March 6, 2010

I had my first depression when I was in the second grade. Another when I was a young teen in which I attempted suicide. Everything settled down for a long time. I married, had a daughter, divorced and graduated from college. I married again and taught special education for eleven years. My second husband then left and three months later my daughter died in a car accident. She was 16 years old. Severe depression followed for two years. During that time I was treated with antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and Eskalith. At the time, I didn’t know that Eskalith was used for bipolar. I believed that I had clinical depression.

After a two year depression, I moved and returned to school to earn a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning. Upon starting school I discontinued medication as the depression had lifted and I no longer believed I needed the care of a psychiatrist. I did not know much about bipolar, had not been told I had bipolar and thought I had a depression that had ended.

Over the next 6 to 8 years, about every 3 to 4 months I would become very anxious, restless, irritable. I would see my medical doctor and be given anti-anxiety medications. Usually it would stop in a few weeks. I also had times in which I had obvious (now) hypomanic episodes.

During one of the episodes I bought a new car even though my current car was only 1 year old. I HAD to have leather seats and bought the same car I had at the time except it was a year newer, had leather seats and was a different color. Another time I bought siding for my house even though it only needed a paint job. The sales man introduced himself and said he was selling siding to which I replied, “I’m buying siding.” I have bought 20 shirts, everything for a new hobby ($800) that I didn’t like at all when the episode ended along with other spending sprees. I usually focused on one thing, like the 20 shirts. During my cheapest episode I bought a 1200-page book on computers that I read twice in one week.

Finally, I became severely depressed again, attempted suicide and was hospitalized. I was connected with an outpatient psychiatrist who then diagnosed me with bipolar II.

As we tried different medication cocktails, I continued to cycle through depressions and hypomania, with many spending sprees. Although my spending was difficult, the depressions were incapacitating, causing me to take a leave of absence from my career as a professor. The requirements of teaching, service, research, publishing, presenting at conferences, preparing to teach, grading student’s work and advising students created too much stress for me to continue.

After my first leave of absence, as a condition of returning to work, I was required to sign a statement that I would not disclose my diagnosis or symptoms to any faculty, staff or students. This would not have been done to someone returning from heart surgery!

I working half-time for one semester with minimal job requirements and was stable. A list of accommodations were made with the human relations department. They were that I would have an online course each semester, no early classes and no out of town classes. The first semester I returned to full-time they broke every accommodation. I lasted about 3 weeks and had to return to disability.

I had been on disability for almost a year when I was told I had to go up for tenure. I spoke to my chair and was told the department would not vote in favor of tenure (deciding prior to submission of documentation of service, publishing, and teaching is illegal) so I decided I had to resign. I was then put on permanent disability and my contract was terminated.

It has been three years and I am still on disability. It was a slow journey but my life is meaningful and more stable, although I am having ECT every 3 weeks. I now enjoy hobbies of knitting, painting, reading novels, and quilting. I have friends that I see every week. I volunteer at a charity fixing donated computers for people in need. I know I cannot return to teaching at a university and I don’t know if it can return to work but my life is good.

I will continue to see my psychologist and psychiatrist. I will take my medications and have ECT as long as it is required. I will be an active participant in the management of my bipolar disorder.


  1. Your comment regarding your employer requiring you not to disclose the resons behind your leave makes me furious!
    The stigma of Bipolar is so far from the truth in many, many instances. It’s such a wide spectrum and there are a great number of us that can go on to lead productive, fulfilling lives. Yes, there are those that are so affected that they cannot funtion in society, just like in every other segment of society. I will control my disorder, I will not let it control me.

  2. I was in the same situation, only I was working on my master’s, teaching at community college, and teaching englisha and drama at a middle school. A lot on my plate.
    I had to quit teaching after eight years of “hanginig in there.”
    I am on disability but have a huge balance in student loans. What I get paid for disability will not begin to pay for what I owe for school loans.
    Do you have this problem?
    I know I can try to get them discharged permanently if my doctor will sign the Student Loan forms, but he said he would feel uncomfortable signing them since it states I am unable to work ever.
    I haven’t worked in 2 1/2 years. If I try, I just can’t.
    Do you have any advice about my situation. Should I see another psychiatrist who might be willing to sign the forms. I don’t even have regular health insurance that pays for my medication.

  3. Cheryl,
    Your situation is surprising to me – I am on disability and it covers my Drs appointments and my medications (except benzos). Is there perhaps a form or forms you did not know to fill out?

    As far as the Dr signing the discharge papers, it took years of me getting jobs, trying very hard to keep them and then ending up in the hospital (repeat cycle again and again) before it got to a point where it was obvious I could never hold down a job.

    In fact the new Dr I have been seeing for the last 2 years basically forbid me to volunteer or work more than 15 hours, preferably less. I am overqualified, education-wise, for part-time less taxing (easier) jobs, so I have gone the volunteer route. Obviously he signed the papers but I had years of proof that I could not reasonably be expected to consistently hold-down a job.

    I would only advise changing Drs if your Dr treats you like any BPD patient instead of an individual who has BPD and specifically tailors your treatment plan to your case.

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