Carol's Story -

Why would I want you to learn about me? Perhaps you can see a parallel to your own experience that is not yet represented among these stories. I’m one of those bipolars who lean toward the depressed end of the spectrum, but when manic, there is no “good” or “high” feeling. just paranoia, anger, agitation and anxiety, what is often referred to as dysphoria.

While I struggled with black moods in college, I first acknowledged experiencing depression in 1996 at the age of 36. I was involved in more frequent and intense arguments with my husband and two step children who lived with us. My husband decided enough was enough as he witnessed several episodes during which I would beat myself about the head and chest with my fists while screaming that killing myself was the only way I could get any relief. He scheduled an appointment with a therapist and informed me we were going. I played it pretty straight in her office, explaining that we were having difficulty in our marriage. Then my husband brought up my suicidal rantings. At that point the therapist exclaimed “whoa.wait a minute”. She then suggested that these sessions should be about me, but that hubby was still welcome to attend. I was first very upset at my husband for “outing” me, but then relieved as I realized I could possibly get some help for whatever it was that was bothering me. As the sessions continued, I started falling into a deep depression. The therapist indicated this was normal after initiating counseling. She gave me three months, but the downward spiral continued. At this point she asked me how I felt about medication. I didn’t want to become one of “them”, but I agreed to ask my family doctor.

When I called for an appointment, his receptionist immediately put him on the phone when learning the nature of my problem. He asked me if I was suicidal, I admitted I was off and on, but at the moment I was not, just severely depressed. He then suggested that it would be better if I went to the emergency room, that I would get an appointment with a psychiatrist much faster that way, since it usually takes three to four weeks. My doctor said he’d call ahead to let them know I was coming.

My husband drove me to the hospital, grabbing dinner at a drive thru on the way. I thought it must not be such a big deal if he can stop for food. I was wrong. As I checked in at the ER, I looked down in the trash can next to the desk and saw a note with my name along with the word “suicidal”. Somebody had bled all over the note (it was the ER after all). At that point, I got scared. I was sent to a large empty room full of gurneys and a ridiculously loud TV blasting “Wheel of Fortune”. I was asked to remove my clothes and slip on a gown. I was told this was only so the doctor could check me out to see if there were any underlying physical issues. I bought it. Next thing I know various nurses and other medical types would come in and ask my why I wanted to kill myself. I repeated to all of them that at the moment I had no intention of killing myself, but admitted to suicidal tendencies on other occasions. They were oblivious to the TV blathering away at a deafening level until I pleaded with them to turn it off. After the last guy came in asked the same friggin’ questions, I yelled at him that there was no way I would kill myself as it was very important for me to be at work in the morning. I thought that would convince them I wasn’t serious about dying.

Wrong. He gathered up my clothes, stuffed them in a bag and started to leave the room. I freaked, asking why he was taking my clothes. He then placed the bag on a chair, claiming he was only trying to make sure they wouldn’t be misplaced. Another nurse came in and took my blood pressure and temperature, and then poked around my stomach. So much for a physical exam to investigate an underlying condition. No blood test or anything else that would’ve made more sense. She then explained that it would be much better if I stayed in the hospital at least overnight. I told her that wasn’t necessary. Just get me an appointment with a psychiatrist. I then demanded they send my husband back to be with me. I explained what was going on, and he started advocating on my behalf that it wasn’t necessary for me to stay, that our doctor had only sent me to the ER to facilitate getting me to the p-doc ASAP. After several hours of wrangling, we got our wish, a discharge and an appointment for the next day. As I was getting dressed, nurse “Pollyanna” told me that the p-doc would put me on an anti-depressant and soon “the sunshine will return to my life”. I thought I would vomit.

The p-doc asked me tons of questions, including “do you think people on the radio are talking to you?” well yes, on occasion. I was a manager at a talk radio station, OF COURSE I DO! He asked me to add and subtract a bunch of numbers in my head, asked how I might kill myself and then handed me a scrip for Zoloft. He said it would take about 3-4 weeks to really kick in, and to return for another appointment at that time.

I continued with therapy and visits to the p-doc for about 6-8 months. The depression remained but had leveled off somewhere above suicidal ideation.

For the most part, I felt nothing, especially during sex. I was warned about that particular side effect. Since the Zoloft wasn’t really doing the job, I was put on Wellbutrin, which was a better fit. However, the med really did a number on my concentration. I was hyped up and had the shakes, and had problems finding the right word. Other people started completing my sentences for me, which drove me nuts. I now understand why its used to help smokers to quit. I stopped drinking coffee without any intentions of doing so. I just stopped one day, and I LOVE coffee. I told the p-doc I wanted off meds, and he wasn’t thrilled but said okay, and that I wouldn’t need him anymore. He encouraged me to stick with the therapist, which I did.

After six months, I spiraled down again.

I returned to the p-doc, who then put me on Effexor, which worked well. I did complain about insomnia, so he added a very small dose of the antidepressant Trazadone, to be taken just prior to bed to help me sleep.

The first night it worked great. The next morning was the only time I ever felt “high”, and that feeling only lasted for a couple hours. However, during that time I felt as though I were walking on air, and was laughing out loud about absolutely nothing. While the high left, my energy and general feeling of well being did not. I was accomplishing more than I ever had. My p-doc became concerned and suggested Bipolar disorder as a possibility. I said right now I felt better than I had in years so I didn’t want to change a thing. After about a month and a half, the good feelings changed to anger, irritability and raging rampages. One afternoon I took everything out on one of my employees. I screamed and screamed at him in his office. When he said he’d had enough, I slammed the door shut and told him I wasn’t done. I saw the fear and confusion in his eyes, but couldn’t control myself anymore. I then heard my boss’s voice from the other side of the door. She burst into the office. At that point I realized I had a problem. I broke into tears, assuring her it was my entire fault and the employee was blameless. I then told her I should have listened to my doctor, who thought I may be Bipolar. She suggested I get with my doc and to take a few days off. She was very understanding, which was out of character for her.

Next thing I know, Depakote was added to my med mix. That was the beginning of the end of my broadcasting career. All my creativity was sapped. I couldn’t stay awake and was found napping in my office on several occasions.

I would sleep ten hours at night and three to four more during the day. I gained 25 pounds. I was fired six months later after several complaints about my lack of judgment, inattention to detail and generally just screwing up. I got another job in radio, during which the p-doc added Wellbutrin back into the mix. Again, I suffered through much mental confusion, often losing my train of thought in mid-sentence. These are not good qualities for an on-air talent. After being passed over for promotions three times, I quit, but not before I raged out at my boss for ruining my career. I offered no notice, no nothing. I just quit, exclaiming I would not take the station van to the body shop, which I had wrecked a week earlier.. I was now unemployed.

Gee, I guess I showed her.

After several months, I got a marketing job. Surprisingly, I had three good years of steady employment and few rages. The suicidal feelings were gone and I dropped therapy, but remained on the Depakote and Effexor. My overwhelming need for sleep continued, but otherwise, I was okay. At the beginning of this year, 2004, I started to become unglued again. The pressure at work became overwhelming. I was sure they would fire me.

Everything I did had to be perfect. We were facing the loss of our biggest client, and all I could do was lash out at my managers and cry. My blood pressure skyrocketed to 170/110. This summer I took a leave of absence. My doctor suggested I stop working as I was courting disaster and he felt it necessary to change my meds. He admitted the transition time would be difficult. We then began the process of weaning me off Effexor and onto a new anti-depressant, Cymbalta. He also took me off Depakote, switching me to Lamictal. He explained the new mood stabilizer was effective for Bipolars who tend toward the depressive end of the spectrum. My family doc put me on Altace for my BP. After three months, my leave turned into a resignation as I had burned up my 12 weeks of FMLA. My doctor would still not write me a note allowing my return to work.

I got back into therapy, this time with a new shrink. While my first therapist was a Buddhist who relied on Jung’s theories and lots of touchy feely talk about how I was mistreated as a child, I now meet with a man who is a staunch advocate of Rational Emotive Therapy, or RET. It is a much more confronting form of therapy, and relies on taking responsibility to change my irrational thinking. The idea is to replace disturbed logic with a rational thought process. Past history is of little relevance, only my experience of the previous week. I am in a three steps forward two steps back mode, and again fighting suicidal thoughts. However, I much prefer this therapy and have made progress. Today, I remain unemployed and dealing with astronomical COBRA payments. As I write this, I just received a phone call from another prospective employer telling me that I did not make the cut, but thanks so much for my interest.

As a youngster, disruptive, attention seeking behavior blossomed into full fledged delinquency. If someone had been more knowledgeable, perhaps this could have been a red flag of what was to come. I am the classic black sheep of an ambitious and successful family. I blame no one. My parents are not comfortable discussing serious mental or physical illness. As a result, there is no diagnosed mental illness in my family other than me. I do suspect untreated depression and bipolar disorder among a few members.

The only lesson to learn is my story itself. No happy or tragic endings, just the reality of plugging along with an unpredictable illness. I am grateful that I still have the full support and forgiveness of my husband, and my now grown stepchildren, who treat me more like a bio-mom than a step-mom. That feels good.

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