I’ve written about my depression a lot. People have told me they think it’s brave, or somehow remarkable that I lay this stuff out for people to see, but the thing is, I can’t *talk* about things like this; I can only write. I’ve never been able to communicate well verbally when the subject is really emotional. I was a great letter writer back in the day.
People say I’m hard to know, because in person I’m a closed book but online I’ll talk about pretty much anything so I’m a bit of a study in contrasts. That’s because online you can’t see my face, of course – the same reason people feel like they can troll message boards and be cruel to strangers online. The internet is a two-edged sword, and it’s been a godsend for me as well as a challenge.
I’m writing this because over the past few months my depression has gotten so, so much worse that either something significant had to change or I was going to end up hospitalized. I couldn’t articulate *what* was wrong, only that I was running out of strength to fight it. I felt like if the best I could do was a few good days every few weeks, it couldn’t possibly be worth it – because even the good days were tainted with the knowledge that they would end in a sudden freefall.
It just so happened that I came up for air in time for my six-month antidepressant follow up with my GP. She moved out of state a few months back so I had to see a new guy, a slightly squirrelly doctor who was in a hurry. Our appointment went something like this:
SquirrellyDOC: So, what did Dr. X have you on? Prozac?
SYLVAN: 60mg isn’t cutting it anymore. Is there another level up or do I have to change drugs again?
SqDOC: *blink* Wait…tell me everything you’ve been on.
SYLVAN: *counting on fingers, goes to both hands*
SqDOC: Have you ever had a psych assessment?
SqDOC: Okay, GET ONE RIGHT NOW.
By the time I got to my appointment with the Crazy Whisperer, who was recommended by a dear friend of mine, I already knew what he was going to tell me – what I’d been suspecting but afraid to honestly face for months. I *knew* depression wasn’t the whole story. I knew there was something wrong with the way my meds kept having to change in these endless cycles. I had been keeping track of my mood level in my To-Do List Book for over a year, and it looked like a sine wave on meth.
All those years that I kept getting reasonably okay only to fall back down again, all those times I kept trying to do better for myself only to crash so hard I couldn’t get out of bed, let alone keep up an exercise plan, all those self-help books that taught me so much but couldn’t break through my depression…well, it turns out we were only treating half the problem.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder phase II – hypomania with depression. Most people think “manic/depressive” when they hear Bipolar, but there’s actually a fairly broad spectrum of symptoms ranging from uncomfortable to freaking scary.
People you see on TV labeled Bipolar tend to be really extreme examples of BP I – in which the manic phases are very pronounced and tend to be aggressive, hyperactive, and sometimes even dangerous (mostly from the person going off his or her meds because she likes being manic). BP II is harder to spot, because in the “manic” phase it appears the person is just more like themselves, trying to make up for lost time, optimistic and bouncy and busy. The person with this type might not realize there’s anything hinky about the hypomania because it seems like it’s “right,” without realizing the hypomania itself isn’t the problem so much as the violent cycling into and out of depression.
Losing my job last year destroyed all my structure, and for a while it was fun, but soon things started to slide–and even I, who am self-analyzing to the point of madness, didn’t realize what was happening. My social circle shrank. I pulled away from my family. I acted out in alarming ways and hurt people I would never, ever hurt consciously. My depressive periods grew darker and I began to rapid cycle.
Worst of all, I was on the verge of giving up. You can only fight for so long when you believe the battle is already lost. I knew where I was headed: the psych ward. I vowed long ago never to kill myself, but that doesn’t leave me with a lot of options down at the bottom of the pit.
A few months ago I did what I often do and started reading more on the subject, specifically Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book Spontaneous Happiness that discusses a more holistic approach to mental health, and I started taking a DHA supplement and looking into other alternatives. I think I was getting ready to take a bigger step, one I had been so afraid to…until that GP told me I had to go see a Crazy Whisperer and get a real diagnosis. I knew he was right. I had officially reached the end of my emotional pain tolerance.
In case you don’t know me: my tolerance for pain is pretty fucking high.
I was, therefore, relieved almost to the point of heady joy when I left the psych office with a real, professional, accurate diagnosis for my mental illness: Bipolar II.
Which means I’ve been living with a misdiagnosis for over 13 years.
It turns out that this happens a lot – if you think health care in America is bad, wait until you have to deal with mental health care. It’s poorly understood by many “regular” doctors, and considered quackery to others – STILL! – and not understood by the general public at all. “Normal” people can’t understand what it really means to have depression – so just imagine how mysterious and, well, crazy anything less common would be.
My new Crazy Whisperer is a hilarious, bright, enthusiastic man who engaged me in conversation that felt natural and even when the tone was Serious Indeed never once let me feel like I was some kind of lunatic. We talked about my religious history and my vegetarianism and my love for dancing (not only had he heard of Nia, he thinks it’s awesome), and together we arrived at a medical Plan to start with.
He put a big emphasis on regular exercise, establishing routines of rising and sleeping, steering my diet back away from simple carbohydrates (junk food) to more nourishing things that are anti-inflammatory (plant food). He seemed impressed with how much I knew about the subject. I was all, “Dude, I’m a wannabe vegan. I’m up to here with nutritional research.”
This is where my obsessive love of self-help books is going to pay off – I already have a solid base of self-examination and analysis to start from, so I have not been blindsided by a crisis like many people are. I am a student of my own weirdness, and that’s going to make a huge difference.
Just having the right diagnosis has already made me feel so much better. Bipolar is not curable, but there’s so much I can do to help myself manage it, to learn to navigate the waves – now that I know what I’m really dealing with, I feel more optimistic than I have in a long, long time.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be implementing some changes in my life to try and stabilize my mess, so I’ll probably talk about this again, but just as talking about depression gave me hope that my experiences might resonate with someone and make them feel less alone, so too do I hope my words on Bipolar will help someone. I could keep all of this private, sure – but who would that help? I’ve always believed part of my sacred duty as a writer was to share stories and experiences – whether my own or those of fictional characters – that could reach out to people.
But it’s absolutely not a coincidence that this is happening now – it was right there in my 2012 tarot reading, it’s been popping up in my meditations, that sense of import, of a tidal wave building – and I could keep flailing around exhausting myself and eventually drown, or I could relax and float and see where it took me. Remember my word of the year? TRUST.
I hope you’ll continue to journey with me as I make all these amazing new discoveries. I hope that others reading this will be able to better understand those they love who have these illnesses, or recognize them in themselves. You are not alone. You are not helpless. We are capable of such amazing things when we act from love and hope.
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