I am a 48 year old bipolar woman, living in NYC, married (common law), with 4 children between us.

 

I have been diagnosed for two years but have been bipolar much longer.  I can't tell when it began because much of my childhood, teen years and early twenties was spent drinking alcoholicly, drugging, promiscuous acting-out, passionate love affairs, floundering, and sporadically deeply depressed.  I got sober at twenty- three and my first year of recovery was the best year of my life.  Staying sober is the one thing I've managed to do consistantly all these years and I am amazed and grateful.  Well, to be scrupulously honest, I did have two episodes over the past ten years where I drank rubbing alcohol during the emotional violence of mixed state moods.  Suicidal and hyper-anxious, in the throes of explosive sieges.

 

I was diagnosed bipolar after a protracted severe depression.  I could no longer work, I took to my bed, never showered or brushed my teeth, could't bother changing my nightgown, very angry, rageful when confronted with reality by family members.  Attempted suicide with a prescription of respiradol given to me by the first shrink I saw, (this was after many, many attempts to get help over the course of 6 months).  I just couldn't make phonecalls, couldn't leave the house, wouldn't talk, would only scream at those around me.  I began to cycle into a manic phase and this was when I met the woman who is now my psychiatrist. 

Since I have been seeing her, people ask me skeptically, "Is she any good?", because I cycled rapidly after medications began.  For nearly a year I have been  swimming in a deep grey depression - can't remember when this started either - which is only broken up by periods of black suffocating depression, bedridden again, dirty, stinking and also encased in fleshy rolls.  The lithium put 35 pounds on me.  I have trouble concentrating on any one thing so I can't read more than the Daily News, which  needless to say is far from inspiring literature and very grim fare.  I am fascinated by morbid, horrible stories.  I can barely stop thinking about the starving children in Africa, the hideous war in Iraq, and the possibility of a nuclear bomb hitting NY.  The attack on the World Trade Center was one catalyst in my depressive breakdown, marked by shaking, crying, auditory hallucinations, and panic attacks.  It went diguised, however, because so many people were shaken up, only not to my extent. 

 

I am currently on lithium, lamicital, geodon, and lexipro.  My days are nearly all the same.  I have progressed from last year in small but significant ways.  I wake up filled with fuzzy dread.  I put on the t.v. and listen to the news, over and over.  Then I wake up my youngest son, give him a bowl of cereal, and put on the lesser dirty of the two pair of pants that fit me.  I think to myself, "where and how should I carry my keys on the trip bringing him to school?".  "Should I take a pocketbook - so much trouble how it falls off my shoulder - am I wearing the pair of pants with a pocket?"   Both of my coats have huge holes in the pockets 

so they are rendered useless.  I admonish myself, "You are a wreck.  You are living like a 'crazy' person".  I walk the four blocks to school and rush home although there is absolutely no reason to rush.  I am coming home to an empty house, no job, no obligations, except two:  walk the dog, and pick up my child from school at 2:55.  I am consumed with panicy dread as to how I can or cannot accomplish these tasks.  I get really worked up inside but I smile politely and say hi to all my neighbors.  I turn on the t.v. again, make a cup of tea, pace around, play an hour of solitaire while listening to court t.v.  I never answer the phone --all calls are screened and I call back only those I must to appear functional. 

Every day this one neighbor drops by and I am always bracing myself for the hideous shrill of the front door buzzer.  She chats mostly about herself and I am cordial but only thinly diguising my impatience for her to leave.  She talks about books, art, her career as a journalist, and I am reminded in the dullest way how I was once interested and a participant in these things too.  I once had an academic career of my own, as well as a very physical job for 10 years as a massage therapist.  I used to be in great shape and walk around with the collected  Emily Dickenson.  I get nervous when she leaves, wondering what impression I left her with, for she is one to point out my irritabilities, my shaking hands, my bloat, my spacey eyes.

 

Sometimes I watch old movies with many interruptions of bathroom breaks and pointless cleaning.  Very rarely do I get much household stuff done.  I steel myself to take the dog out and again I am in a quandry about the keys,"is my lipstick too bright?  I wish I had sunglasses, which route do I take with the dog?  why am I so fucked up?"  Then I have about three hours,  oh the hours, the hours, to fill, to exist through before I get my son.  That's the hardest part of the day but it is a job I could not do for over a year.  My husband would have to drive from work, a 45-minute trip each way, to bring the kid from school to home where I used to greet him in the nightgown he always saw me wear at home.  I have improved as now I get him myself, counting every step until I reach him, literally counting in order to keep my feet moving and my mind off the anxiety.  I can fix him a snack now, and occasionally stop at the candy store to give him a sense of normalcy.  I buy the Daily News and read this as he unwinds from the day.  We do interact alot more than we used to.  I play solitaire, I wash a couple of dishes, I wipe down a counter, I put away some crap lying around the living room, I try to be a 'mom'. 

 

I've decided not to go on desribing my day because you get the gist and it is tedious even to write about.  It may be equally tedious to read although you never know, someone may get some identification with it. 

 

I haven't had a fullblown mania for a number of months.  My mania involves:  obessive creative activity (albeit on the smallest scale) where I totally block out the world and my family, days and nights that were neverending and blending into eachother, impulsive, mad shoplifting, screaming rants.  I had my share of visual and auditory hallucinations.  For a terrifying while I saw rats scurrying everywhere and a mysterious man sitting in the corners of my apartment.  Perhaps this is the best the drugs have done; they deprived me of the worst of mania.  They have also made me a shadow of my former self.  Gone is the gregarious, active Claudia, always on the run of work, home, and children's activities.  There were golden afternoons cheering on soccer matches, doing three loads of laundry and washing the kitchen floor at once, giving a satisfying 1- hour deep tissue massage.  But it seems that these losses are the price I pay at this particular time in order to avoid the rampaging moods and the destruction I brought chiefly to myself.  After my last hospitalization I vowed to keep my medication schedule and doses as close as I can to what is prescribed (I have a problem in this area of dispensing my own drugs).  I don't want to end up in that ward again with the lack of freedom and the complete submission to those in authority. 

 

We used to say in A.A. "I am a grateful recovering alcoholic."  I cannot say this about bipolar.  It is exceedingly hard to live with, impossible to explain even to the most dutiful caretaker.  But I am in it with as much motivation as I can muster on any given day.  I have to go on faith when I can feel it...this too shall pass...I am a survivor.    

 

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