Buster's Bipolar Story

I was a jumpy, moody, nervous child, even as a baby.  My mother said that even in a silent room, the soft click of a door latch would send me into a hysterical crying fit in my crib.

My father likes to brag about the depth I showed as a child when, at the age of four, I looked into a starry California sky one night and asked him, ''Dad, what's it like to die?'' He says that showed uncanny depth for my age. I have to wonder what a four-year-old was doing ruminating about death?

Mom had periods in which she was greatly productive, sewing and cooking with little need for sleep. Then she would have stretches where she would not get out of bed for days. Her father blew his brains out with a rifle when he was in his 80's. So, I'm guessing I got the mood gene from her side of the family. 

I had my first episode of what I know was depression around the age of 12 or so. I became firmly convinced that I was asleep and dreaming my entire life. I realized years later that I was psychotically depressed during this period, which lasted about three months.  I told my mother about what I was going through. She encouraged me to pray about it. No suggestion about seeing a doctor was ever made. Maybe she didn't realize that I needed medical intervention. The episode passed on it's own. I lived for years after in silent terror that I would return to that strange, dark, painful place inside my head.

As a teenager, I was into music, speech, art and basketball. I got into the radio business at the age of 15. While many of my friends were dropping acid and shooting heroin, I only ventured into pot and alcohol. I had fallen completely in love with my job as a deejay and wanted to be in control of all my mental faculties.

As I grew into my twenties, I experienced dark and agitated emotions, which seemed to rise on their own, not being tied to external events. Still, I usually functioned fine. When I felt agitated, I'd drown myself in beer, sometimes combining tequila with it.  Meantime, my radio career was building. I'd started out in the business in a small town on the west coast. By the time I was 23, I was doing my first morning show in the midwest and earning close to $30,000 a year. I was outrageous and crazy on the air. Off the air, I usually felt shy, sullen and withdrawn. The only time I laughed easily was when I was in front of a microphone.

My mood fluctuations sent me through two bad marriages by the time I was thirty. But while my personal life lay in shards, my professional life was going great. By thirty, I was working in a major eastern city earning a HUGE salary well into six figures. But at 35, while doing a morning program back on the west coast, I experienced a total mental collapse, which came out of nowhere. I was psychotically depressed, and while not suicidal, I was in total inner agony.
Unable to sleep, I booked an appointment with my general practitioner, who asked if I was depressed?  Not knowing anything about mental illness, and not wanting to even think about the possibility that I was mentally ill, I told him no, I wasn't depressed.  He chalked my sleeplessness up to stress and wrote me a prescription for Ativan, which I found out later is a highly addictive cousin to Valium.

I began sleeping, although only for three hours at a stretch. And I began taking more than the prescribed dose of Ativan.  My graciously stupid doctor kept refilling the prescription. I don't know how I functioned at work, as I'd gone nine days at one point with no sleep. But after two months, I was so depressed and so hooked on Ativan that I knew I had to get help. So I begged my insurance company to allow me to check in for drug rehab, which they begrudgingly did. I climbed the walls for days trying to kick the Ativan, but did and was released early from in-patient treatment.

Immediately, the psychotic, agitated insomnia returned.  I went back to my MD and asked for a non-addictive drug to induce sleep. He also knew through the insurance company that I'd been diagnosed as depressed, so he prescribed an older anti-depressant, Elavil.  Within three days, I felt great and was sleeping through the night. But by day, I had boundless energy, which was largely unchanneled. After work, I would go to an adult bookstore and masturbate for hours in a booth while watching dirty movies. Or I would drive around town ‘til all hours of the night, sleeping barely enough to get me through my four hour radio show each morning. 

My boundless energy and lack of logic made me decide to move to Los Angeles when my contract was up. I began sending resume's to companies in L.A, and found interest immediately. Thankfully, the radio station manager knew I was in an odd frame of mind and relieved me of my duties seven months early, telling me he'd pay me through the end of the contract. So I moved to L.A. while still being paid. I struck up a relationship with an old girl friend and managed to move in with her. 

I had believed that moving to L.A. would put my mood disorder behind me, that my depression had been merely circumstantial. Wrong. I no sooner arrived in L.A. than I lapsed into another dark, painful trough. My old girl friend knew I'd been diagnosed as depressed, but I did not tell her I was fighting it again. I was gaining weight because of the Elavil. I cycled back and forth between feeling vibrantly productive and painfully bleak. Two years after moving to L.A, I was finally diagnosed as bipolar. By this time, I'd been on countless anti-depressants which had made me bounce off the walls, up and down and back up again.

Now, at 40, I've stabilized on a fairly low dose of Neurontin with an occasional dose of an anti-psychotic, Zyprexa. I don't drink much anymore, and no street drugs at all. I work out three or four times a week.  I've managed to jumpstart my career, which had stalled five years ago because of depressions and moving to L.A. I earn a strong salary again and my old girl friend and I are now married. She knows full well of my inner battles and attends psychiatric appointments with me.

I am thankful that I've never been suicidal. I never know how I'm gonna feel from one day to the next. I have learned to spot depressive episodes coming and know how to head them off, but the manias are far more deceptive, so I take Neurontin and Zyprexa mainly for these ''up'' times. I am a beginning student of  Buddhism as well as a longtime believer in Biblical religion, too. Physical exercise, especially running and weight-lifting, keep me anchored inside my body.
I believe this illness has many facets, so the way to beat it must also be multi-faceted. Meditation, prayer, exercise, medication, laughter, a good career, love for and from my wife have all contributed greatly to the progress I'm making.


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