As many of you who may be suffering from bipolar disorder can understand, many of the day-to-day struggles that so many other people seem to step right over are like knee-high trenches of mud when you’re feeling low. Your energy levels are always completely sapped. It may be difficult to complete simple tasks.
I believe that a good deal of this is part of the disorder, however, it is my feeling that even more of this can be attributed to the medications that we must take to avoid symptoms that could be devastating. I find myself often questioning which way of life is worse. One where I am practically bedridden, or another where I might rack up $2,000 in credit card charges overnight or go back to drinking, after nearly 5 years of sober living.
I have existed this way for years without really questioning my options. I lived for many years, prior to my diagnosis, in absolute chaos. I had experienced the onset of my bipolar symptoms in my teens, but they began to reemerge at around the age of 24. Like many people who live with mental illness, I also self-medicated with alcohol and on and off drug use. All of that lead to eventual loss of an almost decade long relationship, my home, my friends, my job.. everything.
I had to move back home to my parent’s basement at nearly 30 years of age. It was an incredibly difficult time. Just about the only thing that I was left with was a bag full of my clothes and my animals. Thankfully, my Dad had been willing to drive from Ontario to Winnipeg and back again. Otherwise, I likely would have had to give up my pets as well.
Upon returning to Ontario, I was very isolated. My parent’s lived on different levels of the same home, but were separated. I was staying in a makeshift bedroom in the basement at the rear of the house. My Dad worked very long hours and my mother was seeing someone at the time and was barely ever at home. If my parents were trying to help me, they did me an incredible disservice by leaving me alone at this time of my life.
I hadn’t connected myself with a psychiatrist in Ontario and so once the pills that I had on hand had run out, I would be stopping my medications cold turkey. Pretty much the cliché of bad moves in the treatment of mental health.
And it was a bad move…
I am not completely certain, but I believe that it is the first and only time that I suffered a mixed episode. I was drinking as much as I could, but I didn’t have any money, so there was never enough booze to satisfy my cravings. It turned out not to matter. I was so psychotic that I was high on my illness, which turned out to mimic intoxication quite closely.
There were many things that occurred during this period, which lasted for about 3 months, that parts of me still feels like I can never live down. Most people living with bipolar disorder have long lists of infractions that have occurred due to their illnesses falling out of control.
The exact details of what happened during the 3 months that I existed without medication is irrelevant here. All that is important is that I have learned and accepted why it happened and that I have forgiven myself for my actions.
At about 2 1/2 months into this mixed episode, I reconnected to a male friend that I known in Winnipeg. He was now living in Toronto (about an 1 and 20 mins south of where I was staying) and had just gotten a divorce from his wife about a year before. He had seen me posting some pretty depressing things on FB and felt compelled to get in touch.
I had only really spent time with him on 2 – 3 prior occasions, but apparently he had always been quite taken with me. He didn’t send anything provocative. He just was just trying to be a friend. At the time, that was exactly what I needed.
I can’t remember who visited who first, but we quickly began spending quite a lot of time with together. Before I knew it, poor John and his friendly Labrador girl, Edie, had myself and my herd staying at his home in Toronto.. full-time.
It was around this time that a very talented psychologist I was working with referred me to a well established psychiatrist who had already gone into semi-retirement, but was still taking patients. It ended up being very fortunate that I was able to see someone with 40 years of practicing psychiatric medicine under his belt.
Within 15 mins of my first appointment with him, he had diagnosed me with bipolar 1. Every doctor that I had seen prior to that had always said that I was suffering from chronic depression and treated me with anti-depressants (bipolar’s worst enemy). It had been no wonder that my life was so wildly out of control.
All of this new information was very difficult to take. Had I known what was really going on, maybe I would have been able to salvage my ‘old life’. However, if I’ve learned anything over the years, I’ve learned that you really should avoid contemplating all the “what if’s” in life. You’ll just end up questioning every decision you’ve ever made and it’s really not worth your time.
Now that I was properly medicated and out of my parent’s horrid basement, I started to enjoy my life in Toronto with John. For the first 2 -3 years, I was quite happy, although still incredibly heartbroken over the loss of my previous relationship. I had been engaged with my ex and he had essentially greeted on the morning he left me, sitting on the edge of the bed. Suitcase already packed. Zero explanation as to why he was leaving.
The night before he had drawn me a bubble bath, with candles and music. We had dinner together and we were intimate. It was a very romantic evening. Not even anything that was especially out of the ordinary. I had been under the obviously false impression that we happy together and that he was very much in love with me.
In his defence.. if he even deserves one.. I can’t imagine what it must have been like having to live with someone who was as ill and out of control as I was. He had stayed with me for nearly a decade and suffered all of my ups and downs. He actually did up getting married after all.. to somebody else.. not long after to dissolution of our relationship. In my estimation, he stayed with me through my illness, until there was the prospect of someone else, without an illness. It continues to make my heart sad. I fear that it always will.
My relationship with John is totally different than that which I had with my ex. John suffers from chronic anxiety issues. Match that with my bipolar disorder and we have an extremely unique relationship that can be challenging.. and very interesting. Things have markedly improved now that I am no longer drinking (5yrs now).
Neither of us is perfect and that is one of the things that makes us so compatible.
I love Johnny very much. I feel very confident that I will be spending the rest of my life with him. I don’t know if I will ever be married. I don’t know if it is as important to me now, at 36, as it was for me then, at 28. I had been with my ex since I was 19yrs old. We had practically grown up together. The thought of he and I spending our lives together was something that we had talked about from very early on. It was etched on my soul. When that “fact” was no longer fact, I really didn’t know how to deal with it.
With John, I feel like we are two people. With my ex, I had felt like we were one entity. I can say that I prefer it this way. Prior to meeting my ex, I had been a fiercely independent person, and now I feel like I am coming into being that person again. Things are back to how they were meant to be. I am me.
In my next entry, I would like to give you an outline of my experiences with the various medications that I have taken since my mental illness took hold. I have been taking psychiatric medications for nearly 15 years and I really hope that there is something from my experience that may be helpful to my readers. I will try to recollect as many drugs and their pros and cons as I can and give as many links as I am able to locate.
I am hoping that it is a post that will reach people who are at the beginning of their mental health journey. If I am able to convey the information the way that it is laid out in my head, it will be a post that I wish I would have come across at the beginning of my journey.
Until then my friends,