It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, so instead of focusing on chronic pain, I am going to share my battle with mental illness. After all, it’s chronic too and I don’t think mental health gets the spotlight enough.
What is Bipolar:
According to NIMH bipolar is: a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. The quick differences are:
• Bipolar I: If you are classified with bipolar I disorder, you have episodes that fluctuate between mania and depression.
• Bipolar II: If you are classified with bipolar II disorder, you have episodes of depression and less severe form of mania called hypomania.
• Hypomania: periods of elevated moods, euphoria and excitement that does not disconnect person from reality.
• Cyclothymic Disorder: Milder form of bipolar with mood swings from mild to moderate depression to hypomania.
• Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders
I fall into the bipolar I category with anxiety, OCD, PTSD and hallucinations of the auditory variety. I was diagnosed about 8 months after my second child was born. It was a complicated time. Her father and I were having difficulties. I had been put on bed rest only 4 months into the pregnancy and then spent about two months in the hospital on complete bed rest before she was still born early, at 28 weeks where I was life-flighted to a different hospital with a neonatal unit because I had developed a hospital born illness that almost killed both of us. After she was born, I was choked by depression. She was still in the neonatal unit when I attempted suicide the first time. I sought help, was placed on antidepressants and had my first experience with mania. That was when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar and began some treatment that would level me out. It’s been 21 years now and I wish I could say I had as firm a handle on my mental health as I do my chronic pain/illness, but I think I spent so much time teetering between denial and trying to hide my illness from others that I never fully grasped my needs until recent years.
I have spent a solid 3 years not medicated under the full guidance of my psychiatrist. Out of the many doctors I have had I can honestly say that my present doctor has been the absolute best. However, I have chosen to approach my care, he has been behind me 100%, still seeing me as often as needed to make sure I am still okay and ready to prescribe meds if I need them again. However, as I sit here in the waiting room of my doctor I have a confession to make. I haven’t always been 100% honest with him about how I am feeling or when I’ve stopped taking meds. It’s actually not as bad as it sounds. If I had to put it in percentages, I’d say I’ve been 99% honest with him these last 3 years. My last visit, two months ago, I went back on Latuda. But a few weeks into the Latuda I noticed I was very restless. It was affecting not only my restless leg syndrome at night but even during the day, it was like I could not sit still. I felt like I had to twitch and if I could, jump around. So, I stopped. I should have called and I would never advise anyone to just stop their meds like I did. It’s dangerous.
I also fall into a category of patients of whom I believe it is most difficult to treat, and that is artists. I am a writer and creative artist who dabbles in drawing and painting and various other crafting. One of the most insidious side effects I have experienced with my bipolar meds has been the inability to access the creative part of my mind. I know I am not the only one who experiences it and I know it is one of the main culprits in our abandoning treatment. Also, in recent years with the advent of my other issues, I have found I tolerate the medicine less well than I have in the past. Things like nausea and akathisia that did not trouble me before have really been an issue in both finding the right med and staying on it. If that weren’t enough, there is this overwhelming feeling of having not only your mind betray you but your body too so that any other new symptoms you might experience need a thorough vetting. You ask yourself “can I handle this on my own?” “Do I need to go to the doctor?” “Is it really important?” And I’ll be the first to advise someone else not to play around with their mental health, while I sit here and try to triage myself and decide if it is urgent enough. And now I sit worried about what my good doctor will say. [Pause as I get called in.]
He has proven yet again to be amazing. As I was sitting here jotting stuff for my blog I also wrote down all the things I have been thinking [ with regard to my mental health] and how I haven’t taken meds and why and what are the symptoms of my bipolar I am really struggling with. He read it, made a note I was not taking my meds and why and then jumped straight into what we could try. I love this man. I feel like I just went to confession. [I still make Catholic references though I have practiced Wicca for almost 20 years now.] I have been seeing this doctor for close to seven years- you’d think I would know the man and know he isn’t going to shake his finger at me and scold me – but I also know that I make bad decisions and I suppose I should just be grateful that he doesn’t reprimand me for it and simply tries to find a solution to the problem.
I have just made the decision to continue this thread and discussion of mental illness. It is part of my chronic history and something that I deal with every day and I know some of you deal with it too. I truly feel that the only way to dispel a stigma surrounding something is through positive discourse and so that is my aim as an advocate for both chronic pain and mental health.