I recently received a comment from someone who is recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. She just watched my video that I made regarding my struggle with bipolar disorder, here . I discuss how I was diagnosed in 2004, my struggles, how I relapsed in 2008, and how things have gotten better for me. I know that a new diagnosis is scary, and I wanted to share what it was like for me.
1) I knew something was wrong with me, as my mood was really low, I wanted to sleep all the time, and I was anxious about college. I would cry everyday regarding applications to college and it was to the point to where my parents stated it was okay if I didn’t go to college my first year. They said I could do some travelling or something for that first year if I needed to. I was, and am, lucky to have such supportive parents. We all didn’t really know what was going on. In December of that year, I thought I was better. ”Better” turned out to be hypomania, a lower and less severe form of mania. I wasn’t sleeping, I had all these great ideas. I was going to be a cryptogropher for the CIA and a bunch of other things that really excited me. Turns out the better that my parents and I were hoping for was actually the second side of my mental illness.
2) In March, we got a psychological evaluation done, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type II. I was scared, but also thankful because I finally knew what was wrong. That did not make it any easier, though. People at school looked at me differently, I then had manic episode in April. I cut off my hair, I had a wonderful “scrapbooking” idea, which turned into me completely trashing my room unintentionally. I wasn’t able to perform in the last performance of my senior year musical, as I crashed from my high and hit depression again.
3) I really had no idea what was going on, until I went on Depakote. I tried Lithium and either through my manic thoughts or actually being allergic to it, I developed a bad rash. Depakote helped stablize me, and by the time I graduated in May 2004, I was in a stable mood state, neither depressed nor manic.
4) Fast forward to my senior year of college. That fall, I started having depressive episodes, but it wasn’t “clinical depression” because it did not last for more than two weeks. Turns out, I was cycling. It was like clockwork, actually, very strange, and makes the most sense that it was a chemical imbalance. It was also exacerbated by stress. I would feel fine for a few days a week and then depressed as hell for the other days. I blamed it on a particularly hard course, Psychology and Law, which was also my favorite course. In the Spring, I stressed out about Digital Photography. I know it was an elective, and I’m sure others didn’t understand, but it lacked structure, and with my cycling mood, I couldn’t handle a class that wasn’t structured. In May 2008, I graduated from college with a 3.97 GPA and I won an award at graduation. I was singing in the commencement chorale. It would have been a wonderful day, had I been stable. But, I was depressed. When I got the award, I smiled. All I could think, though, was “How am I going to hold my award (it was a trophy) and my diploma while singing the song where all the graduates file out?” I was nervous already, and then my cap started to fall of my head. Then, I had to hold my diploma in one hand, balance the cap, and hold the award in the other. Despite the wonderful occasion, I was a wreck. I’ve never really told anyone this, in this much detail.
5) So after a high stress job following graduation, I finally went to my psychiatrist and added another medication, Celexa. I take it at a low dose, and it helps with anxiety and depression. I realized that my anxiety over something fuels my depression; mainly, I get anxious about something, it paralyzes me, and that’s when I’m depressed.
Suggestions or things to think about:
1) start to track your mood. There are some good websites that have mood charts. Here’s one that I like because you mark your mood based on -3 to +3 with normal range being zero. Below that, you can write how many hours you slept, whether you took your medication, level of anxiety, and whether or not you used alcohol or nonprescription drugs. It goes like this for 31 days. I like to turn it sideways as I go to see the changes during a month. That way, you can see whether or not it has to do with your sleep cycle, or may be surrounding menstrual cycle (for females). This helped me catch that my mood was changing weekly. It coincided with my work schedule when I had a high stress job.
2)Once we are aware of how our mood changes, we can look for triggers. When do you notice yourself slipping, or getting happier? What is happening? For me, I had extreme anxiety surrounding my job, I noticed I would start to feel better during my last day of work, which signaled to me that I should probably have a job elsewhere.
Looking for our triggers can help us find ways to protect ourselves. For example, if I know that going to work can be a trigger for me, what I can do to counteract the trigger? For me, getting a good amount of sleep, or exercising can help counterbalance mood. Exercise releases serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that help stablize our mood. Exercise is just as important as medication.
3)Therapy can help us really recognize our triggers and develop safety plans. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is helpful for us to analyze our thoughts, which ultimately lead to emotions. Our reactions to our thoughts and emotions lead to behaviors. Dialectical Behavior Therapy can help us develop coping skills. Specifically paying attention to the skills of regulating our emotions and utilizing distress tolerance skills for when we are in the throes of an episode and need something to change NOW.
I haven’t had a manic episode or hypomania in almost 10 years. I really think my mental illness has morphed into anxiety-related depression. Thankfully I haven’t felt depressed in three years. So, on paper, my diagnosis is Bipolar I Disorder, Sustained, Full Remission. It is great for me to see those words, not only because I am better and stable, but also because it lets me know what I have been through, what I have survived.
So for those of you out there that are in the midst of an episode, are unsure of how to explain yourself, don’t feel alone…know that it does get better. It is a hard battle, but it is possible. My heart goes out to you.