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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.