I have issued myself a challenge. My brain has been hypomanic today. Lots of swirling thoughts, little plucking one out of the air to follow through. So I am going to attempt to write a coherent, cohesive piece trying to figure my own mental dysfunction out. Deconstruct so that I can make sense and put it back together so maybe it adds up properly.
I can remember from around age 8 (I only remember this because my sister was two at the time and that was the year she tried to ride our geriatric dog and got her face torn open) having anxiety issues. A bug would buzz by my ear, I would become convinced it was inside my head. My parents laughed at me, told me I was ridiculous. Was this the start of the anxiety or did my anxious high strung mother somehow imprint me long before that?
I don’t know.
We moved to a rural area where I was immediately singled out from age 11 for taunting and tormenting. For five years, I was constantly harassed, beat up, spit on. I started getting stress stomach aches that affected my former honor roll grades and attendance.
Did this leave a mark? Yes.
Is it mental illness?
I am more prone to think of it as some sort of post traumatic stress thing. It was groups of people who terrorized me so I became agoraphobic and scared of crowds and wide open spaces.
But that generalized anxiety was always there, and the panic attacks set in around age 13.
At age 17, I decided it was my geographical location that was making me so anxious and sad. I had a part time job, found my own place and moved out.
It wasn’t two months before my stability crumbled in spite of my determination.
Then came the spring thaw, or as its known for me, seasonal change bringing on mania. I changed to a job I knew moved too fast for me to handle, changed to an apartment I knew I couldn’t afford, started seeing a guy I wasn’t even interested in, went on shopping sprees…Hello, manic episode.
By September, I’d taken two leaves from my job after a demotion because my depression and anxiety had skyrocketed. They basically told me I could quit or be fired. So I quit. And fell into the seasonal depression.
To the point the boyfriend ditched me because I was no longer happy funny ball manic me.
What followed was periods of functionality, mania,and long periods of depression. I would have screaming fits, throw things, crawl into the bath tub or a closet and sob for hours. I’d stop bathing, stop getting dressed.
After months of this, over and over again, I realized by age 20 something was wrong.
The mental health center pushes you to see the doctor and get medicated.
I tried that when I was missing so much work and all it had done was over sedate me.
So I went in thinking, “This is just my personality, I come from a dysfunctional home, that’s all it is, I can fix myself.”
A year later, after a manic cycle followed by a months long depression in which my mom was doing my laundry for me because I couldn’t keep up with basic functions or hygiene…I broke down and agreed to the medication regime.
Winters were rough, but less so.
Spring and summers, on an anti depressant,I was manic and having a blast. Because I was diagnosed as “dysthymic” and antidepressants can spark manic episodes in bipolar.
So it went, year after year, until 2002. Over 11 jobs, 7 addresses, a mentally nomadic existence…
Once my disability was granted, I became more stable as far as residence. The highs and lows continued because I was still under the “dysthymic” diagnosis. When they started giving me Seroquel, I decompensating drastically. The next doctor took me off Xanax and gave me Seroquel for anxiety.
I became a recluse shut in for over a year.
That was when I hit the wall.
But I was so non functional, I had to beg my sister to call around and see if she could find a psych doc who’d take my insurance.
It was the best move ever made. Dr. M was amazing. She immediately diagnosed bipolar, put me on mood stabilizers, gave me a dose of Xanax that could manage the anxiety, and she was willing to run behind on her other appointments when I was having a rough time and needed more attention from her.
If I had side effects or felt the seasonal was crippling me, she would listen and make med adjustments. I had trouble sleeping and told her I didn’t want to be drugged off my gourd, she found something that would work but not render me useless.
I told her I was having horrible luck with concentration and focus and following through…She prescribed Foculin.
Of course, she gave me samples, and within three months, I had finished three novels I’d been working on for years. I felt like a honed blade, so sharp, so capable.
The instant I couldn’t get samples or afford the Focalin it all went away.
It never made me hyper, never kept me awake, never heightened my anxiety…It just fixed the problem.
Then she left. And I found myself pregnant (if they tell you that you can’t have children, sometimes…they are wrong) and I couldn’t take meds. That began a long chapter of hormones gone wild and mental illness run amok. There were times I wanted to cut the baby out of my own belly so I could have my mind back and give it the medications that made it better.
She wasn’t a full day old when they dispatched a psych doctor to talk with me. He had some very narrow minded ideas about treatment and I told him I didn’t think his approach was right for me, I’d decline his services.
The next day, he called and said he’d reconsidered since I felt so strongly about it.
So I started seeing him. Much as he was arrogant and cocky (diet, exercise, light therapy, all meds are exactly the same) he was the first one who hit on me having bipolar two (More depressions than manic episodes) but cyclothic mood shifts during other periods that rendered me rather unreliable.
I deferred to him and took Zoloft for eight months.
Instead of getting better, I got worse. He wouldn’t even increase the dosage.
I told him I wanted off it, try Prozac or something. He refused.
We parted ways.
The next doctor was my general practitioner and I basically told him what had worked best and he was fine prescribing them. I got better. Not great, but…better.
He left his private practice to become an ER doctor.
This was followed by a period of no meds because I was so messed up, I feared phones and couldn’t even make a call. I was pretty much convinced my own family was out to get me so I couldn’t even ask them for help.
But I hit the wall and found Dr. D.
I saw her almost 2 years. She was willing to work with me, but I got the feeling at times she got frustrated with my “I’m doing Ok” then a couple of months later, “Explain to me why I can’t just cease to exist.”
She decided to rotate out.
So came Dr. V.
And she was so upbeat and positive and she too was willing to work with me, except on the attention deficit thing.
“You just have to keep trying until you find the right combination.”
I liked her.
What I didn’t like was how she would say it made her day when I was doing well. Like if I didn’t maintain, I was letting her down and making her sad.
I would have stayed with her but she left for some sort of months long sabbatical right as summer ended and the seasonal began for me.
I was left to see Dr. S as emergent care.
He was unwilling(and still is) to address the lack of focus as anything more than anxiety. I disagree, only because it was once treated with great success. Insurance won’t pay for Foculin which would be a hardship on me and yet one I’d be willing to face if it meant such drastic improvement in one aspect of my condition.
I would have gone back to Dr. V once she returned except she had weeks of waiting list and I needed help NOW.
So Dr. S it is.
Much as one can open up to a doctor on a tv screen for the allotted five minutes.
That is my history.
And I have often wondered, when the doctors of the last 9 years have gotten irked with the way meds quit on me, if all the years of being misdiagnosed and given the wrong medications (12 anti depressants, if memory serves) has resulted in them having limited success. The condition where meds stop working is called tachyphylaxis and from what I have read, it is rare but it does happen.
In my history, the only anti depressants that work (after quitting for awhile) are prozac, effexor, and cymbalta. The three nightmare withdrawal meds, worse than quitting benzos cold turkey. Tapering off doesn’t even help with those three.
I’ve seen a counselor, off and on, since age 13. I have learned valuable coping skills, received validation, and also realized…Sometimes being told by multiple people what your problems are just makes you more confused because it’s all subjective and open to interpretation.
I take great pride in how much progress I have made from the psychological aspect, as far as coping skills, stress management, and working on my problem areas.
But much as the ten minute med check regime wants to defer every other aspect to counseling…Counseling does not solve the chemical imbalances that wreaks all of the havoc on stability.
Counselors have the “treatment” plan. They identify the problem areas, and they work on one at a time. Psych docs,while most are conservative enough to work on one med at a time, don’t spend much time before determining one condition is under control, let’s treat the next. And by then, what was working on one aspect has stopped working.
Counselors will get frustrated at times, but they will keep working with you until you’ve made progress.
That’s all I want from a doctor.
It’s like hoping to find a unicorn.
I know I am a mess.
But I never asked for any of this.I wonder many times had my parents saw the signs at an early age rather than dismissing it as “teenage moodiness” if my life would have been different. It has been very different since mood stabilizers were introduced. Rather than falling down a flight of stairs, it’s more like missing three or four steps.
Not optimal but improved.
Now if only the doctor would figure out how to treat the chronic depressions that seem to sync with the seasons…
I might be golden.
Which is kind of what I think every time I have a weeks long period of stability. “Oh, wow, it’s finally over, I am cured and ready to be a productive member of society.”
And then I am down the rabbit hole.
I think being asked to vacate volunteer positions due to your instability…
Says more than my words ever could.
I refuse to think I am without value.
But unless anyone knows a job that allows you to work only when you are stable (usually two to five months) for me, allowing for anxiety attacks and stomach issues and frequent loss of focus and inevitable mistakes….
I don’t know what else I can do except keep trying.
Though with my issues…I think finding a doctor and counselor who’d stick around more than two years for a total of fifty minutes a month treatment…That would be a really good start.