I’ve talked a lot about being bipolar, but I haven’t said much about when I was diagnosed and what happened to lead up to it. So let me share my story with you. It’s unique to me and though it may hold similar aspects to others you’ve experienced/heard, everything here is seen through my perspective and my experiences.
As a child, I was very moody. It didn’t help I grew up with an undiagnosed/untreated bipolar mother who swung between perfectly wonderful to batshit crazy and abusive. There were certain things that would trigger her temper, but for the most part you never knew when she was going to make the shifts. It was a hard environment to grow up in, and was made even more difficult by a father who wasn’t really “there” even when he was home. He was something of a workaholic so every time overtime came up or a teaching trip was scheduled, he was gone.
My mood swings came in bouts of hiding from everyone, being irritable and occasionally violent (mostly towards my poor younger sister), and being so wired that I wouldn’t sleep for days. They got worse as I hit my teen years. Then, when I was sixteen, my parents found a note I’d written in a fit of depression that shared my thoughts on possibly committing suicide. I lied to them about it being an assignment for seminary (I grew up LDS), but I know they didn’t buy it. This was the first time I saw my mom take my mental health seriously.
She went through the church and took me to a counselor. He was kind of worthless because I couldn’t see him without my mom being present, but he did refer me to the first psychiatrist that diagnosed me with Bipolar II disorder. He put me on Depakote and told my mom to make sure I took it.
I tried to rebel. I was a teenager. It’s what you did. But I was so scared of my mom that I ended up taking my meds mostly on schedule. There were times when she’d leave me alone that I’d flush my pill down the toilet rather than swallow it. I thought I was fine, that I didn’t need the help of the medicine. I was very wrong.
When I was seventeen, I’d had enough. I took a whole bunch of Advil and chased it down with half a bottle of Nyquil. My dad found me passed out in the bathroom in a pool of vomit. I don’t remember much of what happened after that, and my dad swears it didn’t happen. But what I do remember was waking up and being told I had a bad case of the stomach flu. Maybe I did only have a bad case of the stomach flu and the Advil/Nyquil scenario was something that I dreamed up in fevered delusion. But I don’t think so. I truly believe I tried to kill myself.
I have a feeling my mother suspected something like that was happening because she took me back to the psychiatrist and told him the Depakote wasn’t working. He added Lithium to my drug regimen and told my mom I needed regular blood tests to make sure the Lithium wasn’t killing me. So we stopped by the pharmacy, picked up my prescriptions, and I went back home.
I despised the Lithium. I felt like a zombie. Things I used to get pleasure out of, like reading and writing, held nothing for me. My friends complained that I wasn’t any fun anymore. My teachers were worried about me. But my psychiatrist insisted it was the only way for me to stay sane and my mom enforced it. So I continued taking the drugs that were slowly ruining my life almost as much as the untreated Bipolar did.
My mom didn’t like how I was acting and took me back to the psychiatrist. He told her it was a side effect of my disease and INCREASED my Lithium again. By this time I was taking more than the standard therapeutic dosage. My blood tests started being every week instead of every month. The phlebotomists at the hospital grew very familiar with my face.
I pretty much was forced to continue taking Depakote and Lithium until I was twenty one. That’s when I moved away from my parents and started living with roommates. At that point I didn’t have health insurance or a lot of money, so I stopped going to the psychiatrist. I cut down on the meds I was taking to make them last longer. I started feeling human again. I cut them down even more. The mood swings returned but at least I could feel again.
I was dating someone at the time and it seemed like it was very serious. At least it was to me. She didn’t see it that way and eventually we broke up. I found out later she ended up sleeping with my now ex-brother-in-law and two of my older sister’s friends as well as several men from her workplace. Once I got over feeling betrayed, I felt a great sense of relief that I was well away from her.
But at that point my moods were all over the place again and I needed a change of scenery. So, at the age of 22, I went to Job Corps. I still had some of my Lithium left. I’d started seeing the psychiatrist again and he insisted the Lithium was the only thing that could “save” me. Once I was at Job Corps, I stopped taking all meds.
Some very good things happened at Job Corps. I made new friends. I met my husband. I learned a lot. But underneath everything was the roller coaster of moods that was slowly killing me again. It was another eight years before I started doing something for my mental health.
At one point in my life, I was a mother. I had four children in five years – two girls and two boys, in that order. I loved my children deeply, but I wasn’t a good mother. My mood swings were so out of control that at one moment I was happy and taking them to the park and the next I was screaming at them and closing them in their rooms because I couldn’t deal with them. I couldn’t even take care of myself all that well, let alone four little kids. My husband wasn’t much help at that time. He disappeared into his computer and didn’t offer much in the way of assistance – either with the kids or with the cleaning. It got to the point where our apartment looked like a garbage dump. The police were called and our kids were taken away.
We fought to get them back and won. However, only a few months later we lost them again because I was still untreated and we stopped taking care of the house. This time our loss was permanent. We signed away our parental rights in 2010 and our kids were put up for adoption. Shortly after we signed away our rights, I got a job at a company with killer medical benefits. So, at the urging of my husband, I got back into a psychiatrist.
He confirmed my Bipolar II diagnosis and started me on meds. I started to feel human again. Then the guilt settled in. Why hadn’t I done this before? I’d have been so much better as a mom if I had. I’d have been able to take care of the house, the kids, my job, and my husband. A counselor helped me understand that even if I’d been stable I’d have still been overwhelmed because the biggest thing we lacked – other than me being treated – was a viable support network. We had none.
I still struggled with taking my meds, sometimes turning to alcohol over the pills I was prescribed. But I got better. I became stable again. With the new drugs on the market, I was quickly pulled off anything that made me feel like a zombie and put on something else.
Now, once again, I’m suffering because of a lack of mental health care. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I have hope again that I’ll feel stable one day soon.