November 10, 2008
Well…like everyone else I have my story:
I’m 56 years old. I’ve had bipolar for 40 years. Have a mom who had horrific, treatment resistant highs since the 60’s. 2 brothers are BP. Cousins, nieces, great uncles… Kaye Redfield Jamison who is an expert on manic depression wrote a book, Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. In it, she showed a genogram – like a family tree – with a map you can make charting relatives that you knew who had mood disorders, or tracking people who had committed suicide. I had close to 20 people I had knowledge of who were noted on my genogram. For people with a lot of relatives with the disease, you might find it helpful to do one, too.
Like a lot of people with the “genes,” my illness was set off by a huge stress in my life. My best friend who was my brother died when I was 12. My family of 7 blew apart. Mom had her first bipolar ups and downs after that. Dad turned into being a workaholic. One brother went across the country to college. Another joined the service in the Vietnam war. My other brother was too young to relate to. I started years of untreated depressions – some suicidal gestures, some hypomanic stuff – but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-30’s that I began to get help with meds and therapy. Lots of unnecessary pain and suffering in those years.
Married for 26 years. An abusive relationship. To cope I gained weight until I was 300 pounds. But I welcomed three of the most wonderful gifts in the world over a 6 years time period – my children.
Got through post-partum depression 3 times without seeking help because my self-esteem was so low. I was able to work part-time despite the recurrent depressions. The highs were welcomed and not too disruptive.
Went through a steady parade of meds over the years – antidepressants, MAO’s, SSRI, lithium, the anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety meds. Oh my gosh. I think I’ve tried them all at some time or another. Even phenothiazines, stelazine was like “brain glue” for a while
I started getting help for myself seeing how badly I felt. Though it was very difficult for me, it was a good thing when my husband left after 26 years of marriage.
I was and still am crazy about my children, but felt increasingly troubled about my son as he got to be about 14 or 15 and started some behavior that concerned me. He had to be taken to different counselors, he had E.R. visits, then hospitalizations. Finally a diagnosis: Schizophrenia. I think he was schizoaffective because of mood components with it. He disappeared for 3 days. Searchers, helicopters, dogs. They all went home when one of his friends said that he thought he might know where he was. Scott’s dad found him. Scott was 19.
It’s been a long haul the past 5 years. Losing a child is probably one of the worst losses that a person could bear. The depressions were black holes. I lied my way into getting approved to go ahead with the gastric by-pass I had planned. Between the weight I lost over the first months after my son died and the surgery I have lost 150 pounds.
A few years after Scott died I had my first hospitalization. I was in an agitated state and it was coupled with depression.
Lost my psychiatrist of over 20 years. That was a difficult loss. We had been through a lot together. I have a new psychiatrist I like – a bit of a young pup, but he seems to know what he’s doing. Have a therapist I like very much.
Take Wellbutrin, Lithium, Lamictal, Trazadone, Klonopin, and Abilify. When my insurance medication cap is reached I’ll have to pay $1000 a month on meds. That’s 1/3 of my take-home pay. I don’t know what I’ll do. I really don’t.
See my doctor every 6 weeks or so. See my therapist a couple times a month with a super walk and a rest stop for croissants. Talk and e-mail a friend who’s also a psychotherapist 1-2 times a week. Take my meds. Trying harder to pay attention to what I eat.
It’s an interesting and sad journey. Though the pain has at times been unbearable, I also feel a sense of blessing with the artistic part of me which I think is part of my bipolar.