My manic depression story
Fri, 17 Dec 1999 22:48:03 -0500
Even though I think my manic depression
symptoms probably go back to my
high school days, I start my story a few
years ago when noticeable
problems began appearing.
I have a great job with Eli Lilly
and Company working in their systems
area since 1990. But I just knew
I could do more or do things better by
making my own decisions. My
wife and I had just finished having a very
nice custom home built. After seeing
what the general contractor did I
decided that I could do a much better job
than he could. I could be my
own boss and make extra money. So
I decided to start my own
This seemed like an innocent decision at
first. I would keep my
position at Lilly and do the construction
on the side. The first
problem was that I was on a major project
at work and I played a key
role. We were building a 17 million
distribution system. Instead of building
one house at a time I came up
with a great marketing plan and had sold
three houses even though I had
never built one before. I kept thinking
I could do more and nothing
could stop me. In the meantime the
construction business was losing
money and I was getting in trouble at work.
My wife, Judy was getting
tired of me trying to conquer the world
and dragging her along with me.
If I would have said yes, Judy, would have
divorced me. During all this
we also found out that she could
not have kids, which did not make the
situation any better.
I think you can start to see where this
is going. Well, Judy and I were
getting in more and more arguments.
I decided that we would go to a
counselor and he could help HER open up
and get HER frustrations out in
the open. Then the counselor could
help us work through HER problems.
I explained to the counselor what we had
been doing so he could
understand some of HER frustrations.
After I had talked for about five
minutes he looked at me and said "You are
manic depressive". To say the
least this threw me back. I was off
that weekend to Borders Bookstore
to do research. As I
read books describing what manic depression
was, I found myself checking off symptom
lists as I compared them to my
current situation and past decisions.
Around this same time things came to a head
at work. The construction
business had interfered with my work to
the point where my project
leader and manager had to put me on probation.
They had given me
plenty of opportunities before getting
to this point to get things
straightened up. They really had ample
evidence to fire me. But, I
think because people like the manic side
of my personality and the fact
that I had been getting work done and putting
in an effort at work, I
was spared getting fired.
At this point I was also physically, mentally
and emotionally burnt
out. During all this we had also
been blessed to have adopted a new
born baby girl Hanna. While this
was a great blessing it also added
pressure to the existing situation.
I knew that something had to change
or things were going to get a lot worse
than they already were. I
decided the only way I was going to survive
was to simplify my life. I
shutdown the construction business cold,
selling off existing projects
even though it cost me a lot of money.
I went to my family doctor to
further confirm and figure out what to
do about manic depression.
I really had to examine why I had made some
of the decisions I had in my
life. I also struggled with what
really made me the person I am. Was I
in control of my life or were the chemicals
in my brain in charge? It
has been over three years since I have
been diagnosed and my life is
much simpler and things are going great,
but I still at times wonder in
the back of my head who is in charge.
But I feel I must take
responsibility for my situation and actions
and use the knowledge that I
have gained about my condition to make
sound decisions in my life.
I think that I have had manic depressive
symptoms since before high
school. I was always the funny one
in class and would purposely get in
trouble for being funny. People
always liked me and I kind of rode the
fence between being one of the smart kids
and one of the kids who would
get in trouble. I was into sports
but also drank and experimented with
drugs. I can remember meeting up
with some of the "partiers" before
school, smoking a joint and then going
to take a test in physics class.
At the same time that most people would
see me as an out going and funny
guy, but I could also be distant and a
loner. I think growing up I
would really frustrate my mom by showing
very little emotion when she
would get upset with my actions.
I am in my late thirties now and I think
since high school my manic
depressive symptoms have slowly showed
themselves more. In talking with
my doctor he thinks it is not so much that
the disease or its effects
have gotten worse but the bodies resistance
to it goes down with age.
This seems to make sense to me.
I would now like to cover some of
my experiences with my physical
health and manic depression.
For several years prior to ever knowing
about my manic depression, I was feeling
run down. I could still
function and work, but went through periods
where I felt run down. I
would be physically tired at times and
at others times I would feel
great. I never thought about this
being associated with any type of
mental illness. I assumed it must
be physical. So I talked to my
doctor and we would head down the path
of testing for things such a
diabetes and thyroid problems without much
success. Initially we never
talked about any type of mental illness.
Then, as I created the environment I described
above, my health
worsened. Some days I felt like I
could do a million things and on
others I felt the million of things I had
started were coming crashing
down around me. One day I would start
up some new project and on the
next I would have to stay to myself, perhaps
sleep all day just to cope
with the environment I had created.
I would have to take what I called
"mental health days" from work to regain
my strength. At the time I did
not realize how true the phrase "mental
health day" was.
As the situation I was creating was getting
more and more out of control
I had times where I just did not seem to
have the energy to handle
everything. However, I think to many
of those around me I appeared as
someone who was ambitious, intelligent
and just trying to get ahead in
life and perhaps a little out of control.
Many of my actions fit in
with the American idea of someone who is
trying grab the brass ring.
Any one of my projects I had started had
merit, but trying to tackle all
this was starting to wear me out.
At this point, instead of cutting
back, I thought that if I could physically
just feel better I could
handle all the projects I had started.
This was about the same time that Prozac's
image had changed from the
devil's drug that made depressed people
go on killing rampages to the
pill doctors were popping out of PEZ dispensers
to yuppies to help them
be supermen at work and home. So
I thought that if I could convince my
doctor to give me Prozac I could handle
this world I had created.
With the limited information I had given
my doctor I did get my Prozac
prescription. I took my first pill
on a Wednesday and by Friday I knew
something was up. I was feeling the
best I had in years. In fact I
felt so good that I worked through the
whole weekend. I became the
Prozac poster boy, even more so since the
company I worked for Eli Lilly
and Company manufactured Prozac.
The only problem now that I was
feeling even more invincible. Which
meant I could handle more, or at
least I thought so.
So with this super power I made my world
more complicated. I started
feeling worn down again so I would double
my Prozac (without telling my
doctor). Anyway, as I describe earlier,
this is about when my wife and
I were at the read up and came to
the same conclusion that I was in
fact manic depressive. One of the
interesting facts that I read was
that one of the possible side effects of
Prozac for someone who is manic
depressive is that the Prozac can throw
them into a manic episode. The
minute I read this I realized why I had
worked for two days straight
after starting on Prozac.
I went back to my doctor and we talked
about what the counselor said and
the research I had done. I am not
sure at that point that he was
totally convinced that I was manic depressive,
but we began to treat
it. By this time I had stopped taking
the Prozac. Its effects seemed to
wear off so I had stopped takingit on my
own without talking to the
doctor. The doctor now put me on
lithium. As I mentioned earlier, once
I came to the realization that I was manic
depressive I started to
simplify my life. I killed off the
construction business I had on the
side so that I could focus on my job at
Lilly, my marriage, new adopted
daughter Hanna and getting better.
The lithium did help, but made me lethargic
and slow. So after a period
of time I stopped taking it. I did
so without talking to my doctor.
As a replacement I threw a lot of energy
into exercising. I would play
basketball three, four or five times a
week, and work out with weights
two or three times a week. I think
this helped control my mood swings
to a certain degree. I was dealing
with the cleanup financially and
emotionally from some of the decisions
I had made and I think the
exercise also helped take some focus off
dealing with the aftermath.
I managed my condition like this for a
couple of years. I still had
mood swings, but at least now I knew why.
Exercise and life
simplification helped me deal with it and
helped those around me deal
Over this two year period I started having
some old familiar and some
new physical problems. I really felt
like with all the things happening
to me, while maybe not life threatening
were an indication of a general
decline in my health. I would make
semi-joking comments to family that
they should not expect to see me around
much longer. I did not go to
the doctor because I thought it would be
near impossible to figure out
what was causing all these different things.
My family got so sick of
me complaining that they all demanded that
I go see the doctor.
Before I went to the doctor I wanted to
document all the things that had
been happening to me so that I would not
forget anything. I also felt
this would show him that I was serious
about trying to figure these
The next section is the write-up I took
into my doctor. Be ready my
list was over six hand written pages to
describe what I had been
Harry's Write-up For Doctor:
Sometimes I feel great physically:
Usually I have had a long nights sleep
(over eight hours), but not
always the case.
I can work on complex problems with ease.
During exercise or playing sports such
as basketball I seem to perform
at a higher level.
My concentration is good.
My organization skills are good.
Handwriting is neat.
My verbal communication is sharper than
I feel very optimistic for no real reason.
Sometimes one or more of the following
I feel "pressure" on the head. Sometimes
I would call it a low level
headache, other times just pressure.
This is normally accompanied by what I
would call a "slowdown" in
concentration. At times it is just
an inconvenience and I keep working
at a close to normal level. At other
times I feel lucky that I am
accomplishing anything at work. It
can be hard to concentrate to solve
problems that should not be that challenging.
Often at these times my handwriting gets
worse. My handwriting seems to
vary with how much I have been affected.
In past conversations (with my doctor)
I would have included the
"pressure" feeling along with being "depressed".
As we discussed in the
past (with my doctor) this would have occurred
on about a three to four
week cycle. It seems like it is happening
more frequently now and
Often when this happens I get quiet, sometimes
mean (mainly at home),
not in a physical way but more in an emotional
one. I become distant.
I don't really get sad, but I think most
people would say this is a form
Dry or tired eyes or pressure behind the
At times my eyes get tired and I think
this makes be feel tired all
over. I can feel good in the morning
and then as the days moves on I
feel my eyes just getting tired or kind
of "pressure" building up behind
This happens by itself sometimes and at
others along with the overall
pressure on the head that I described above.
I do think that I have
dry eyes in general. At one time
I tried to wear contact, but could not
because I eyes would dry out.
Tired or hoarse throat at times.
At times I feel when I talk my voice
feels raspy or hoarse. If I ask
people if they think I sound hoarse normally
they say no. But to me it
sounds and feels different and makes me
Communication/talking feels awkward.
At times I feel like I am having
problem pronouncing words and
communicating. I will repeat the
same word at the beginning of a
sentence for no apparent reason.
It is very subtle and those I am
talking to do not notice.
These communication problems do not necessarily
only occur during times
when I feel pressure on the head or tired
Awkward motor skills at times.
There are times when I feel almost clumsy
and awkward in just moving
around or when I am in the process of sitting
down in a chair. At times
when I play basketball I can just tell
something is not right. I think
that there is nothing obvious to those
I workout or play with other than
I am just having an off workout or game.
Involuntary muscle twitching at times
I have had some type of muscle twitching
since at least college, but not
to any significant level.
I would get a twitch or two when I was
falling asleep. I have worked out
pretty hard with weights since high
school. Up to this point I have attributed
twitching to working out.
Within the last six months I had some pretty
bazaar twitching episodes.
For a couple of days different muscles
were twitching for prolonged
periods of time. The same muscle
will twitch for a while then a it
would stop and an other one would start.
I not only feel the muscle
twitching but you can see it also.
During this same period I had a couple
of nights where either my body
was having these twitches all over and
it would wake me up or I was
dreaming about it and it woke me up.
The next morning I would ask Judy
if she noticed that I was moving around
all night twitching. She
thought I was "crazy" as usual.
Just yesterday I was getting twitching
on the lower eyelid of my left
eye periodically throughout the day.
"Normally" the twitching feels isolated
to a certain muscle or area in a
muscle. When this occurs you can
actually see the muscle move.
I get this one "twitch" that feels different
and to me seem a bit more
disturbing. It goes down my leg then
I feel it across the arch in my
foot. It actually causes my leg to
jump. I am normally sitting down
when this happens. It happens in
both legs and was pretty regular a few
months ago, about the same time as my sleeping
- twitching episodes.
Since then I have had this happen on and
off, but the "twitch" has
gotten less pronounced.
Often tired after coming home from work.
Many times I will relax fairly early at
8:30 or 9:30 pm watching TV and
fall asleep. Every now and then I
will crash really early at 6:00 or
7:00 pm and sleep through the night.
I have cut back on the amount of
exercise I do and I think this has brought
back my energy level at night
Tendons in the back of my ankle, arch and
neck seem to be tight.
This has been going on for a couple of
years. Sometimes when I wake up
in the morning I can barely walk and hobble
around until things loosen
up. This is probably from playing
too much basketball and not
Get nervous in simple situations that I
normally would not.
When talking in front of a group or working
with someone else on I get
nervous where in the past this would be
no big deal. This is especially
true if I am doing something where someone
was looking over my
shoulder. When driving and something
happens that startles me I will
get a nervous rush of adrenaline.
This would not have happened in the
Missing meal and my eating habits
greatly effect how I feel.
I took my list into my doctor and we had
a great discussion. He said we
needed to do a complete physical and blood
tests to rule other things
out, but he thought that it was still related
to my manic depression.
I was skeptical that all the physical things
I had on my list could be
attributed to the chemicals in my head.
The tests and physical did not
turn any up any other problems.
My doctor and I started talking about how
to treat the manic
depression. I explain to him that
I had stopped taking the lithium a
few years before because it made me feel
lethargic and slow. We
discussed the fact that they were starting
to use new atypical
antipsychotics along with antidepressants
to treat manic depression. I
was willing to try the combination of the
antidepressant Prozac and
the atypical Zyprexa. It just so
happened that I work for Eli Lilly and
Company who makes both Prozac and Zyprexa
so I got them at no charge.
Within three days of taking this combination
I could tell something was
going on. It was as if a cloud had
been lifted from me. However I was
not thrown into a manic episode as I had
been a few years before when I
started taking Prozac by itself.
Over the next few weeks I can remember
thinking that this must be what it feels
like to be normal. The
physical conditions I had listed out for
my doctor seem to have been
cured or at a least minimized.
Even with the list of physical problems
I had generated I did not realize how bad
I was feeling and how much of
life I was missing until the medication
started making me feel better.
My doctor and I had several follow up sessions
to see how things were
going and if we needed to adjust the medication.
It still surprises me
that drugs for treating the chemical balances
in your brain can have
such an effect on your physical health.
During our conversations
(sometimes almost an hour) my doctor would
tell me stories about some of
his patients over the years that he had
treated for mental illness.
Through these stories I started to realize
why the connection between
the physical and mental health were no
surprise to him. In his years of
family practice many times drugs for mental
illness had major impact on
a patients physical and mental health.
As I finish up this section of my web it
has been a couple of months
since I have been taking my new medication
combination and things are
still going great. A couple
of times I could tell I was going through
a cycle but it has not been impairing.
All the physical problems that
I had listed out for my doctor have not
returned or at least to no
One thing I have learned through all this
is to work with my doctor and
to not give up because a certain treatment
may not be working as I
expect. One of the problems that
those of us with manic depression have
is thinking that we know it all.
By working with my doctor I have
finally got things under control.
I had a hard couple of years not
being treated because I did not think doctors
were smart enough to help
Doctors can be a great resource, don't give
up on them. If you are
manic depressive or think you are, educate
yourself and then work with
your doctor. If you feel your doctor
is not headed down the right path
or you are not making progress then find
a doctor you can work with.
But don't make the mistake I did and think
that you can deal with it on
your own. It may cost you years of
not feeling well as it did with me.
I have one final meeting with my doctor
this next week as he is
retiring at age 74. While his
retirement is a bummer, he has been a
great doctor and deserves it. I have
another doctor in the same network
that is suppose to be a younger version
of him that I am switching to.
I will continue to keep this page
up-to-date with my personal dealings
with manic depression. I have
have included my pages on manic
depression within my family web so that
people can see that you can have
a "normal", productive and happy life while
dealing with mental
illness. Feel free to start at my
home page and look through my entire
Mental illness is just that an illness.
It is an illness that can be
treated. Do not give up and do not
put up with not feeling well.
I would love to hear how others are dealing
with manic depression.
Please email me your story so I can include
it in my web or if you have
your own web send my your URL so I can
add it to my web. I would also
like to encourage clicking on the Home
button below and exploring my
entire web to see that I do have other
things going on in my life than
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