I updated my "Patients Like Me" account this morning (a website where people like me can seek advice, support, etc), and I happened to think.. This would make a good blog entry. And so, I'll share...
I think I have been suffering with bipolar since I was a teenager, but it has gone undiagnosed. Back in my teen years I was just moody or difficult; troubled. Although I was a good kid, I struggled with severe mood swings, depression, and maintaining interpersonal relationships. I can remember starting counseling around age 13.
My grandmother (father's mother) was stricken with major depression and mood instability. In fact, I hear stories from my Aunt about how my grandmother wouldn't get off the couch for days, how she was nearly incompetent at times, how my aunt basically raised my father and her other younger siblings.
My father was a raging alcoholic since I can remember. His drinking was what I blamed all of my problems on in my childhood. He eventually drank himself to death in 2013. He was constantly changing jobs, cars, hobbies, and homes. We moved as much as most military families. I believe he also suffered from (undiagnosed) bipolar. But he self-medicated, and it killed him.
Now at 42 (and off and on therapy over the years), I've been through 3 marriages, gone back to college (and dropped out) a handful of times, bought a new car every six months, moved about two dozen times, and changed jobs almost as frequently. I have very few friends, and still struggle with maintaining relationships of any kind. I spend heedlessly. There are days when I can't get out of my pajamas, and there are days when I could write the manifesto (like today). I have dramatic ups and downs that can't be predicted, or controlled.
It wasn't until adulthood, and (finally) a good relationship with a PCP (around 2009) that she recognized my problems/symptoms and recommended medication.
We first tried a couple different anti-depressants. Both of which seemed to make me "crazy". I was irritable (angry, even), restless, hyperactive, sleepless, wound-up. We then switched and tried two different mood stabilizers. They were mild on the spectrum, and I don't remember exactly what they were. They both seemed to have little success, and I eventually stopped taking them.
I sought help again in 2012, and my PCP recommended a work-up at our local psychiatric hospital. I also began seeing a new therapist. That is when I began taking Depakote. And yet, I still hadn't receive an "official" diagnosis. The Depakote seemed to stabilize my swings, but made me quite "flat". It also caused weight gain, and killed my (already low) libido. And so, once again, I stopped taking it.
Fast forward to the present year... (I am still seeing my therapist).. After my third divorce, a few more job changes, another (failed) attempt at college, three or four moves.. and I find myself seeking help again. I had heard that Topamax had some off label success with bipolar, and helped with weight loss. So I asked my PCP for it. It also was used for my headaches. It was a miracle drug for my headaches! But it made me eat like a pig, and the pins and needles in my hands were absolutely intolerable. It did nothing for my "moods". And so, once again, I stopped taking it (my headaches are back, unfortunately).
I knew I still needed help. And so my PCP set me up with a meeting with the in-house psychologist in February. Him and his psych nurse and a resident doctor listened to me babble for about an hour, and I left with a prescription for Abilify. I have been on a very small dose (2.5 mg daily) for about a month. We will now move up to 5mg. I have seen no difference in my swings yet. In fact, I know I'm not any better.
Almost every night I drive home from work crying because I feel so alone; so sad. (I am a bar tender and manager at a local bar). I see so many people having fun with their friends on a daily basis. And I wonder- why I don't have that? Why am I so isolated? Why don't I have any friends? Why can I not successfully maintain any relationships? Why am I not a "people person"? (But damn, I do a good job faking it at my job every day).
I have a hard time concentrating. I am so distractable. I am irritable most of the time. Frustrated. Angry. I lose patience in everything I do, from cooking a meal to working my day shift. My son asks why I am always so "stressed out". Perhaps it could just be related to my current financial struggles, but I don't think so. It's always been there.
I have spent all of my "bill money" these last couple weeks, I've been "hyper-creative" (obsessively writing, painting, crafting), I've posted my car for sale (that I just bought a few months ago) and have been feverishly looking for a new one, I'm considering going back to college (again), I got a puppy (in my defense, a service dog was prescribed by my PCP), I constantly go back and forth emotionally in my current relationship. Sounds silly, I know. I'm not jumping off buildings thinking I can fly, but this is my mania.
I still see my therapist every other week. I see my PCP every month, but she's retiring in June, so I have to find someone new. Ugh.
And I wait for the Abilify to be my answer. For something, to be my answer.
And that was the update to my health profile on "Patients Like Me".
It was a learning experience even as I wrote it.
Even though I am (somewhat) at peace here on the lake, am mostly happy at my job, and am in a relationship, I know I'm no better in mind than I was last year, in 2012, or even 20 years ago.
As I sit here and listen to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, and the song "Escape (the pina colada song)" is playing, I realize it represents how I feel about most everything... My relationships, my home, my belongings, my car, my job, my education... I am constantly seeking something new, something different, something more, to fill some kind of void that never, EVER goes away. Just like my father did, all those years.
(The psychologist blames this on my dopamine levels -Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers, hence the Abilify).
This kind of pleasure seeking issue sounds so silly, even as I write about it. But trust me, it's not as silly as it sounds. It's not silly at all. It's an obsession, It's all-consuming. It's destructive. And it's terribly, terribly frustrating to live with.
Add to the pleasure seeking- the constant irritability, and uncontrollable (and unpredictable) highs and lows, and its a recipe for absolute misery at times. Although, the highs are pretty good.
I can control some of my moods. Well, sometimes. Oh, who am I kidding. I don't do a good job at it at all. New cars, changing jobs, attempts at school, overspending, obsessive crafting for hours, writing the manifesto, ending/beginning relationships... My irritable outbursts. The angry moments. The inability to concentrate. The times I can't get out of my pajamas or off the couch. The times I do nothing but cry.
The psychologist also highly recommended cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). My therapist says we can try it, but that I'll also have to put it into practice on my own. That's no fun. That's too much homework.
And so, medication. Keep coping. Wait and see.
Today feels like a good day, though. Although I've had too much coffee already and I'm chain smoking. I want to sit by the lake all day. But I can't sit still. Maybe that'll help me accomplish some yard work today.