I’m Okay Right Now: Living with Bipolar

I’m okay right now.

A few months ago I was in the throes of a mixed state, and before that I was in a deep depression for about a year and a half. Now I am a fully functional human. I can get up in the morning (most of the time) and juggle school, writing and running a company with my husband. I can cook and clean and be creative. I can ace exams and puzzle out an essay. I am finally a person again. A person who doesn’t sleep all day and stare blankly at Facebook for hours on end. A person who doesn’t run away with crazy ideas that have me falling down a manic rabbit hole for months, sometimes even a year. I don’t see the universe when I close my eyes anymore (which is something that I miss), but I don’t see nothing either (which is progress). My head is on straight and I can look forward with a calm hope that things will work out. That I can follow my actual dreams instead of the wild flights of fancy I am prone to when I get high.

I’m okay right now, but it’s been a long journey to get here and it’s not over yet. When I was depressed I spent a lot of time looking inward, I posted a lot online about how I was feeling and what the experience of struggling with my diagnosis was. But when I got better I just stopped sharing. I guess it’s because I moved from looking inward to looking outward. I was so excited by my recovery to a semi-normal state I didn’t dwell on it, I just wanted to cram all the living in that I could. Now it’s been a couple months and I’m ready to reflect. I also think it’s important to share the story of my recovery and its ups and downs because all too often when people are well they forget to say it.
I am well.

I am okay right now.

And this is how I got here.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis was the first and most important step. After a year long manic/hypomanic episode that saw me going back to school in an attempt to be an astrophysicist (which was more than a little nutty as I barely had a grade eight grasp on math and science, but I was convinced if I could just learn enough I could open up the universe and peek inside), I fell into a deep depression. After a couple months of sleeping and feeling that life was an empty, pointless form of torture I went to the doctor. My first diagnosis was SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), so I bought a SAD lamp and would sit in front of it every morning bathing in the light. Nothing changed, so I went back to my doctor. My second diagnosis was Major Depression, so my doctor put me on some medication that had terrible side effects and I waited for things to change. Nothing did. During that time, when I happened to be awake, I started researching for a book I wanted to write about a girl with bipolar who thought she could become one with the universe. Oddly, it took me a long time to finally clue into the fact that the book I was researching for was about, well, me. After a lot of reading about bipolar I finally clued in. All these case studies I was reading, all these biographies of people who have suffered with bipolar—the raging highs and the aching lows—they were describing my life. They were describing me. It was a huge relief to have that realization and, armed with my new knowledge, I went back to the doctor and requested I be sent to someone who could diagnose me. My doctor sent me to a psychiatrist, but there was a problem. As I sat with the psych and let loose my story, he didn’t know what to do with me. He told me he was too old and too stodgy to really get a handle on me. He basically told me I was a weirdo and he needed a second opinion, so he sent me off to another psychiatrist. The next psych didn’t seem to think I was all that strange, and diagnosed me Bipolar, returning me to the care of the original, old stodgy psych who prescribed me medication that cost $300 a month and made me puke five minutes after taking it, then promptly dumped me from his care. Freshly diagnosed and still unmedicated (and depressed), I was left alone to fend for myself.

Other Avenues

I went back to my doctor to get referred to another psych and he sent me to CAMH. At the same time, at the advice of the stodgy old psych, I called a nearby hospital and asked to be paired with a social worker or psychiatrist. At CAMH, the psych had a single meeting with me and declared me Bipolar I and gave me a prescription for a new medication which would end up making me so anxious that I thought at any moment me and the people I loved the most would die some horrible death. I could barely even ride in a car without a panic attack. In the meantime I was paired with a lovely social worker at my local hospital and signed up to a program at CAMH that teaches bipolar life skills. I also sought out some talk therapy on my own. At one point my social worker asked if I was a little manic, having signed up for every possible therapy, and I couldn’t be sure. All I knew was that I had spent so long suffering that I wanted every opportunity I could get to make it better. The next medication I tried was prescribed by my doctor. One of the most common treatments for bipolar these days. It felt like it might be doing something, but I couldn’t be sure. We fiddled with the dose and the release time (there was a slow release and quick release option) and finally found the right combo. I finally woke up.

Creativity

Throughout this whole period of depression one of the things I feared and lamented the most was the loss of my creativity. I couldn’t hold onto thoughts for extended periods of time, not even long enough to write a short story, never mind a novel, and I was freaking out because I have a book coming out soon and I just kept berating myself for not writing a new one. My mind was blank, empty, and I just kept saying: what if I never write anything again? To try and combat the perceived death of my creativity I tried a bunch of things: I made writing dates with people to write based on prompts, I signed up for a creative writing course, I forced myself to write a poem a day for a month (I ended up writing a series on being bipolar which was actually amazingly cathartic) and I tried reading as much as I possibly could. I was despondent though because in my depressed state I couldn’t write fiction. I was so inward facing I could only write biographical pieces and I had to learn to be okay with that. To know that was where I was with my writing and to be happy that I had something creative in me, even if it wasn’t the thing I thought I ‘should’ have. During that time I learned something about myself: I say ‘should’ a lot. Maybe it comes from my manic periods where I feel I should save the world, I should understand the universe, I should be the best in every way. Or maybe it’s just built into my personality. Either way I came out the other end of my creative deprivation feeling a little more relaxed in the should department. I no longer believe I should do anything. I know now that whatever I have in me, even if it is as short as a haiku or as long as a novel, is meaningful and creative. That creativity can take many forms and they don’t all have to be something I can sell. Sometimes just being creative for creativity’s sake is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Climbing Out

It was a long climb out of the deep crevice I was in. And I am still climbing up this rocky mountain. I’m doing all the things I am supposed to do: taking my medication, exercising regularly, keeping a strict sleep schedule, managing my time, going to therapy, relaxing, following my passions, and I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to do all of that. I am writing fiction again, and non-fiction too, I am going to university (not for astrophysics, but for something I have been interested in deeply my whole life—psych) and I am keeping an eye out so I can catch myself when I start to fall or fly a little too high. My life is more balanced now, less fireworks, more of a slow burn. Sometimes I worry that being healthy is boring. That I’m medicating the universe out from behind my eyelids, that all those ups and downs that made me interesting are being evened out and I will lose something in the process. But then I remember the downs. The real horrible downs, when I was in so deep and covered with so much muck there was no chance I could climb out. Or those manic highs where I was so convinced that magic existed that I joined a cult, put myself in dangerous situations, pursued spur-of-the-moment passions that were ultimately leading nowhere I really wanted to be. There is this mystique around being mentally ill. All those artists who struggled, their tortured lives informing their art and giving it depth. It’s easy to be swept away with the romance of it all. Oh my wild bipolar life! So high! So low! So passionate! But as a tortured artist I can attest to the fact that being tortured is not the way to go. When I’m healthy I work, I’m steady, focussed, capable of balancing art, business, life and school. When I’m sick I’m empty, or so full I can’t even see straight and I produce very little that matters. So I will continue to climb, up, up, up, knowing there is not real top to this mountain and that’s a good thing. Knowing there are rocky cliffs ahead (as I can’t stay on my current medication and have to change come spring), but if I can just hold on to everything I’ve learned maybe, just maybe, when the winds rise and the climb is full of crags, I will remember I have all the rope I need, to make through without plummeting all the way back down.

 

 

Photo by: Heather at funlovephotography.com

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