Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Have you ever stayed up 48 hours straight? No, but I did 60 once.

I've been thinking a lot about Birdie's comment the past week. She asked: can you tell me how you personally proceeded to receive help? You know, that initial step?

I didn't think I was at all sick until 1994, when I was 44. All the years of depressive and manic phases were nicely hidden from all but my husband. My first severe depression was about three months after my father's death, when I was 17 and a senior in high school. My mother was dealing with her own grief and was drifting into alcoholism, so she really didn't notice that I was skipping classes to stay in bed. My grades went downhill but at that point, I was already accepted into college.

My first manic episode began in October of my freshman year of college. I met a guy at a frat party at another college and we proceeded to have a wild affair, with me living in his room most of the time. That ended and I went back to my boyfriend, whom I married a few months later because I got pregnant.

Nice, huh? A real happy story so far. Terrible pre- and postpartum depression, when I tried to cut my wrists, landed me in therapy with a friend of my mother, a woman who had no bona fides other than she had counseled a lot of people in lifestyle management. She was no doctor and therefore, although I benefited greatly from her advice and help, did not see the deeper problem of manic-depression.

For the next 20 years, I managed to be a decent mother and wife, work hard and advance my career from a psychiatric technician (another great story I'll have to tell sometime) to the point where I became an editor without the benefit of a degree. But all along, there were continuous bouts of mania and depression. I don't know how I controlled their severity but I was always good at talking sane and thinking crazy.

One day, my husband Jimmy came home from a visit to the doctor and handed me a pamphlet on manic-depression. "I dunno, honey. This sounds an awful lot like you."

I read it and I realized he was right. Still, it took another two years and a terrible depression, one that I couldn't control, to make me desperate enough to call the local hospital and ask for names of psychiatrists. That's what made me call. I just couldn't stand living such a shadow life, with the ups and downs.

Once I was under care, it took my psychiatrist two years to make a firm diagnosis of bipolar I because I neglected to discuss my spending sprees and my out-of-control rage with her. I was better than I had been, simply because the depression was under control. However, a dysphoric manic episode convinced her that there was much more to the story.

It's critical that you tell the psychiatrist everything. I didn't, and it was the reason I was not diagnosed faster. I was afraid of appearing less than perfect. I was embarrassed that a person of my intelligence would do stupid things such as spend money I didn't have and run my mouth when I should have controlled it.

Psychiatrists have heard just about everything. You won't be judged for your behavior. Your behavior is the one symptom you have that will help the doctor make a diagnosis. And even then, it's not that easy. But taking the first step and calling is the biggest one. Once you've done that, you've started to participate in your wellness.


Anonymous said...

Mar tell us what it feels like when you take your meds. Does it makes you feel sedated? antsy? Why is it so common to stop taking them when a person does so much better on them. How long after you stop taking them do you begin to once again slip back into manic or depression. If you had a teenager would you sit on top of them until they took their medication for the day? Will you listen to someone telling you that you're not on your meds, or do you resent someone trying to direct your?

Marilyn said...

Sure will. I'll address this next Tuesday. Good topic. Can ya wait that long? I knew you could.

Anonymous said...

course if your writin ..Iam waiting

Stephanie said...

I would also be interested in hearing how your meds affect you. Mine cause mental dullness, so I often feel very stupid, even though I now only have to work harder.

By the way, many of the most brilliant people in the world are/were manic depressive. You shouldn't be ashamed to admit your illness because of your intelligence. Sometimes the milder forms of mania/hypomania enhance it, if you can get lucky ;)

Gail said...

I'm surprised at how few folks see rage/anger as a symptom of some sort of mental illness. I grew up screaming and yelling and throwing things, which my family said was just me inheriting the family's "bad temper". Then, I was treated for anxiety, and boom, my temper is gone. I almost never raise my voice any longer. It turns out that all those screaming fits I'd have were panic attacks. I'd scream and cry until I threw up.

Anyways, the last fit I had was four years ago in a Borders in Colorado, while I was visiting my family. Over my mother wanting me to cook a particular chicken dish. So weird to think about that now.

Christina said...

I am moderately intelligent- smart enough to know better- and yet I spend more money than I make, mostly at one time, such as my recent clothes spree. Nice to know it just ain't me.