Journey to Diversity: Bipolar Disorder and Life Thereafter
Guest Post by Norma Goldsmith, Key to Content
I am many things, as most are, and one of which is that I have bipolar disorder. That’s my slice of the diversity pie.
Sister Leadership says: To embrace diversity means to delve into our inner selves and realize our capacity to value other people for their differences, not despite them. Our capacity to embrace it affects the essence of our being, human spirit or soul as opposed to the material or physical.
This is as true in regard to others as much as for ourselves.
At a point in my life, I had a breakdown. My body and my brain felt numb. I spoke slowly and forgot what I was saying half-way through a sentence. I had to concentrate to my utmost to follow what others were saying. I cried — a lot. I was overcome by impatience standing in a line at the bank or at a grocery store checkout. Nausea was so ordinary, I didn’t question it. If I turned my head, no matter how slowly, I was dizzy.
I spent six months, living off savings, bathing, eating, and reading books. I don’t remember much of that time but I do recall that I saw myself as a jigsaw puzzle with the many pieces tossed into the air by an unknown hand which fell scattered to the floor. All of the pieces were jumbled; some were lost. Parts of me were missing.
Not a family member nor any friends told me to buck up and get on with things, but I could hear it in their voices when we spoke. I was disoriented, lonely and anxious to fix myself.
I sought help from my family practitioner who thought I might be depressed. Depressed? Me? She recommended that I see a psychiatrist and had the hospital call me to make an appointment.
On a slippery winter’s day I drove to the hospital, descended to the basement where a gray-haired doctor with a bristly moustache interviewed me sitting on chairs in the corridor. He made notes on a clipboard as I answered his questions.
After a time, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and asked him, “Do you know that you’ve got the lead end of your pencil in your mouth?”
He took the pencil out of his mouth, looked at it and then at me, and asked, “Why? Does it bother you?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Well, don’t worry about it, it’s not lead, it’s graphite.” He put the pencil tip back in his mouth.
Concluding the interview, he said that he didn’t think anything was wrong with me. (I thought that something was wrong with both of us.) So that was that. Slowly, I recovered sufficiently to work. Lack of concentration, numbness, nausea, dizziness, inability to express myself continued but I was able to function and to cover up my weaknesses.
A few years later, and for a second time, I burnt out again. This time I was slower to seek medical help. Finally, I went to see a new family practitioner because of a recurring upset stomache and walked out of her office with a diagnosis of depression and a prescription. She had me back every couple of weeks for months, following my progress and making sure that I knew that she was there for me. Many times she changed dosages and medications when their efficacy diminished or they ceased to work at all. She took care of me for years.
She also connected me with an empathetic psychiatrist with whom I met for a year. I learned to accept the new reality that was my life and to assess my moods and state of mind daily.
“She sent me to a specialist for assessment of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.”
That experience resulted in my lingering theory that everyone should consult a psychiatrist by the age of 21, release all hostilities, drop all baggage, and begin adult life with the clarity of self knowledge.
Some time after the psychiatrist concluded my cognitive therapy, I mentioned to my doctor that I felt as I had when I was younger and my mother called me moody. I was realizing that my mood patterns were changing and that I recognized some of my behaviour from my childhood. She sent me to a specialist for assessment of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
The specialist was specific — I had bipolar II with rapid cycling (see below for a link to information). Lovely. For me this is a mixed bag of low level but debilitating depression, episodes of hypomania characterized by irritability, racing thoughts, inability to sleep, and uncertain temper. I neither had thoughts of despair nor of suicide which are common with bipolar II.
Over the years, some of the puzzle pieces have returned to their original places; other new ones have surfaced and contributed to the creation of another me, one that is now whole despite the lost pieces.
“Some of the puzzle pieces have returned to their original places.”
I see a psychiatrist who keeps me on an even keel — I call it maintenance mode — with medications called mood stabilizers. We begin my visit with my analysis of how I’ve been feeling since my last visit, she ‘tweaks’ my medications if she sees fit, asks about my sleep and exercise habits, makes her recommendations, and then we chat for a time about matters of mutual interest.
- See a specialist.
- Do not hesitate to change doctors if there is no rapport.
- Do not let too much time pass feeling out of whack.
- Bow to a new reality.
- Regulate mood by compliance with medication and regular sleep.
- Do not make important decisions when moods are unstable.
And, that’s how I am different. That’s the journey that taught me that self-awareness is crucial to a life lived well. That’s my journey to diversity.
For a number of years I worked for a blind man who taught me that we’re all TBD, to be disabled. Physical injury, physical or mental illness, congenital incapacity, even old age will render us all disabled for a time, or for the rest of our lives. We can accept it or not, live a full and productive life or not, have supportive friends and family or not. Some things are under our control and some are not. That’s the reality.
This is an explanation of bipolar II which I find to be the most recent and accurate.
Norma Goldsmith edits the Sister Leadership blog and is a blogging coach with Key to Content and can be reached at norma [at] keytocontent.com. She has followed a long and winding road paved with her passion for information from its analysis, collection, and classification to its storage and retrieval, packaging, dissemination, transformation, and communication. All of which naturally lead her to blogging and training.