Legend has it, Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write his autobiography in only six words. Without hesitating, he scribbled these words onto a bar napkin:
“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
I am not nearly as clever as Hemingway, but I suppose mine would look like this:
“Bipolar? So that explains my twenties.”
Finally, a light bulb has gone off. After 20 years of not feeling entirely in control of my feelings–or at times, even my life–I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar II disorder, to be exact, but we’ll dive into those details, later.
Bipolar! That makes so much sense!
For the past two decades, I’ve been in talk therapy (mostly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and treated with most of the SSRIs, the tricyclics and the atypical antidepressants. My official diagnoses:
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I once asked my therapist, “Why so many labels? Can’t you just say, not as fucked up as she could be?”
She told me it’s difficult to bill for that.
Bipolar disorder explains a lot about my tumultuous twenties; the promiscuity (sorry mom), the drug and alcohol use (sorry, again), the general reckless and self-destructive behavior I just chalked up to youthful misadventures. EXAMPLE: Spontaneous, mid-week trip to Las Vegas. Sounds fun, right? How about twelve hours of boozing + ecstasy + making out with a complete stranger while walking down the Strip and then shattering an ankle and needing emergency orthopedic surgery? Still sound fun?
Bipolar disorder also explains a lot about the financial crisis I found myself in, in my thirties. I indulged in excessive spending I rationalized as normal, healthy “retail therapy,” and showered my friends and boyfriends with extravagant gifts. Sometimes I just gave my money away. I racked up huge credit card debt (which I largely ignored when I was in what I can now identify as a “mood episode”), didn’t file my taxes, and generally became everything Suze Orman warned you about.
I’ve spent the last 20 years vacillating between feeling “normal” (whatever that is) and/or hypomanic, to falling into debilitating depressions. I’ve thought about killing myself, and even attempted it once. I’ve flown into rages over the slightest infraction. Yet, for 20 years, I remained misdiagnosed.
I have since learned that these are classic symptoms of bipolar disorder. Finally, about a year ago, my therapist put down her pen, peered over her glasses and announced, “I think you’re bipolar. You need to see a psychiatrist and get on a mood stabilizer.”
Eh. I didn’t want to hear it.
It took me fourteen months to get my ass in to see the shrink who would officially diagnose me.
Why did it take me so long?
Well, part of it is that the Lexapro I was taking, was still managing my depression. And up until my diagnosis, I had never heard the term “hypomanic” (I liked to think I was just being “super productive” and “super fun” and “super optimistic” at times).
And a big part of it is that, quite frankly, I didn’t want to be labeled The Crazy Bitch. Who does? Depression has become more socially acceptable; it’s like the lipstick lesbian of the mental illnesses. Am I right? But bipolar disorder? Cuh-razy.
Okay, so why now?
Two reasons. One: I am lucky enough to have a great job as a director at a national nonprofit that raises money for cancer research. I get to be creative, and help people, and I have a wonderfully supportive boss and team. Two: I am in a loving, stable relationship with the man of my dreams. We live together. He proposed. I said yes. We’re getting married next summer. Yay!
So, why now? Because I really don’t want to do anything to fuck either of those things up. And I know from experience that I am fully capable of doing so.
I experienced a hypomanic state right after Michael proposed, and I really freaked him out. I went a little overboard with the wedding planning. Like, planned the whole thing in like four days (including handpicking enough songs for an eight-hour reception, and buying a dress) kind of overboard. I thought I was just being productive. Heh. The hypomania hung around for about a month and a half, then the Impending Doom Syndrome started (the DSM-IV calls this a mixed state), and then finally, the depression.
I figured it was finally time to take my therapist’s advice.
So, after an appointment with a psychiatrist who bears a striking resemblance to the Travelocity Gnome, has an office full of phallic art, and charges $400 an hour, I was officially given this diagnosis:
- Bipolar II disorder, rapid cycling, with mixed states
That was six weeks ago, and thanks to the new meds, I am in a much, much better place. Dr. Travelocity Gnome put me on a new atypical antidepressant called Pristiq (which, to me, sounds more like a very gay super villain than a powerful psychoactive drug), Lamictal (which is an anticonvulsant used in bipolar patients as a mood stabilizer), and Klonopin (to help me sleep and maybe ward off one of those nasty mixed states). This combination seems to be doing the trick, and I am ever so grateful for that. And relieved. I think Michael is, too–he’s no longer asking me, “how are you feeling?” all the time.
I feel good; really good. I’m still trying to come to terms with this diagnosis, though, and I’m having a hard time accepting that I will need meds for the rest of my life. This diagnosis also means major lifestyle changes for me, and I’m just beginning to become cognizant of what that’s going to look like, long-term.
I guess I don’t have to have it all figured out yet.