I’m not sure what you will find more surprising, that I have a mental illness, or that I am sharing it publicly. But, I’ve determined that part of what I need to get healthy is not to hide in the shadows and be ashamed, as far too often people with mental illness do in our society. I am determined to get myself through this own my condition rather than let it own me.
As I write these words I am listening to a Playlist of sad songs that I created several months ago. The present song is Johnny Cash’s heartbreaking rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” It is a very powerful lyric, and delivered with tremendous anguish. It speaks clearly to me.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in late July of this year after battling a severe and at times crippling depression for the prior 16 or more months. I’d been through various pharmaceutical treatments and eventually to counseling with no net improvement. I began to do a lot of soul searching and paying closer attention to my moods. I began to notice, embedded in my depression, other symptoms. Racing thoughts, Irritability, speaking rapidly, and other symptoms of mania (it was during one of these elevated moods that I bought my truck, another symptom of mania). This is what lead to my present diagnosis.
The previous paragraphs were written over a week ago (it is now 9/11). I have been off work for the last two weeks, under doctor’s orders. I had reached absolute rock bottom. If I were to assess my mood on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being the absolute worst possible, I was at a 1, and very nearly made it to 0.
Over the last week, however, I have had a marvelous turnaround. It started, of course, with a mood swing to mania. I was on my way home from my psychiatrist. I was down, sluggish, morose. All of a sudden, I started smiling. Within minutes, I felt great. I was happy, full of energy. Thoughts were racing through my head. I had tremendous self-confidence. I developed a lead foot. I hadn’t felt so good years, probably close to 15. All of this and more symptoms of mania. This great mood lasted for the next few days, and transitioned to a more “normal” mood on Monday, which is where I’ve been ever since.
I take this as a hopeful sign that my symptoms are coming under control, my medications starting to work. As with anyone dealing with bipolar disorder, I am on a mood stabilizer. Lamictal, in my case. I started it in July, but as with most such medications, I had to start with a minimal dose. I am now closing in on the average treatment dose.
Lamictal is generally prescribed in people who have more depression and less severe mania. In hindsight, I have probably dealt with depression of varying severity most of my life since late adolescence, with a small number of manic episodes thrown in here and there.
I’m writing this, in part, to be therapeutic for me. But also, as someone who knows the toll mental illness places on the self as well as on loved ones, to offer an invitation. If you are dealing with depression, seek help. The longer you let it go untreated, the worse off you will be. Seeking help does not make you weak. It is not “unmanly.” Do not become a victim. Similarly, if you have ever experienced mania, seek help. If severe enough, you can cause a lot of damage to yourself and others.