Being manic-depressive, really understanding all it entails and then managing the disorder means having an epiphany of sorts.
Like being a born-again Christian, only not nearly as obnoxious.
A good, swift kick in the ass helps the process along. In my case, it was hospitalization. I'd finally reached the point in July 1995 where the antidepressant I was taking was not making a dent in my condition and Dr. D, my pdoc, decided that perhaps I wasn't just clinically depressed, I might be bipolar.
It didn't help that up until that point, I hadn't mentioned the continuous out-of-control spending sprees that had gone on for years and that had driven my poor husband Jimmy absolutely crazy. Dr. D immediately decided to put me on a lithium kicker and hospitalize me for observation because I had made this damning statement:
I want to stay in bed until I rot.
This, my friends, is considered a suicide threat. I didn't quite see it that way; after all, "rotting" has no time limitations and is a pretty ineffectual tool. If you're going to kill yourself, you usually pick a more efficient way of doing the deed.
So off I go to the local psychiatric/rehab facility, The Charter House, which is located in Summit, NJ, and was formerly known as Fair Oaks. Its main claim to fame was having treated Papa John and Mackenzie Phillips for their drug addictions. I believe it has again changed names to something else.
I was a mess when admitted. Crying constantly, unresponsive to other people. I was barely able to sign the admitting papers. Somebody, a counsellor, took me up some stairs and into a large dayroom, where I sat at a table with my head down, crying, for several hours. And then, suddenly, I felt fine.
And I knew why. It wasn't manic-depression, I had gotten my period. Why, it was simply a bad case of PMS. Of course. That explained everything.
It didn't quite explain why I had been severely depressed for weeks, but hey--a minor detail. I was now a well person sitting on a ward with a bunch of crazy people. This was going to come to a screeching halt. I was not about to waste my time here. But having worked as a psychiatric technician myself (yes, this is true--the crazy leading the crazy), I knew that the only way I was going to get my ass out of this hole was to present a reasonable case to the attending physician, whom I was due to see momentarily.
Presentation is everything. The attending doc seemed like a reasonable guy. So I figured, if I treat this like a job interview, I'll present my facts intelligently and coherently and he'll have to agree with me. Anyone who can do that, doesn't belong in a nuthouse.
He took my medical history and when I told him that I didn't drink, he looked at me askance. Many manic-depressives drink to self-medicate--in fact, more do than not. So right off the bat, he was skeptical that I was telling him the truth. And then, as I presented my PMS situation to him, he simply listened and said nothing. That was not a good sign.
"So I think if I just go home and take a hot bath and some aspirin, I'll be fine." That's how I finished up. And his response? "You can discuss your plans with the ward doctor tomorrow morning, when he comes in."
Shit. Foiled. I'm in a rather shabby dayroom, with people watching "Baywatch" on the TV, for crissakes. And then I discovered my NJ Transit monthly train ticket in my pocket. The train station was a block away. Escape was in order.
But the doors were locked. I tried every single one. I waited to see if I could slip out when someone came in. Nothing doing. We were taken out for a cigarette break. Into an enclosed courtyard. No exit there.
Back upstairs I went and sat in a chair. Nobody spoke to me and I was damned pissed off. I went up to the head nurse and loudly demanded that I be released. Sure, fine, she said. But if you leave against medical advice, you, not the insurance company, will be responsible for the entire hospital bill.
So back I went to my chair. And sulked. And cried. And called Jimmy from the pay phone and told him I had to come home, I couldn't stand it. He calmed me down and told me he wasn't coming to get me, that I needed to stay at least for the night. He had forsaken me. I slammed the phone down and went back to my chair.
And then, something happened. It hit me from nowhere. What if they're all right and I'm wrong? What if I really am manic-depressive? Doesn't being manic-depressive explain all the bad behavior, all the ups and downs, all the unhappiness for all those years? And if it's so, maybe I should just shut up and listen for once. Maybe I haven't done a great job in managing my life and maybe I can stay here and try to learn something.
I tentatively went over to a group of patients sitting at a table and introduced myself. Sure, they were a little whacked out, but being manic-depressives, they were intelligent people with stories to tell. Stories that I could relate to. Stories that mirrored my life. Talking to them and slowly coming to accept the fact that I had a serious chemical imbalance but that it could be treated.
I spent four days at that place. And got far more from talking to people who had been in my shoes, who understood exactly what manic-depression was and who were in most cases bright, intelligent, successful people.
I've not been hospitalized since. Probably more from luck than from learning to manage my disorder. But I became a believer and that is critical to managing any illness. There are days when I don't even think about the disorder and days when I do. But most of all, I accept that it's not PMS.
In the ensuing years, I spent a good deal of time juggling my medication and spending time in one-to-one therapy. The therapy helped as much as the drugs insofar as it taught me how to manage the disorder. Get enough sleep. Eat properly. Learn the warning signs. Don't wait to get help. Let your family help you.
With the latter, I've always been fortunate because my family has been enormously supportive. My brother, who has clinical depression, in particular has been the one family member with whom I could share my trials and tribulations. He knows. He's been there too, although he doesn't get the manic highs. It's all in the family, you know.
So maybe the next time I post, I'll talk about getting the cure if there ever is one. And in the meanwhile, if you have something you'd like to discuss, put it in the comments.
And for those of you who read my other blog, The Knitting Curmudgeon, be advised that my manic spending sprees encompassed buying yarn. Of course.