Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cycling again

Ah, my old friend Bipolar Disorder. You've reared your ugly head again. What I love/hate about this disorder is its unpredictability. Just when you've spent years believing you're fine, wham! it rises up again and swoops in like a plague of locusts.

I had had no real issues since 2008. I don't know what triggered that cycle but I ceased to need sleep and on top of a full time job I decided to teach a Saturday morning English class for high school students who were in danger of failing but wanted to go to college. I loved doing it but I don't remember sleeping much at all during that time. My three children only remember mom always busy, either working or grading papers. I was also doing housework and cooking and generally trying to hold everything together. I finally recognized this manic cycle when I started flipping through my journal and saw the changes in what I was saying and doing. Thank goodness for that journal; it may have saved my life.

I found myself a good psychiatrist (my old one was in Tucson and I was now living in Phoenix) and got back on medication, which I had been off since I started having children in 1998. I somehow had thought that with pregnancies and hormones I'd been cured but apparently not.

With my psychiatrist's help, I received a re-education in bipolar disorder and began again with my medication. (I was on Depakote as a mood stabilizer and Celexa as an antidepressant. There's quite a bit of argument about whether people with bipolar should take antidepressants but I can't address that here. I can say they did work to keep me out of deep depression.) In fact, I was so compliant and stable, that just last year, in 2015, I asked if it was possible that I would be able to get off my medications.It seemed as though my psychiatrist might laugh but he takes his job and patients much more seriously than that. He explained to me that I would never be able to stop; there was no telling when any kind of episode would occur. I didn't believe him but I did take my meds.

And then in November I began seeing things out of the corners of my eyes. Strange things: on the right side, I saw a large block of marble that seemed rather like a sheet except I knew it was cold stone. Behind that, a fleeting glimpse of a head, also made of marble. On my left side there were dark figures dancing. These actually have a name: shadow people. They were moving stealthily but in rhythmic motion.

I saw my doctor and explained what was going on. He prescribed Geodon and said I was having a minor psychotic episode. It didn't feel very minor to me but ever compliant, I took my medication home and took some that night. It made me feel as if I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.

The next day was even worse. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My chest hurt, I was breathing fast, and I could actually feel my heart beating crazily in my chest. I went to Urgent Care and they did an EKG. No heart attack, everything normal. Except me. I wasn't normal.

That manic episode lasted through the middle of December. My doctor gave me another antipsychotic, Saphris, to help with the hallucinations. I don't know if it helped or not because the hallucinations stopped when the mania began to subside. We agreed that I could quit taking it but I should keep it around in case the strange visions began again.

And now, today, another manic episode is beginning. I felt it today as my pupils were dilated and I felt the thoughts racing. I want to do everything at once: write articles, write in my blog, do my freelance editing job, even clean the kitchen (okay, not so much).

I had thought I was stable or at least on the road to stability again. And now this.

So what can I do to help anyone else going through this? What can I say to make anyone else's struggle with bipolar disorder any easier?

First of all, accept that you have it and there is no cure. It's not cancer and you're not going to "beat it." This is frustrating because our instincts tell us we should go out and find a cure for things, make things all better, keep them from coming back. But this doesn't go away. You'll have to accept it in order to move forward at all.

Second, see a qualified psychiatrist you feel comfortable with and trust. It may take some time for this one. And insurance. But even without money (I'm broke, trust me, and applying for my state's Medicaid program), there are good psychiatrists there for you. It's important to find one who is right and who will be there when you call. Because I can almost guarantee you will have to call.

Third, TAKE YOUR MEDICINE. Yes, I was yelling that. Many people, myself included, feel stable and think we can stop our medicine. That is one of the most dangerous situations with bipolar disorder. It can result in very risky behavior during mania and such intense depression that suicide seems like a bright and shiny option. If your meds are not right for you, talk to your doctor. But don't just stop taking them. There may be no cure but stability is possible.

Fourth, don't give up. I know that sounds so trite. Why bother if there's no cure, or the meds make you sick? Well, you are important. You need to grow into believing that. The world needs you. It took me a long time to learn to believe that about myself. I still have a hard time. But when the strength comes from inside, you will have the ability to survive and thrive.

So, even though life is a roller coaster with bipolar disorder, you can learn to ride it without falling off. I'm going to hold on tight during this new manic episode and take my meds. I'll get frustrated and irritated and angry and find ways to deal with it that don't involve yelling at anyone or attempting to harm myself. And when this is gone, I'll probably be depressed. And I'll survive that too, even if I have to keep the crisis hotline number right next to me at night. I'll survive and I'll thrive. And I know you can too.

Brooke is a freelance writer and blogger, living in Arizona. Check out her personal blog (brookesworldofword.blogspot.com). She will be starting a new blog shortly about Tea and Organic Food.

Follow her on Twitter at @bfred58

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