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Adventures in Bipolar Diagnosis – How I Got Here – Part 1

In late 1998, I knew that something was wrong with me. My life was going well; I was in university, on my way to a computer science degree, in the co-op program and had completed an eight-month job in Calgary. I had been contented and grateful since leaving my mother’s house and moving to a new town. I was more happy than I had been in years. But little by little, I found myself increasingly sad and life became peppered with bouts of meaningless, spontaneously crying. I was unreasonably moved by the foretold unfolding of TV plots and commercials.

In November 1998, I found myself in a pitch-black room, unable to get out of bed for an entire day. I was in the south of Spain, a ten minute walk from white sandy beaches and half-naked women. That was the moment I truly realized I was broken: I was in heaven and yet crushed with sadness.

The fatal vice of expiation
The fatal vice of expiation, by Benedetta.

Diagnosed as Bipolar

In December, back at home, I self-diagnosed as bipolar II (bipolar depression). It was clear what I was, but this knowledge shattered my self-identity. I had the same preconceptions of bipolar disorder as everyone else: it was my fault, I was going to be sick forever, I would end up on the street, walking in circles, muttering to myself.

I viewed medications as the enemy. I come from drug addicts and alcoholics and I refused to become one of them via prescription or not. So I ignored my new knowledge. I pretended the bipolar diagnosis wasn’t there. I pretended I wasn’t on the precipice of a cliff.

In January of 1999, I realized that I was going to kill myself if I didn’t get help. I had been slicing myself open on a fairly regular basis, something I hadn’t done since I left home. I went to the university counseling services. I assumed I could therapy my way out of the problem, being a veteran of therapy for many years.

Unfortunately, they could see pretty much immediately that I required medication, and fast.

Mild Depression

I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with “mild depression”. I knew he was more than wrong but didn’t have the voice to disagree. I traumatically ingested the Serzone he prescribed. It instantly made me tremendously ill. I woke up the morning after my first dose and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. My psychiatrist didn’t care and raised the dose shortly thereafter.

Luckily for me, my psychiatrist went on vacation and I was placed with someone new. This guy did, correctly, diagnose me as bipolar, at least initially. He wanted to get the depression under control and we went through antidepressants like Parnate, and a couple of tricyclics. Nothing seemed to do much but create an intolerable cloud of side-effects.

I promised myself when I started down the medication road, that if I wasn’t better after a year, I would kill myself. Tossing away a year of life on that parade was enough for me. But at a year, I realized that I didn’t want to die. Therapy helped me through deciding to survive. It’s harder than you might think not to die.


My Doctor Gives Up

In the spring of 2000, my doctor decided he could no longer help me and broke up with me. I was then left trying hokum “cures” through herbs and carrot juice (really) prescribed by some “guru” over the phone. Eventually, hundreds of dollars later, he told me that I was being punished for having pre-marital sex. At this point, it was my turn to break up with someone.

My therapist then very strongly suggested I go back to a doctor. He was convinced I would commit suicide if I didn’t. He was probably right.

A Second Chance At Happiness?

In September of 2000, I started on Lamictal. For me, it was a miracle. So slowly, I almost didn’t notice, it was making me feel more normal. I genuinely felt better, not great, not like I had been before, but better. I still had breakthrough depressions, but after what I had been living through, after two years of failure and destruction of my life, I had finally found something that would provide treatment and relief.

Of course, I wasn’t exactly right about that…

Part 2 – enter the antipsychotics.

Thanks to Benedetta for the first image.
You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

18 thoughts on “Adventures in Bipolar Diagnosis – How I Got Here – Part 1”

  1. Hi LoriAnn,

    Yes, I understand where you’re coming from. It’s really hard to be sick over and over in front of someone. You know you’re hurting them, and still you can’t do anything about it. All I can say is try to be open with your partner and your fears. Try to lay everything on the table so you both know where the other is coming from.

    Yes, well, once a diagnosis is reached, few doctors really want to reevaluate you. Generally there is a different process for this. It requires a longer appointment and different codes for the insurance. You have to request it specifically.

    I understand you feel like you’re treated like a disease, but that’s what doctors do – they treat diseases not humans. That’s a fact of life. Yes, there are a few that take a different approach, but the disease concept is jammed down most of their throats during training. And it’s encouraged by the way the health care system runs and the way insurance works.

    But you aren’t the disease. You are LoriAnn. Special in many ways. If you feel like doctors aren’t taking factors into account, then speak up! The doctor can’t do better if you don’t tell him what you don’t like. I know it’s tough to stand up to a doctor, but it could make the relationship better for both of you.

    Good luck.

    – Natasha

  2. One other thing. Is it just me or have some or all of you experienced this?
    You walk into a doctor’s office for the first time,you start by telling them you were or have been diagnosed as being Bipolar and they ask you a few generalized or generic Bipolar questions and breaks out the script pad? I feel as if Im no longer a person with Bipolar disorder..NO!!! Im suddenly this disease to be contained by mind numbing drugs?

  3. The self loathing and feelings of worthlessness are the worste arent they? I feel like this nothing person that just takes up oxygen and is a constant burden and worry for everyone I love. My lows are getting longer and coming faster. I find myself just trying to swallow life when I do feel good or have a short cycle of “normalcy”. I do a weeks worth of tasks in 1 or 2 days because I dont know when it will hit again.
    I have been on every med there is and they either make me catatonic or have me in a state of not knowing whether Im coming or going.
    Im at the end of my rope and cant seem to find another to grab on to.
    Im so sick of telling my partner that Im having a bad time or having him come home to this PATHETIC shell of what on a good day is this unstoppable,smart,witty and loving person with confidence and a zest for life. The survivor of a horrible childhood, a woman that beat the odds of becoming just like everyone thought she would, a woman who broke the cycle of abuse and neglect with her own daughter. I wonder where she went and if she will ever be here for more than just days at a time again.

  4. Hi! I am reading this for the first time and can agree that it is good to hear about your experiences (ie) family, doctors, self loathing etc because I have been through many of the same experiences. I suffer from depression and have been on different combinations of meds for the past 15 years. Whenever I have to see a new health professional I feel that they look at the med list and immediately know whats wrong.

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