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.
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.
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.