I can hardly believe it has been ten years since I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in November, 1992. I've been through a lot in those years. I would never have imagined myself where I am right now. The road has certainly not been an easy one.

My experience with this illness has actually lasted longer than ten years...it just took a while to get into treatment and get a diagnosis. I had a lot of problems with depression when I was young, with my first suicidal gesture at age 12. Unfortunately, I had a mother who really didn't want to acknowledge that I had any problems and didn't seek any help for me, so my difficulties went unabated throughout my teen years. I started self-medicating with alcohol, but was able to hold it together very well, so much so that nobody ever knew how much I was drinking. I was a straight A student in high school, a member of the Honor Society, active in sports and drama programs as well as the band. I was accepted to a prestigious university that was wonderfully far from home.

Once college started, I was really in my element. I think that's when I really started to have some full blown manic episodes, but of course I didn't recognize that's what they were. I signed up for 19 hours my first semester and ended up with a 3.8 GPA, despite a lot of drinking, promiscuity, a rape, and not much sleep. I remember one night I had forgotten to save a paper I had been working on to a computer disk, and it was due the next day. I lost the entire paper when the computer froze up. I stayed up all night and wrote the paper from memory and got an A. Yes, I do believe I was a bit manic, but I think it helped me out that time. I don't think I would have made it through freshman year without being manic. I don't even remember being much depressed during my freshman year.

Sophomore year came, I changed my major a couple of times, still taking an insane number of hours every semester and making terrific grades, but things were starting to come up in my head that were not good. I never had much memory of when I was very young. My parents had divorced when I was only three, and my mother remarried when I was six, divorcing again when I was 12. Those years were all basically a big blur to me. Small bits and pieces were there, but that was all. The little bits and pieces weren't exactly happy and carefree, and now memories were surfacing that were even more disturbing. I was starting to remember terrible acts of abuse at the hands of my stepfather and stepbrother, things that no child should ever experience. They were becoming more than memories, they were invading my dreams and starting to interrupt my waking hours as well with flashbacks. I wasn't sure what the hell was going on. I couldn't take this anymore, I didn't know what all of this meant. Was I going crazy? What had I done to deserve what had happened to me? Finally my roommate convinced me to see the campus psychologist. She immediately referred me to a local psychiatrist.

I remember my first session with this psychiatrist. It was over two hours long, and I cried and cried. I didn't know how sad I had become until he started asking me questions. I told him that I had been considering suicide because the stress and self-loathing had become so great. He convinced me to try some anti depressant medication. I started Zoloft, but within two days had deteriorated so much that I was placed in the hospital, where I stayed for almost three months. I was originally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, because I presented with all of the symptoms of depression.  We didn't really discuss my previous manic symptoms, and I didn't know enough to even bring them up. All I knew was that at that time, I was extremely sad, suicidal, and withdrawn. We tried antidepressant after antidepressant, but to no avail, none of them brought me out of my depression. I now know that this is often true of a bipolar depression, it can be very deep and hard to treat. It got to the point where my doctor decided to try ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, or shock treatments). I was only 19 years old at the time, I didn't know any better, so I agreed. I wish now that I had not, I believe it has had a permanent and detrimental effect on my memory, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20.....

During my stay at the hospital I lost 40 pounds because I had refused to eat. I almost broke my hand because I had irresistable urges to hurt myself and would punch concrete walls. I had been strapped down to a gurney and placed in a "rubber room" once after having a psychotic episode. But, they did eventually let me out. I couldn't go back to school, I could barely even think straight. Unfortunately, the reason I seemed to be doing better was that I was getting manic. So, back to the hospital I went, about two weeks after I got out after being there for three long months. The only good thing I can say about that is, they finally realized that I was bipolar and NOT simply unipolar depressed, and they started me on lithium. Well, lithium turned me into an emotionless zombie. I think they just had me on too high of a dose, but I wasn't about to live my life that way, so I stopped taking it. Of course, I went back on a manic high right away.

There I was, no job, not in college, had just gotten out of almost four months in a psych ward, I was living off of my credit cards, so what do I do? I take a nice trip to visit a friend 1500 miles away, of course, and max out both of my credit cards in one weekend. I bought clothes, took people out to dinner that I didn't even know, bought a membership to a health club in a state I didn't live in, bought expensive facial care products that I STILL have in my medicine cabinet (remember this was ten years ago...hmmm, maybe i should throw them away?), and of course the plane tickets. So, when I got home, I had nothing left to live on.

When I got home, I felt the depression kicking in. I saw no prospects ahead of me. I didn't see that I had any usefulness in my life. I didn't want to live. This was my post-manic crash, and I crashed hard. I was at home, and took every single pill I could find in my house. I lay down on my couch and figured I would just fall asleep and die. The only person who had a key to my apartment, my ex-college roommate, was out of state and would not be back for a few days. Well, God had another plan. I don't remember this, because I was already pretty far gone, but she tells me that for some reason she had come back to town early, and she and her boyfriend came by my apartment to visit. When they knocked on the door and got no answer, she used her key to come in and saw me on the couch, with a bunch of empty pill bottles. She called 911 and I was taken to the hospital where I was in a coma for two days.

I do remember waking up, angry that I was still alive. How could I have messed this up? I told the doctors that when I got out, I would just do it again. I pulled out IV tubes and tried to get out of the hospital. My doctor convinced my mother to commit me to the state hospital. That was one of the worst times of my life. Almost like being in prison (not that I've ever been there, but I can only imagine). Every move is coordinated and dictated. I was given all new meds, with all new side effects. I was able to talk my way out of that place after two weeks. Unfortunately, it was only a few weeks after that when I attempted suicide again, taking several handfuls of pills at a park downtown. I got scared and called my doctor, who advised me to call 911. I went into a bank across the street and asked the woman behind the desk to call 911 for me, and that's all I remember. I was again taken to the hospital where I was in ICU for several days, and ended up in the psych ward for a few weeks.

When I got back home, my mother had to support me, which after a few months she refused to do unless I went back to college. I was completely unable to do that. There were several times when I simply felt unable to deal with life and had to spend a few days at the mental health crisis center downtown. I tried to go back to school...my professors had given me incompletes on the courses I had been taking when I went into the hospital the previous semester, but when I sat down with the books, it was like I was on Mars. I had no idea what I was reading. I had to withdraw from college. I felt like a complete loser. I went back to the doctors and they started me on new meds. I was exhausted by fatigue as a side effect of meds. I couldn't hold a job. My mother said she would no longer pay for my apartment since I wasn't in school, and I couldn't pay for it of course, so I found a guy to live with, someone I had met in the first hospital (oops, big mistake). Platonic at first, but how long can that last?

After a while, I did finally get a job and helped pay my part for the apartment. But I started having trouble with my meds, as usual, and depression yet again reared its ugly head. I had only been working at my job for 3 weeks when I had my third serious suicide attempt in a year. I checked myself into a hotel, wrote a letter to my boyfriend saying goodbye, and planned on overdosing and dying. My boyfriend figured out where I was and called my doctor. My boyfriend showed up at my hotel room, but I barricaded myself in the bathroom. My doctor told him to call the police. I would not let anyone into the bathroom, and I took about 90 pills, then flushed the bottles down the toilet so there would be no "evidence". I lied and told them I had taken nothing so they would leave, which they did. I then admitted to my boyfriend what I had done and he took me to the ER where they pumped my stomach. I was able to persuade the ER doctor to let me go home, saying that I was no longer suicidal and that I would not hurt myself. I went back to work the next day. I somehow got myself back together and seemed to do alright for a while, with a few weekend stays in the crisis center. Then, I got pregnant a few months later.

We decided to get married. My pregnancy was the most happy and symptom free time of my life. I think that having another life to care for and a having a purpose to live for seemed to help me a great deal. Even though I was taking Tegretol and an antidepressant (I don’t remember which one) for the first four months of my pregnancy - I didn't know I was pregnant until then - my daughter was born perfectly healthy and with no complications in January 1995. I did suffer from post-partum depression, but it was not too severe. I was able to stay off of medications for a year after giving birth because I was nursing my daughter. It was a relatively happy time. But all good things must come to an end.

Depression started to creep back in again when she was about a year old, and I started feeling the old urges to self-injure again. My doctor wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I decided to try an intensive outpatient program instead. I went through the program for three weeks. It was okay, but what really got me feeling better was finding out that -yes- I was pregnant again. I stopped all medications, much earlier in my pregnancy this time, and had yet another good pregnancy as far as BP goes. A few pregnancy complications, with preterm labor, a week in the hospital and four weeks of bedrest, but she turned out perfectly healthy, being born in December 1996.

I went back to work and started back on medications about six months after my second daughter was born. I did pretty well at work, getting promoted within six months to a supervisory position. But, I started having disagreements with the management, thinking their style was all wrong and that, of course, I could do a much better job than they could. I got very idealistic and quit, taking a job at a different hospital with a big cut in pay, just to assert my "principles". My husband didn't like that very much. With less money and, essentially, giving myself a demotion (I was no longer a supervisor), I started experiencing a lot of stress and self-doubt. And the treatment-resistant nature of my illness started asserting itself, so after only 8 months at my new job, I found myself so depressed that I was yet again wanting to self-injure and even becoming suicidal.

I agreed to check into the hospital. I stayed for two weeks, during which time I underwent yet another medication change. It was during this hospitalization that I met the therapist that I still am in treatment with today, she is absolutely wonderful. After completing my inpatient treatment, I continued in their intensive outpatient program for about three weeks. My employer decided I had missed too much work and "let me go", which is a nice way of saying they fired me. I don't think I would have been able to go back anyway. I stayed at home with my two young children, which was as much stress as I could handle. My marriage was starting to get a little bit shaky, but not too bad at this point. I was very much the obedient wife, as I did not like conflict, I would always basically agree with anything my husband wanted to avoid any arguments - it made me feel too much like when I was a little girl and could not defend myself. All of this instability I had been going through over these past several years meant I still had not even begun to deal with the abuse issues of my childhood, so my husband had a huge edge over me.

I had been at home for about seven months when I again felt a deep depression come over me. I began to drink, self-medicating, trying to help myself to forget the pain that I could not seem to escape. Medications would only work for short periods of time, then we would have to increase dosages until we reached maximums, then we would have to search for something new. It was so frustrating for me, and I would often lose hope of ever feeling better. I was at such a point yet again in April 1999. I went for a therapy session, drunk. I had driven there after drinking four wine coolers. I was feeling completely out of control and suicidal. I went into my therapist's office and started crying, rocking back and forth, and I just couldn't stop. She called the police, who took me to the hospital, where I was admitted and stayed for about a week. They decided to release me even after I had told them that I did not feel comfortable going home yet. I guess my insurance had told them no more days, so they let me go anyway. So the day after they let me go, I got drunk yet again and went to my therapist. This time when she called 911 they sent an ambulance. I had my purse with me, and I ended up taking about 50 pills while sitting on a gurney in the ER. I couldn't take the pain anymore. It seemed as though nobody cared. I mean, I'm overdosing IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM and NOBODY NOTICED!?? I finally told the nurse when I felt my heart beating out of my chest. They pumped my stomach, stabilized me medically and sent me to the psych ward that I had just been released from the day prior. How surprised they were to see me. But at least they listened to me that time. I went through yet another medication change. The nurses suggested that I look for a 30-day dual diagnosis treatment program, which I proceeded to do while I was still in the hospital. The program I really wanted to go to eventually decided they could not take me because my case was too complicated. How about that! I'm too difficult! But they did give me a referral. The only problem was it would not be covered by my insurance. I talked to my grandfather, and he was wonderfully kind and loving enough to pay my way through the program. I entered the program in June of 1999, and it was one of the best things I have ever done. I gained self-confidence, self-awareness, understanding of BP and PTSD, and realized that I could stand up for myself.

Things weren't all roses and light while I was there. My husband took the opportunity while I was out of state to close our joint bank account and reopen it in his name only and to take me off of the health insurance. I think he started to realize, during my phone calls to him from the treatment center, that I wasn't going to be a submissive little wimp any more, and he got nervous and scared. He became more aggressive when I got home, yelling at me more, pushing me around, sabotaging my car so I would be stuck at home (we lived in the country) and telling me I could not have a job, so I could have no money except what he would give me. The months from July to October were absolutely awful. He would give me $50 a week to buy groceries for a family of four. I would have to beg him for money to put gas in my car. I was lucky that I found a county agency where I could see a psychiatrist and get my psychiatric meds for free, or I would have had even more problems.

Things kept escalating between us. He started yelling at me in front of our children. I finally convinced him to let me have a job, but it was a night shift job from 8 pm to 2 am. He was to take care of them while I was at work. One night I returned home, and he was particularly groggy. I couldn't even move him when I tried to crawl into bed. When I tried to wake him to go to work in the morning, he would not get up. I soon realized that something was wrong. I was screaming at him, pouring ice cold water on his face, and he was barely even moving. I called 911 and they took him to the hospital. He later admitted to overdosing on Vicodin, and he said he had also taken some of my medications. He had done this while he was supposed to be caring for our children! What if something had happened while he was drugged up? What if there were a fire? I obviously could not continue working, because I wasn't about to leave the children alone with him anymore. I think that was his intention all along. His actions were all about CONTROLLING the situation. If I thought that was the end of it, I was wrong.

One month later, he almost killed me. I had finally decided to leave him. I wouldn't take his abuse any more. I had talked to the Salvation Army, and they were holding a place in their program for homeless mothers and children for me and my girls. I had talked to the Battered Women's Shelter, and they confirmed my suspicions that a man who has taken financial control, and who has threatened/attempted suicide, and who has started out with pushing and shoving is a very dangerous person and that I needed to get out of there. He must have found out somehow. He had asked to take the girls to Dairy Queen, which I agreed to for fear of tipping him off. I did follow him, and he passed DQ, and kept driving. I followed him for over 30 miles, flashing and honking, but he would not pull over. When I finally got ahead of him and slowed down, he hit my car and ran me off the road. We both were on the shoulder, and I got out of my car to talk to him, to try and get him to give me the kids. He started yelling at me about divorce, and that he'd never let me have the girls. He rolled his window up on my hands, and proceeded to drive down the highway, dragging me along the side of his truck. I came loose and ended up in the middle of the highway, laying across two lanes of traffic. An ambulance just happened to be going by and stopped to help me...the only reason my husband stopped is because he had a blowout on his front tire. He somehow convinced the police to let him go with the children, and he disappeared with them for two weeks. I ended up in the hospital overnight, thankfully with no serious injuries, but I had to walk with a cane for a month. I remember crawling to the bathroom at night because it hurt too much to stand up.

I did get my children back two weeks later, when we had a court hearing. It took almost two years, but I also finally got my final divorce from him in Oct. 2001.

Those two years were not easy. My children and I moved into the homeless shelter and lived there for ten months. I did find a job, and got health insurance of my own. I was in contact with the district attorney's office, attempting to get a protective order against my husband, but that office proceeded to completely bungle that procedure. I ended up not being able to procure the protective order because I was unable to miss any more work to go to court - I did not want to lose my new job.

I kept that job for just over a year, until a wave of manic behavior took over. The stress of being a single mother and having a high-stress job took over me. I was working very hard and was very successful at my job yet again, which is my usual pattern right before a breakdown. I just couldn't hold things together anymore. I went into an intensive outpatient program for three weeks, and went onto short term disability from work. Weeks turned into months as I started rapid cycling from mania to depression and back again. My medications did not seem to be working any more. My doctors finally decided that antidepressants were no longer any good for me and were actually working against me. Stopping the antidepressants seemed to help a small bit, but the cycling was intense and scary. In the past, I had mostly tended towards depression and this cycling up and down with the manic feelings was something I was not used to.

Within the next year, I would get very frustrated with what I felt was incompetence and ineptitude by my doctors. I did not feel that they were listening to me nor were they willing to make medication changes when my current mix of medications did not seem to be stopping my cycling. I had three doctors within that year, until I found my current doctor, who I am finally comfortable with. My cycling really seems to have calmed down as of the last several weeks, May 2002, although I am still dealing with some bothersome side effects, namely weight gain and extreme fatigue. I have not worked since March of 2001 and am on long-term disability from my last employer. I am being told that I have to apply for Social Security Disability in order to continue my private disability, and I am not looking forward to that process.

My criminal case of assault against my husband also moved extremely slowly. It did eventually go to court, almost two and a half years (!) later, where my now ex-husband pled guilty to assault and got probation, and was assigned mandatory family violence classes. I was just glad to have the whole case over at that point, but also glad that he is finally going to go through some kind of counseling. I am very hopeful that he gets something out of those classes. Fortunately, the only time I ever have to see him is when he has visitation with our children, and we exchange our kids at the local police substation.

I can see how bipolar disorder has affected many of the decisions I have made throughout my life, and the paths I have chosen. I certainly do feel that I am a MUCH stronger person at this point in my life than I was in 1992 when I was first diagnosed. Back then, I was really afraid of everything and everyone, I felt very powerless and without hope. Now, while there are still things in my life that are beyond my control, I don't allow that to make me fearful. I feel that I have much more going for me now, and I want to be there for my beautiful children. I want to help other people who are now in the position I was in back then, who feel helpless and hopeless. It's not an easy road, that's for sure, but with support one can get through the rough patches and get their questions answered. I'm sure there will be more difficulties ahead for me, I don't doubt that for a second, but I also feel that I'll be able to get through them with the help of my doctor, my therapist, my friends, and family.

 

 

 

 

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