d been spiraling into a deep postpartum depression and Zoloft kicked me out of it. I felt great. In fact, I hadn’t felt that good in forever. I realized then that I’d struggled with depression since I was a very small child, like about age six. I also knew that there had been times where I was really hyper and happy, but again, I’d never exhibited the ‘typical’ signs of mania, so my psychiatrist told me that was actually ‘normal’.
After a year or so, the Zoloft stopped working as well, so we raised my dose. We continued to raise my dose until I finally decided I needed to find a non-med way of dealing with my depression. I found a book that was basically cognitive therapy written down, and put the lessons to work. I managed to develop some coping skills, and thought I’d finally kicked my depression in the butt.
Looking back, I see now that I was probably rapid cycling for most of my adult life. I know I’ve had normal days, and maybe even weeks or months where I was pretty okay. But the thing that stands out now is that about every six months or so, I would go through a time where I was having a hard time sleeping [insomnia is a given in my life and has been since I was a kid. The big difference now is that I take a LOT of meds before bed so they’ll make me sleepy enough I don’t have a choice but to go to sleep. In essence, they knock me out enough that I can’t think even if I want to, which allows me to go to sleep].
The creepy thing is, I can also see that there are times when I’ve been full on delusional and possibly manic, but due to geography and lack of opportunity, never got into nearly as much trouble as I might have. In other words, I was willing to do crazy things, but my friends kept me more or less grounded. Growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere may very well have saved my life.
In fact, once I could drive, I made some incredibly crappy decisions without any consideration of the consequences. The thing is, it’s still kinda hard to know what was just normal teenage behavior and what was outside of normal. I certainly wasn’t the craziest kid in town, but I definitely did things when I was hyper that I never would have done had I been thinking clearly.
There were definitely times that had someone offered, I would have done anything anyone suggested. But during my normal or depressed times, I was too shy to talk to the kids who would have encouraged that kind of behavior, and when I was manic [or hypomanic] I was angry at those same kids and hated them…so I avoided them anyway!
So much of my life makes more sense now. I’ve been reading stories of people with bipolar disorder, and every once in a while, it hits me, “Dear God, that’s me. It was always me.” I’ve always had incredibly deep emotional highs and lows. I just feel more intensely than what can be considered ‘normal’. Sometimes, I would have an intense high or low for no reason, and then go back in my mind to figure out what had caused the mood swing. Now I know, there was no cause. I mean, there might have been a trigger, but that’s not the same thing.
So looking back, I think my first manic or hypomanic state happened when I was about 13. I spent the entire year completely hyper and pushing boundaries. The funny thing is, something always happened that prevented me from going through with some of my more erratic plans. My best friend and I had gotten caught skipping class and I believe we were suspended for a half day and got our parents called. So we decided we were going to run away from home. I missed the bus on purpose, and as my friend and I were walking out the front door to go somewhere that wasn’t home, my friend’s mom was waiting by the front door of the school and saw us. My friend had an eye appointment she’d forgotten about.
My life is kind of littered with weird little coincidences like that. Things would happen to prevent me from going as far as I’d planned or been willing to go. The few times nothing was there to stop me from making a bad choice, the experience was horrible enough that it scared me out of trying it again [or else it triggered an episode of depression, which sucked away my motivation]. One of the weird things about mania is that everything seems connected. It’s all a sign from God, or the Universe, or whatever. It’s common to have spiritual experiences. It’s basically an altered state of consciousness without drugs. It can be a time of wonderful creativity, or it can be horrible and incredibly self-destructive.
I never became suicidal to the point of actively trying to take my life, but I’ve been to a point where I wished I could die, and would do things that I knew could kill me if I got lucky. Or unlucky, depending on how you look at it. One of my more brilliant slow suicide attempts was when I started smoking at 18. I didn’t have the guts to attempt suicide, but I knew that smoking could eventually kill me, so I started.
So my first manic state was around age 13, and my second started right before I turned 19. Once I was 18, I had my driver’s license, so I was able to get into considerably more trouble than I had been at 13. In fact, thinking about it today is still a little traumatic. During that year or so, I lost my virginity through sexual assault, flunked out of nursing school, was sexually promiscuous with multiple partners, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and was generally a complete basket case.
I see now that my behavior during that time was completely out of character for me. Looking back, and having read real accounts of what a mania episode looks like, I see that I more than qualified during that time. In fact, writing even the briefest rundown of what happened to me during that year makes me cringe in shame. I don’t want anyone to read it, and I didn’t even go into any real details.
It’s highly disturbing to realize that while most of my episodes have been with depression and hypomania, I’ve had distinct breaks from reality, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that they were far more frequent than I’d like to think about.
During the semester in which I managed to get kicked out of nursing school [I find that I want to tell you that I didn’t actually flunk out. I still had passing grades, all As and Bs, in fact. The reason my teachers didn’t let me continue was because I didn’t do my clinical papers. Seriously. I didn’t graduate because I didn’t get my homework done. I could have sat and recited every disease process I’d seen, word for word, during my clinical time, but because I hadn’t written it down, I didn’t get to continue] I can’t help but wonder what might have been different if someone had been able to see my behavior as a manic episode.
It was 1993-1994, so chances are, I would have flunked out anyway, but still. If I’d have been diagnosed, they might have let me come back the following year if I’d managed to get stabilized by then. There are some colleges that allow you to drop classes and take a leave of absence due to mental health issues. God knows I needed one. As it was, I got a mood stabilizer of sorts within a short time anyway. I met my future husband.
Which is where I need to end, because my current husband [who is the same guy! Let’s hear it for my beloved having the patience of Job dealing with a crazy wife all these years] is waiting for me to finish this so we can go on a motorcycle ride. Cannot say no to motorcycle rides. They are magnificent. 😉