MY BIPOLAR EXPERIENCE

 

The Early Years

I was born and raised in a small northern Ontario town dependant mainly on steel and papermaking industries. I have a sister two years older and a brother 9 years younger than me. My memory of my early childhood is that it was pretty normal. My dad worked steadily and provided well for his family and my mom liked to cook and bake and do all the "motherly" things. I'm not sure when it was exactly that I became aware that something was "not quite right with my mom".

As I got into my pre teens and teens I observed that she was sick or "not feeling well" much of the time. She spent an inordinate amount of time in her bedroom, often not coming out to cook or eat or socialize. Then she had an episode of depression that required hospitalization. The diagnosis was Manic Depressive Illness and that time there was virtually no effective treatment available. She was given major tranquilizers and the early versions of the antidepressant drugs. It was at this time I learned that she had had a severe post partum depression at the age of 30 following my birth and that I had been raised by my grandmother for the first six months of my life while mom was in hospital in a city 500 miles away having electroshock treatments.

I enjoyed school, excelled academically and participated in many extra-cirricular activities, along with the many household chores we each had to share.

Marriage and Family

At age 18 I married Ed, and a year later on our first wedding anniversary Eddy was born. Three and a half years later Chris was born just 5 days after we moved into our new home.

Those were busy years...raising two small boys, caring for a house and always working at a part time job somewhere. Anything that needed to be done presented a challenge...and I was always up to it. "Get Colleen to do it...she's strong...she can handle it" was a familiar refrain...and I could ...and I did!

In 1978 Ed had to leave his job due to a back disorder, so long before it became fashionable, he became a "house-husband" and I went to work full time. I enjoyed my job as an office manger/bookkeeper and enjoyed being with adults on a regular basis for the first time in my married life.

The First Episode...and the Second

The Summer and early Autumn of 1979 were busy and I was constantly on the go! The partners I worked for were dividing their partnership and both were building new buildings. There was plenty of extra work for me.

During that Summer I found out I had discoid lupus and would have to avoid the sun as much as possible. My mind raced constantly with the things I had to do and my body raced to keep up. I nearly quit sleeping...didn't have time for that...and lots of nights found me cleaning cupboards in the middle of the night and still going to work in the morning.

Then my whole world changed...I became depressed and it gradually worsened. Now I wanted to sleep all the time, had completely lost my appetite for food and became very withdrawn and uncommunicative. I dragged myself through the days...still going to work...staring unseeingly at the work in front of me and accomplishing little. I began to cry...all the time, and I had no control over it.

By the time I saw a psychiatrist at the end of November I was in a state of severe depression...nearly totally paralyzed with numbness, severely suicidal and close to being catatonic. I was hospitalized immediately.

The diagnosis was severe endogenous depression and I was treated with a combination of antidepressant medication, anti-psychotics and tranquilizers. My weight, always a problem for me, being genetically predisposed to obesity, began to climb. Every medication I was taking listed weight gain as a side effect!

I was in hospital 8 weeks...so ill that I never gave a thought to Christmas or to how my children would cope with it without their mom. Three weeks after I was discharged I went back to work against the doctors advice...but I did okay. For the next year I continued with the medication...saw the psychiatrist once a month and a psychologist every two weeks.

Through the Summer I felt wonderful...back to my old hypomanic self...but by Fall I was a basket case again and was admitted to hospital in November for what would be my second Christmas there. This time there was a difference. The doctor started me on lithium along with the other medications I was taking and within a couple of weeks there was a dramatic change. The diagnosis: Manic Depressive Illness or Bipolar Affective Disorder.

Bipolar "Honeymoon"

For the next eight years my mood swings stabilized. I continued to take lithium and antidepressant medications, saw the psychiatrist monthly and the psychologist for three years. Oh, I still had mood swings, but within an "almost normal" range and was able to continue to work, play and enjoy my family.

During these years my weight continued its slow climb and I started many diets and abandoned them. I went to Weight Watchers and lost 42 pounds....and gained back 54! It seemed there was nothing I could do to get on track.

I became an active member of the new Bipolar Support Group that started here. One of my duties was to write and edit what would become a very popular bi monthly newsletter. I also began to do crochet designs and submit them to various publications for approval. This led to a wonderfully creative part time career with over 200 designs published to date.

By 1990 though things had begun to unravel. I was in trouble again.

Out of Control

For the next five years the illness was totally out of control...I was on the roller coaster from hell.

I began to rapid cycle...going quicky from hypomania to severe depression. I lost interest in living. The psychic pain was so intense that my mind screamed for release. I attempted suicide...twice...with drugs...and was sent to a hospital 400 miles away for electroshock therapy. I stayed there for eight weeks...and returned home, still suicidal.

Two months later I took a major overdose and very nearly succeeded in killing myself. I still remember clearly my anger and despair when I realized I was still alive. Spent two weeks in intensive care...then on to the psych unit.. After a month there I experienced severe breathing problems and it was discovered I had an aspiration pneumonia and I was back for surgery and intensive care again. When that cleared up I went back to the psych unit - a total of three months in the hospital.

I did not do well over the next couple of years. My will to live was gone and I was marking time. I swore to myself that never again would there be a suicide attempt...that the next time I would be sure of its success.

During this time I lost a close bipolar friend to suicide. I found his body...and it has taken years for me to come to terms with that loss.

A Ray of Hope

In the Fall of 1995, suicidally depressed, I was transferred by air ambulance to the provincial psychiatric hospital located 250 miles from home. The recommendation was for electroshock therapy again. Having had one very bad experience with electroshock I was not looking forward to it.

Prior to the scheduled electroshock I was given a routine physical exam. I failed miserably...I had gained over 80 pounds in the years I had taken psychiatric medications, my blood pressure was sky high, I had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, my hips and knees bothered me constantly from the weight they had to support, and I was profoundly depressed.

The treatments were postponed. I went through a whole battery of tests, one of which was an overnight oximetry test...a test to evaluate the amount of oxygen in the blood stream. This test showed that I was very deficient in oxygen and an arerial blood gases test confirmed it. I was given supplemental oxygen at night and the causes were investigated. I was sent to a sleep lab in a different city for two nights for sleep studies but no sleep apnea was found. The conclusion was that my lungs were the cause.

After I was on the oxygen a while I began to feel better. This doctor, who was absolutely wonderful with me, encouraged me to make changes that would improve my life. Almost without trying I began to lose weight. I was taking one of the newer SSRI antidepressants now and weight gain was not a side effect. I also was taking thyroid for a sluggish thyroid gland. I never "went on a diet" but tried to eat healthy, avoid fat as much as possible and avoid junk foods.

He also encouraged me to walk...well, actually went beyond the point of encouraged...he had the recreational therapist take me outside to walk every day. At first I was breathless after a few yards but gradually was able to walk farther.

I had steroid injections in my hip to relieve the pain and make walking easier.

He spent hours talking to me and encouraging me...teaching me relaxation techniques...and trying to teach me to express anger effectively.

Eventually the depression began to live and the suicidal thoughts abated some. The day before Thanksgiving, without ever having the shock treatments, I was discharged to come home.

Over the next year and a half I continued to watch my diet...still not obsessively...I always had plenty to eat...and I continued to walk, building up to about 3 1/2 miles five days a week. The weight continued to come off until I had lost 130 pounds and for the first time in my life felt really good. The oxygen was discontinued after a year...my blood pressure was normal without benefit of the three drugs I had been taking to control it and my mood was relatively stable. Thoughts of suicide were still ever-present but I was coping with them.

I continue to be aware of my weight, watch my diet and exercise as much as I can. During the Winter I regained 16 pounds and am working at losing them now. Not only is it more difficult to walk during the Winter but a bipolar hospitalization in January of this year set me back a long way.

Recently it was discoved that I am again in need of supplemental oxygen...and that it will be a lifetime requirement.

Despite the psychiatric drugs I have learned that it is possible to control weight gain. I have used all of the suggestions in this site and they worked for me!

This has been an overview of my bipolar experience...there have been other episodes and other hospitalizations and details too many to mention. If I have encouraged one person to take control of their weight gain and feel better...the work I have done here is worth while.

by Colleen

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Added May 31, 1999

Unfortunately, the story goes on.  During the late Fall and early Winter months of 1997-1998 I found myself once again in trouble.  I had developed severe edema or "waterlogged tissues" and my medical doctor had prescribed lasix, a powerful diuretic to control it.

Diuretics and Lithium are a poor combination, causing lithium toxicity and my psychiatrist responded by stopping the lithium and increasing depakene.  It wasn't very long before symptoms began to develop and one of the worst episodes of rapid cycling I had ever experienced resulted.

Auditory hallucinations were a feature of this episode that I had not experienced before and along with the serious elation and tears of depression I was a wreck!

At the beginning of my eight week hospital stay for this episode the woman in the next bed suicided...OD'd right there beside me in the middle of the night ....definitely not conducive to recovery.

I have returned again to stability, once again take lithium, and after regaining 40 of the pounds I lost, I am re-battling the weight issue.


 

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