I remember the day I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder like it was yesterday. In fact it was 1990 and on my fourth psychiatrist. I had been previously diagnosed with clinical depression and while I was indeed depressed, the medications were not working well.
I had been seeing this particular doctor for a few months as an outpatient of the local hospital. I lived alone and was an admitted workaholic so no one noticed anything while I was up, just when I would plummet into that deep dark hole of despair.
At this particular appointment I was feeling pretty good and was telling my doctor that things were going really well. He must have seen something in the way I was talking or acting because he asked me to describe a normal day for him.
I said that I would get up about 4:30 am, shower, dress, eat, and walk to the rapid transit a few blocks from my home for a half hour ride. I would get into my office about 6:30 am, even though I didn’t have to start until 8. I ran a data entry department for International Trade and I liked that quiet time to get caught up before my staff got in. I would work through coffee breaks and either bring a lunch or go to the café downstairs – either way I would eat at my desk. I left the office about 6:30 (quitting time was 4 pm) with my work computer and would make supper while uploading the day’s workload to the mainframe. I would quit about midnight, clean my apartment and get to bed around 2:30 am and start it all over. Yes, that is two hours of sleep.
He looked at me across the desk and had a very kind smile on his face. He said that he now understood what was going on. While I did suffer from clinical depression, the medications were triggering another problem – bipolar disorder (more commonly known back then as manic depression). I was immediately hospitalized and put on lithium. It worked for a year or so before I went on a horrific manic episode that I may talk about in a later post.
The reason it was so hard to detect the bipolar was because I would go steadily up over what could be a few weeks or more commonly a few months. During this time my days would be described as above. Then when my body would just totally wear out, I would dive straight down into a horrible depression. I would need to take time off work because I couldn’t get out of bed, wasn’t into wearing make-up or even showering some days. There would be suicidal thoughts and even attempts – but they were only cries for attention. I would take pills, try to drown myself in the bath tub and other things that would just put me in the psychiatric ward. This went on for years until I was finally let go from my government job.
I was able to receive a disability pension which I am still on to this day. Due to the combination of physical and emotional challenges, I will never have a “job” per-say again, but I do things to earn a little money (which is allowed on the pension).
I have come a long way since first diagnosed. I have, for the most part, been able to keep my bipolar in check, but that doesn’t mean I am not aware of it 24/7/365.