One year ago today I had the appointment – upon urging from my then brand-new therapist – in which the nth person said, you’re bipolar. Except that time, I finally took it seriously, and started taking meds for it.
Things improved a lot for me on the new drugs, but I’ve had more medication changes in the last year than you can shake a stick at. I’m getting a bit exasperated with it, but I have to admit that I’m generally far more functional than I used to be, especially at this time of year. I’m not coping all that well lately but these things come and go, right?
That’s something thing I’ve learned quite well since this diagnosis: it’s all transient. This mood is temporary. I do not need to fear that the depression will reign forever. In fact, at this point, I actually know how to trigger a hypomanic episode – it’s pretty easy, so it’s no wonder I was accidentally doing it to myself for so long. It’s been hard to break that habits that lead to feeling so good, but I know I have to, so I keep working on it.
I’ve had individual therapy for a year now, and group therapy for DBT skills for 7 months. I’m only just starting to feel like I’m getting something out of it. I think that has a lot to do with acceptance, something that I’ve been really working on for some time now. It’s very hard. I keep expecting the diagnosis to be reversed or changed somehow, which keeps a grain of insidious hope alive. But I’ve started to accept that I have some cognitive and functional limitations that I have to respect. I still don’t have a good grip on exactly what those limits are, but at least I’m admitting that there are actually limits to what I can handle. That’s still pretty difficult for me to say.
I also suspect that I’ve been very slow to build enough trust in my therapist so that therapy could actually do its thing. I know I was pretty stubbornly resistant to DBT for quite awhile. Which is to say, perhaps now I can make some progress. I believe that at this point, I’m only just starting to be aware enough of my emotions and triggers to be able to better manage myself behaviorally. It’s been very hard to develop that awareness, sensitivity, and habit of analyzing every mood. That feels obsessive at times, but has been a necessary part of getting to know myself well enough to help myself. I still wish I didn’t have to do it. Mood charting sometimes grates on me, as though life is simply rubbing it in.
I’ve also bought and gobbled up tons of books on bipolar disorder. I’ve read thousands of blog posts, patient forums, medical articles, popular press articles, all about bipolar. I felt for quite some time that I was obsessed and overidentifying with the diagnosis. No more; I realize that educating myself and staying on top of the latest developments is simply something that has to be part of my life as a part of managing this condition.
All of these infringements on my life, as I saw them a year ago, are now just a part of it: charting moods and numerous other covariates every single day, tracking meds and side effects, researching treatments, constantly reading up, going to 1 – 4 health-related appointments every damn week. It’s a lot of work, as a matter of fact. It eats up a lot of time and gives birth to even more worry.
Since getting the bipolar mood swings better under control and finding ways to curb my depression, other issues have started to surface more clearly. I always hoped I would be one of the few to avoid a cluster of related diagnoses, but I don’t think I’m so lucky as that. It became obvious a few months back that I probably suffer from PMDD, so I’ve been trying a couple of interventions for that. Anxiety has become a much clearer concern – it’s something that I literally complained of for around 16 years before anyone took it seriously. It turned out that I just hadn’t learned how to describe my symptoms well enough, and it now seems likely that a GAD diagnosis would stick. Much more recently, I’ve found that when the anxiety gets particularly severe, OCD symptoms start to emerge as well.
I feel compelled to do things intensely enough to distress me, things that I have to do despite the fact that I know it is irrational and will contribute to further anxiety. But I can’t ignore those things or it just feels worse, and as it begins to feel apocalyptic, I become increasingly incapacitated and avoidant. Most of those tasks that I must do – no matter how irrelevant to the situation and trivial – are clearly aimed at creating order and controlling my environment. I become intensely focused on doing these tasks, while nothing else can adequately capture my attention. Completing them always make me feel better. The biggest problem is that the soothing effect of doing these things makes me feel like I need to do it more.
And that’s all stuff that I always figured was perfectly normal, but I now realize the feeling of compulsion and the related distress over what seems like quite socially acceptable behavior is a signal that it’s not really normal. It’s depressing – while it’s validating to have my symptoms recognized and treated, it’s continually disappointing that they are severe enough to command attention and require treatment.
And that’s where I’m at, a year down the line. I do feel wiser, much more knowledgeable, and more capable of managing this illness. At the same time, I still struggle with acceptance and expect that I will for some time. I’m doing my best to improve myself as much as I can, but it’s a bumpy road. I’m glad to have Mr. Chickadee next to me all the way.
Write what you feel: Apprehensive about giving a guest lecture today, but looking forward to having one more commitment wrapped up. Torn about turning down several requests, but so anxious about all the work I still need to do. Deep sense of wanting something; something intangible, something that would make it all better, something that makes the right choices clear. Something that doesn’t exist.