On Being BiPolar…

Hello again!
When I posted about the various conditions that I live with, I deliberately left out mentioning Bipolar Disorder. I decided that because it was such a huge part of my life, it needed a post of its own. And guess what…here it is!
I was first diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder just a couple of years ago when I was 54, but the reality is I’ve probably been Bipolar since I first entered puberty at the age of 13. Up until that point, I was a fairly quiet girl who loved nothing more than grabbing an apple and a book and climbing the neighbours’ maple tree to read for hours.  I could easily go through a book a day and would stay up there until my mom called me down for dinner. Once I turned 13 though and my period started, that initial surge of hormones did something major and destructive to my body and I swear that’s when I experienced the onset of my Bipolar Disorder. I went from nice girl to rage monster in 0.2 seconds flat. I become a mouthy little bitch who ditched her books for boys, smoking and drinking and fell in with a group at Junior High that was definitely the wrong crowd. I lost my virginity just before turning 14 (at the drive-in watching Star Wars) and started to do drugs like pot and hash. I also began disappearing from home for days at a time, staying with friends after partying much to the dismay of my family.
I was fearless during this time. It certainly never occurred to me that any harm would come to me. I did what I wanted when I wanted, and if my Dad tried to discipline me, I just didn’t go home. My poor sister would often be sent to go looking for me, a task she obviously resented (and that I wasn’t aware of until we were grown-ups), but I was only found when I wanted to be found. I was still in school and managed to stay in classes until I finished Grade 11. Then I made the decision to hitchhike to the United States for some adventure, which led to me meeting the man who would become the father of my two children. I had many adventures during my time in the States, and most of it was likely fueled by my Bipolar state. There were a lot of crashes too, and I can remember times where I would be in desperate tears wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I acting like a cheap prostitute half the time and a modern-day adventuress the other? My impulsiveness was out of control and even today, it still is.
I came back to Canada from the States when I was 20 and the mom to my son Troy after discovering I was pregnant when he was 6 months old. The dad left us and after staying with a friend in Bellingham, WA for a few weeks, I realized that my best option was to come back home. Shirley, my friend in Bellingham had already done so much to try and help me, but I couldn’t keep taking advantage of that friendship. Her brother even offered to marry me to keep me in the country so Troy could claim his America birthright (Troy was born in Sacramento, CA on January 30, 1982), but as flattered as I was, I decided it was easier to move back to my own home country. Despite everything I had put him through, my Dad came down to help me bring my few meagre belongings back and to meet his grandson for the first time. I found a place to live in Surrey, BC, went on Social Assistance for a period of time and then gave birth to my daughter Ashley on May 1st of 1983.
Time passed, I met a man, married him after a few years of living together, divorced after 3 years, had one more long-term relationship and then finally met Ray. We went through a lot of ups and downs in our relationship, partly because of my having kids and he was a bachelor, and partly because of my undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder. He even insisted we go for counselling at one point when things were really bad for us, which definitely helped us, but it didn’t change the fact that I still had incredible highs and lows in life and I never knew which version of me we were going to get.
Fast forward to now. I finally received a proper diagnosis at the age of 54 and what a relief that was – to finally have a name for what I was going through. It took some time to realize that I had had this going back to my early teens but there’s no denying it, not when I compare then to now and the symptoms I experience. My highs and lows mirror what I went through as a teenager, except now I’m on medication to help regulate those mood swings. Dr Leong put me on a medication called Seroquel which helped immediately – what a relief! Once I had some clarity back in my life, it was easy to see what I had been missing and what I had been doing. It was embarrassing as well. I could remember some of the highs and the impulsive behaviours – like shopping. I would shop online at 2am for things I really didn’t need but wanted nonetheless. It’s not that we couldn’t afford it, but it was all just frivolous stuff… jewellery, clothing, things like that. I mean, where do I go that I need to dress up? How many dresses does one lady actually need to own? Plenty according to me! And I’d conveniently “forget” to enter these transactions in our budgeting tracker so I could pretend I hadn’t spent any money.
If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that after a long period of being on the Seroquel with no problems, I began to have hallucinations while taking it that were directly related to the drug. I would hear music playing when no one else would hear anything. It was very distinctive and alternated between classical, jazz and country (which I don’t like). There wasn’t any singing, just music but after a while, I started hearing voices too. I was seen by a Psychiatrist to ensure I wasn’t developing Schizophrenia, but once given the all clear on that, my doctor decided to do an EEG and MRI, to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, like a brain tumour or scar tissue in the brain. I posted about that here and I haven’t heard back regarding the MRI – possibly because there’s nothing to mention, and possibly because Dr Leong just moved to a new practice and I haven’t heard from him yet. He is keeping me on as a patient, so that’s good news and he’ll keep Ray too since his new office is in Mill Bay which is about a 30-minute drive away from Langford and Ray will need to take time off work to drive me there. Transit is not an option.
At any rate, as I’ve mentioned, we had to stop the Seroquel and I started a new medication called Abilify. I have been SO happy with this new drug. I’ve regained some of my energy, I’ve found my interest in doing things around the house again, such as housekeeping and crafting and things like that. Look at what I made the other day:

IMG_0470

Our Nest


This is a multi-media art piece I worked on for a week, just a bit at a time. Sorry, it’s a bit glare-y, it’s framed with glass on top. This is the first thing I’ve worked on in over 2 years so you can tell how long the Seroquel dampened my emotions and interests and how the Abilify brought back ME!
I hate the fact it’s taking drugs to make me feel things again but I’d rather be on medication than not. I don’t like bouncing between raging and being depressed. Or being manically high and overly cheerful and then crashing and sleeping for days on end.  My insomnia is already bad, and I’ve gone up to 8 days without sleep. At least with Abilify, my sleep patterns are closer to normal than they’ve ever been (but still pretty wonky!).
No, it’s not easy to have a Bipolar Disorder, but it’s a part of me for life and I’ve finally learned to accept it. Acceptance is the hardest thing but without it, there is nothing but stress. By realizing this is a part of me, the same way I have silver in my hair, or I have the ability to sing, it normalizes the disorder and makes it more natural. I go a long way in making others feel comfortable with who I am as a total person as well. I don’t want people to see parts of me, like the Manic part and the Depressed part. I want them to see the whole me and that includes all the parts, good and bad, high and low. Its taken a long time, but I’m finally there. It took the proper diagnosis and the proper medication, but the real me is finally back again.
It’s about time.
There is always hope.

Talkin’ Bout My Ment-al Illness

Did you automatically sing that title as “talking bout my Generation”?  That’s what I was aiming for!

I want to talk about Mental Illness today and the meds I take. I’m not ashamed to say I have Bipolar Disorder but I know there is a huge stigma around having a mental illness and talking about it. There are far too many people who grew up believing you should keep things like that hush hush because it would ruin your reputation, and that of your family if you said anything. People were put away in homes and hospitals who were severely mentally ill, or stories were told about “crazy Aunt Gladys” or “weird Uncle Marvin” and you knew you weren’t supposed to either hear them or repeat them.

Things are changing thank God, and I’ve never been afraid to just come out and say “I am Bipolar” in conversation. It’s a part of me, so why would I hide it? It was actually a relief to finally have a diagnosis because then I knew what those manic highs and depressing lows were all about. Do I like the highs and lows? Sometimes. They can be exciting, and energizing and fun. They can also be ugly and messy and scary. But the overall thing about having BD is that it’s uniquely a part of me. Take it away, and I would be so different. Less courageous. Less outgoing. Less interesting. Less, less, less….

One difficult thing about having a mental illness is the issue of being on medications. What you’re trying to do is balance the chemicals in your brain called Serotonins. Finding the right balance is a tricky business and can sometimes take years. I know people who have been on up to 17 different medications at various times, just trying to find the right combo that works for them. I’ve been lucky in that I was put on Seroquel when I was first diagnosed and it worked well for me for a long time.

It wasn’t until late 2016 when I started experiencing the auditory hallucinations  – I could hear music when others couldn’t, and I knew something was going on. I saw a Psychiatrist to rule out any new mental illnesses, and then Dr. Leong recommended the MRI and EEG I’ve talked about in earlier posts. We also decided to switch the Seroquel to something new and that’s when I started taking the Abilify.
I was nervous about taking it at first because of the list of side effects. I am bolding the ones I’ve experienced so far:

Common Abilify side effects may include:
  • weight gain;
  • blurred vision;
  • nausea, vomiting, changes in appetiteconstipation;
  • drooling (mild, at night);
  • a headache, dizzinessdrowsiness, feeling tired;
  • anxiety, feeling restless;
  • sleep problems (insomnia);
  • cold symptoms such as stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat.

Now, why can’t Drug Manufacturers automatically make a drug with weight LOSS as a side effect??  Why is weight GAIN always the big one listed (haha). Seriously…what are they putting in there…hot dogs?? Milkshakes?  Okay, I’d take it in milkshake form (I LOVE milkshakes!), but I just don’t understand this. It must be a filler of some kind. Then there’s drooling. What the hell kind of side effect is that??? DROOLING??? Who thinks these things up?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Hey Ron”
“Yeah Charlie?”
“Do ya think we should make people drool with this one?”
“Oh yeah…we haven’t added that one in a long time. I bet people miss that side effect…yeah, let’s add it”.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*snork*   Right!  Okay, so now, I’m fat and drooling. How else can we make this attractive? Oh, I know…let’s make me constipated too! And then we’ll make me super tired, but add in insomnia, so I can’t sleep!! Mwaaaahaaahaaahaaahaaaaa

WitchesBrew1

 

Yeah…that’s about what it feels like. Seriously, I don’t understand why half these side effects are considered acceptable, but we go ahead and take them, because the side effects are worth the overall benefit of the drug itself. And what benefit am I getting from the Abilify? Well for one thing. I have energy again. And an interest in life. I’m not spending 90% of my day sleeping. I’m doing the household chores again. I’m getting together with friends again – socializing. I’m still in chronic pain, but my brain is in such a better place that I’m managing my pain better. Could I go back to work in this condition? No,  not a chance. My pain and fatigue still wipe me out, and I can only manage small chunks of all of these things, broken up throughout the day, but the fact is, I am able to do them again.

I don’t know how long it went on for, but most of my days on Seroquel were spent either in bed sleeping or in my recliner, playing on the computer. I would aimlessly shift between Facebook and a select few other websites I frequent, like Pinterest, some contest sites and game sites where I enjoy solitaire or various slot machines (not for real money). I still do that now, but it’s in between all the other things I’ve found interest in again. I also tend to do a lot of online shopping. Too much, and this can be part of my mania cycle of BD as well. My husband never says anything as long as I record my transactions in our financial system. But I’m doing other things like crafting again, and I’m making cards again for birthdays and stuff, and I want to learn to crochet again (I was just starting to learn and then boom!, totally lost interest when I started having trouble with the Seroquel and didn’t KNOW I was having trouble with it).

Now, here is the list of SEVERE side effects of Abilify. Again, I am bolding the ones I’ve experienced so far:

Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • severe agitation, distress, or restless feeling;
  • twitching or uncontrollable movements of your eyes, lips, tongue, face, arms, or legs (very rare and only for a moment);
  • mask-like appearance of the face, trouble swallowing, problems with speech;
  • seizure (convulsions);
  • thoughts about suicide or hurting yourself;
  • severe nervous system reaction–very stiff (rigid) muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, fast or uneven heartbeats, tremors, feeling like you might pass out;
  • low blood cell counts–sudden weakness or ill feeling, fever, chills, sore throat, swollen gums, painful mouth sores (I get inflamed tastebuds), red or swollen gums, skin sores, cold or flu symptoms, cough, trouble breathing; or
  • high blood sugar–increased thirst, increased urination, hunger, dry mouth, fruity breath odor, drowsiness, dry skin, weight loss    **oh LOOK! There’s my weight loss, but look what I have to go through to get it!! 🙁

Because I have Type 2 Diabetes, I have to be extra careful in taking this medication. I need to check my blood on a more frequent basis, to make sure I’m maintaining optimum blood sugar levels at all times. I currently inject 14 units of insulin at night only and have done so for about 3 years now. If I notice that my sugars are going quite high on this med, we may have to change that up, and that will be hard for me. I like the benefits of this drug, and I’m not sure I want to start experimenting with other medications.

So…what about you dear reader. Do you have a mental illness? Do you talk about it if you do? Why or why not? Do you know other people who experience prejudice because of a mental illness? How are they treated differently? Do you stand up for them? Advocate for them?

It’s a scary world out there for people with mental illnesses. We never know for sure who our allies are or where we can feel safe talking about our lives and what we experience until we start talking to others. I make myself a safe haven. I talk about my mental illness so others know they can be safe and vulnerable around me. If you need someone to talk to, contact me.  Anything said to me stays private, even from my husband. If you’re on Facebook, look me up. Same with Messenger. Just put the words There Is Always Hope in the subject line, so I’ll know it’s not spam.

If you have anything you’d like to share here, please feel free to add a comment. Thanks for reading and remember…

there is always hope