Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crazy Love, Crazy Talk

You know, I'm beginning to understand the value of talk therapy. Very much.

OK, so I always had a 'tude about therapy in general. "I don't fucking need to talk to no steenkin' shrink."

Wrong. So wrong. I'm almost ashamed to say that while I would pop the pills the shrink gave me, that's all the cooperation I'd give. Yeah, I'll take the pills and be done with it. For a long time, that's how I saw it. And that's why my treatment was really half-assed. Because I wouldn't open up, to anyone. I kept my dark manic secrets to myself, completely. Nobody, not even my husband, knew some of the things I did and thought.

I inhaled Oxycodone, while keeping my addiction a secret. I spent money and hid it from my husband. I went out and did wild things in the flush of mania. And then, I'd come down. Nobody knew what drove me to depression. I did and I hugged it tightly. I suffered through the horrors of Oxy withdrawal because I was too full of myself to seek help. I wasn't giving up my nasties to anyone. In fact, they were my blankie. I'm a BAD GIRL and I should punish myself for my sins by torturing my psyche. Jesus, how pathetic.

And then, along came my best friend, N, who is a recovering alcoholic, which is why I do not name him. He's known the depths of despair, the misery of life, and the epiphany that one needs to have when you hit rock bottom, whether it's through alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or the agony of mental illness.

When we first met, N told me up front that he was a recovering alcoholic. I, in turn, told him that I was bipolar. And knew then that here was the first person I had ever met with whom I could unabashedly and without any reserve talk about the awful things I had done in the past. He would never pass judgment on me, nor I on him. I would trust him with my life and I hope he would trust me with his.

I started talk therapy again six weeks ago. This time, I went with an open mind, checked my ego at the front desk, and gave myself completely to my therapist, Mim. One of her initial questions during that first therapy session was, "Who's your gatekeeper?"

Huh? What dat? "It's the person who knows you the best, who can tell you when you're getting off balance, the person in your life in whom you can confide" says Mim. Oh. I didn't hesitate with my answer. Yes, I knew immediately. N. He's as sensitive as I am, so he knows when I'm out of kilter right away. "Boy, you're AWFULLY snippy this morning." And he's always right about my moods. (Of course, it works both ways--I sure know when he's out of sorts, too.)

Between N and Mim, I've begun to see the light. For the past two Saturdays, I've gone with my beloved friend to his AA meetings. And today, I had yet another mini epiphany.

It's good to be with people who understand your illness, who've been there themselves. It's past good. It's wonderful. And where I always pooh-poohed group therapy, I now see its value. The group supports, the group loves, the group knows. Although my addiction was to a different medium, as it were, addiction is what it is. Often, it's self-medication to mute the sadness, the insecurity, the agitation. But the lesson I have learned from attending these meetings is that when I open my heart, nobody's going to thrust the stiletto into it.

Tonight, before I began writing this entry, I went to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance site to make contact with the East Stroudsburg support group. I will continue to go with N to his meetings, because I love him and I want to support and understand him always, but I will also go to my meetings too. And with an open heart, an open mind, and a giving soul. That's the guidance I've received from my Higher Power.

So stop. Look. Listen. And keep yourself open to all possibilities. You'll benefit endlessly. Life is filled with these epiphanies, if you let life happen to you.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Seizure the Day

I must say, I am tremendously thrilled with my new pdoc, Dr. B. Any doctor who would willingly give you an hour's worth of his time (and who is a wonderful listener) is a gem.

And he made a few things about bipolar disorder completely clear, stuff that had me a little confused. This guy is the first doctor who's answered my questions in a direct manner. Perhaps my questions and his responses will help you. Or at least, leave you a little better informed.

Mar's Question 1: Why was I initially diagnosed as bipolar II and then 10 years later, rediagnosed as bipolar I?

Dr. B's Answer: Because sometimes the nature of the disorder changes. Maybe originally you were more depressed and had very few incidents of rapid cycling and mania, hence the diagnosis of bipolar II. Then as the years went by, you became more manic, with dysphoria rather than euphoria, and rapid cycling. This would indicate bipolar I.

Mar's Question 2: What's the connection between bipolar disorder and epilepsy? And why do anticonvulsants seem to work so well?

Dr. B's Answer: Bipolar disorder is really a seizure of the brain rather than the body, which is what epilepsy is. Both types of seizures respond well to anticonvulsants. When you are manic, your brain seizes up and you are subject to impulsiveness, delusions, bad judgment calls, paranoia, anger, and all the things that indicate mania. The anticonvulsant helps to stop that activity and allows the brain to work properly.

Mar's Question 3: I think I finally understand that I must stay on my medication for the rest of my life. But is that really true? Will I ever be able to go off of my meds?

Dr. B's Answer: Yes, it's true. And no, you should never go off your medication. It is believed that multiple episodes of the disorder cause brain damage. Your cognitive abilities become impaired. Without medication, the brain will sustain more damage as you grow older. The medication not only allows you to function but may in fact help repair some of the damage already there.

I left his office feeling more and more comforted that I have a neurological disorder, one that can be controlled. Even though I've always espoused this, there have been times after a particularly bad episode that I've doubted it. When your brain goes haywire, it's hard not to blame yourself rather than the disorder.

Case in point, regarding anticonvulsants being of enormous value in controlling these brain seizures. Last week, I had a terrifying episode, where I could actually feel my brain seize up. It happened while I was driving and suddenly, I felt almost suicidal. I began crying. I felt incoherent. Somehow, I got home safely but suddenly, I felt a wave of sheer anger overtake me, anger directed at a dear, beloved friend and companion. I wrote an angry email but somehow had the sense not to send it. I then hand wrote a note to him, the note being rather incoherent and vague.

Now, I'm on medication but fortunately, I can take an extra Seroquel or two if this happens. Which is exactly what I did. Within a half hour, I was OK. This time, I understood exactly what was going on, whereas before, I'd just get worse and worse until suddenly I felt better.

The next time I seize up, I'll know exactly how my brain felt from the previous episode and maybe I can nip it in the bud. The path to understanding this disorder is becoming less and less ambiguous. Thank God.