How I Pump the Brakes When I’m Getting Hypomanic

I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed in 2002. It wasn’t easy, but I learned to accept my diagnosis so I can stay healthy. I take my medicine every day. I get enough sleep, I exercise, and I do my best to avoid triggers.

I also try to pay attention to what’s going on in my head. You’ll notice I said “try to” there. That’s because with bipolar disorder often comes a stunning lack of insight. Sometimes I can barely hear my own thoughts, especially when I’m getting hypomanic. Ideas whiz around in my head so fast I can’t catch them. So I’ve learned to look for other cues. There are things I and others see on the outside that can indicate what’s going on inside my head.

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God Knows Where I Am

I watched the documentary God Knows Where I Am on Netflix last night. For those of you who haven’t seen it [spoiler alert] here’s the description from Rotten Tomatoes:

“Linda Bishop was a loving mother, a well-educated and happy woman. Then her body was found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse, marked by cold and starvation. What was once Linda Bishop had quickly become a mystery, accompanied by her diary that documents a journey of starvation and the loss of sanity. For nearly four months, Bishop, a prisoner of her own mind, survived on apples and rainwater during one of the coldest winters on record. Waiting for God to save her. As her story unfolds from different perspectives, including her own, we learn the heartbreaking reality about a systemic failure to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

I’m so saddened and moved by this film. Much of the movie is someone narrating her diaries, and I really felt what it must be like to be inside her head. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, bipolar with psychosis. Whatever it was, her words resonated with me. I felt what it must be like to lose one’s mind.

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A Bipolar Diagnosis is Not a Death Sentence

I can’t believe I ever wanted to die. But then again, things right now are really good. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it felt like to be so hopeless I was willing to end my own life. But that’s why the saying “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” makes so much sense. Just because one day, one week, even one year or more of your life is rough, that doesn’t mean things will be that way forever. Death is forever. And you can’t take it back.

I have bipolar disorder, which means I’m vulnerable to emotional stresses that can trigger a manic or depressive episode. My dad—who also had bipolar disorder—committed suicide in 1998. I was numb until four years after his death, when I crashed, suffering my first major depressive episode. I felt like I was encased in a black slimy ooze that slowed my mind and body. I cried constantly. Completely unable to function, I went on disability from work. My mom (who is a therapist) sent me for a psychological evaluation and after six hours of testing, I was given a nine-page document. Laid out in black and white, there it was: I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I was horrified to learn I had the same disease that killed my dad. Would I end up committing suicide too? At that moment, a bipolar diagnosis seemed like a death sentence. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I tried antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants and mood stabilizers. The struggle for chemical equilibrium in my brain was grueling, but I finally found a cocktail of medications that helped even out the intensity of my moods.

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Happy, Sad or Bipolar?

Be yourself. That’s a pretty universal piece of advice. Whether you’re applying for a job or going on a first date, it’s something we’ve all heard at one time or another. When everyone can see the real you, the relationships you build are authentic. But because I have bipolar disorder, I have a hard time even knowing who “the real me” is. Am I the bubbly, energetic go-getter who’s the life of the party? Am I the sensitive, introspective person who sometimes cries too often? Or are those behaviors expressions of my bipolar disorder?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been outgoing. I was the kid who made friends with everyone. By the time I was 11 years old, my parents and teachers noticed my seemingly endless energy and my inability to sit still. I could be disruptive to class and exhausting to my parents. In my twenties, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So was I just an energetic kid? Or was I hypomanic?

For those of us who have bipolar disorder, second-guessing your true nature comes with the territory. I don’t always recognize the person staring back at me when I look in the mirror. I was 22 the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. I came out on the extreme end of ENFJ, with an emphasis on the “E” for extrovert. Does the big “E” mean I’m really an extrovert, or is that my hypomania? Hypomania can be subtle. It can look to everyone (and sometimes even me) that I’m just someone with a lot of friends who loves to participate in social activities. But that’s also what an extrovert is. Sometimes it’s difficult to detangle my authentic self from all these labels.

Someone once asked me if I could get rid of my bipolar disorder, would I? My answer was no. No matter what I’ve been through, or how I’ve gotten to where I am now—whether it’s my bipolar disorder or my personality—I’m happy with who I am. Does that mean I ignore my illness and don’t take care of myself? Of course not. I recognize that I have a lifelong illness that needs lifelong care, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. I take my medication; visit the doctor regularly; get enough sleep, food and exercise; and try to keep things in perspective. I surround myself with a strong support network of friends and family who can tell me if they see me start to go off the rails.

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Meds

meds

 

I’m really lucky the meds I started in 2009 are still working like little champions to curb my mania and depression. Not everyone finds a drug cocktail that works. Wellburtin and Trileptal have been my saviors.

I’ve tried so many antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics it’s been hard to keep count.

 

So let me see if I can remember all the meds I’ve taken and what they did for me:

Neurontin (when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder).
Effects: Nothing.
Result: I stopped taking it because I didn’t notice a difference.

Concerta (my doctor thought I may have ADD – I was diagnosed ADD when I was a kid).
Effects: I was cracked out, like I had taken speed.
Result: Since my doctor only gave me 1 pill as a test to see if I had ADD, and I reacted the way I did, he deduced that I didn’t have ADD, so I only took that one pill, once.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: I’ve heard from both doctors and people who suffer from bipolar that bipolar kids are often misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

Depakote
Effects: None.
Result: Stopped taking it under my doctor’s supervision because it did literally nothing.

Zyprexa
Effects: It just made me really sedated and sleepy, and I gained fifteen pounds. I can’t put up with weight gain. I get so upset that I’ve gained weight (hello lifelong eating disorder) that I just refuse to take the meds. It helped my mania a teeny tiny bit but not enough to make me OK with gaining fifteen pounds.
Result: Stopped taking it under my doctor’s supervision.

Paxil
Effects: I was suuuuuuuppppppeerrrr slow and sedated on it and I gained weight. So nope.
Result: Only took it for 2 weeks and then stopped on my own.

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My Thoughts On Kate Spade

Photo by Thomas Iannaccone/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock (6908974a)
Designer Kate Spade with a handbag of her own design on March 13, 1998 in New York

It’s such a terrible tragedy that we’ve lost Kate Spade. I was driving with NPR on and the moment I heard she’d committed suicide, my first thought was (and I even said aloud) “I’ll bet she had bipolar disorder.” I do that a lot, and too often, I’m right. Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and far too many more that you and I don’t hear about on the news because they’re not mega-famous. As someone who struggles with bipolar, I was deeply affected by Kate Spade’s death.

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This Manic Moment

This is an old diary entry of mine from 2009, and it really captures what’s going on in my mind when I’m manic.

I went out to a club last night where a friend was DJing. I had a blast but forgot to take my anti-mania meds. I also had a flask full of vodka that I poured into the $3 cokes – 3 of them.

I did have a great time and lucky for me, only drank that vodka and it was good quality. So last night was a nice, clean drunk with no blackouts and no hangover today.

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Do People Only Love Me When I’m Hypomanic?

Sometimes I feel like people only love me when I’m hypomanic.

And it’s hard for them to love me when i’m depressed.

When I’m hypomanic, I’m:

An incredible extrovert
Witty
Funny
Creative
Passionate
Driven
Confident

But when I’m depressed, all of the above is either terribly muffled, or else completely gone.

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My Manias

When I’m manic, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve yelled at people in public. The “rude” (according to me) receptionist at my doctor’s office who’s already lost my records twice and doesn’t care that I’ve been waiting for 45 minutes. The “asshole” at the business tax department who wasted 4 hours of my life because she couldn’t fill out forms properly, even the “sour-faced c-word” who acted like I ruined her day by asking her what aisle the dish drainers are on.

And I can’t even count on my fingers the number of times I’ve thrown my cell phone across the room while being hung up on for the 5th time after asking to speak to the Sheila, the phone operator’s supervisor and asking Sheila what her last name and ID number is. Thanks USPS, Comcast, Sony, 1and1, Zingotel, Vonage, AT&T, CapitalOne, and on and on and on.

Some of the symptoms of mania are: anger, rage, irritability and highly vocal arguments. Yep, that sounds like me.

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Another Manic Moment

I came across another old diary entry from 2009. I keep talking about how I’m not manic, I’m hypomanic. Going back and reading it, I was manic as hell.

Everyone, I give you the manic me:

A week ago my friend did his music video night. The plan beforehand was to go on a bunch of art galleries with a good friend.

I knew I was going to drink but I’d planned to not have too much. I can’t resist red wine (especially free) at art galleries. People just get looser with their money when buzzed, so it sells art. I know my wallet falls open wider with a couple drinks, but I don’t have the money to buy artwork.

My fiancé signed us up to participate in the yard sale they were having in our neighborhood in which all participants had to arrive no later than 7 AM Saturday morning to reserve a space. He told me I could sleep in, but I didn’t want him to be stuck there by himself all day if he had to get water or pee. Plus I wanted to spend time with him and be a part of it.

I knew I’d be out late on Friday but I didn’t want to miss the club night. It’s torture for me to miss social events. Being an extreme extrovert. I almost knocked my stunned psychologist out of her chair when I tipped the scale on that part of Myers-Briggs. ENFJ with the E in bold. Is being a manic extrovert doubly bad? Are manic people just extroverts anyway? So, I thought, if I got 2 hours of sleep, fuck it.

I ended up getting an hour and a half.

Before even getting curling my lashes Friday night I had to weigh my options in my head for my mood stabilizer: do I take the pills before I go out, knowing I may get drunker having just taken them, and my hangover, should I have one, could be amplified the next morning? Or should I wait until I get home, no matter what time it was, and pop the 3 pills at whatever time in the middle of the night? UGH. This happens every time I go out. If I’m at an art gallery, I want those plastic cups filled with cheap Cabernet because it’s there and it’s free. I’m not supposed to because I’m on these mood stabilizers. But I want that wine so I have it anyway.

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