Brain Candy

Sooooooo I’m not even sure how to start this page because it’s going to have to cover a lot of ground and could get very boring very fast. Here’s the nitty gritty: I have bipolar disorder I, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. (Feel free to skip this page and just read the Wikipedia articles, I won’t be offended.) As a result, I can’t work and I take about $1,000 worth of pills per month that, fortunately, Blake’s insurance covers most of.

In the winter of 2006 I suffered a psychotic episode where I thought I was communicating with god (which we believe to be the 2nd of 2 episodes) and was hospitalized for 10 days, 3 or 4 of those days being spent in the acute trauma ward where I was literally out of my mind. In the hospital, they gave me Zyprexa (olanzapine) and gradually I started coming out of the psychosis, but a diagnosis as to the underlying cause was never given. I was discharged from the hospital with a prescription for a 2 week supply of Zyprexa (and let it be known that I was NOT fully out of psychosis when I was discharged, I wouldn’t be “okay” until almost a month later) and instructions to see a doctor for more.

So I saw a doctor for more and we talked about possible causes of psychosis. I asked if it were possible that psychosis could “just happen” as a fluke thing and the doctor said that it was possible. In denial that anything was wrong with me, I went with that explanation and went without medication for about a year before seeking treatment from a mental health professional due to intense fear that psychosis would happen again and crippling depression where I would lay on the couch with the TV on but not even watching it, just crying for weeks on end.

I was seeing a new physician and I asked him to refer me to a psychiatrist based on what had happened the previous March and that’s when he referred me to the mental health clinic I go to usually once a month but sometimes if I’m doing well, every 3 months. I’ve had the same psychiatrist the whole time I’ve been going there and she’s sort of hit or miss as a result of literally having hundreds of patients who she sometimes can’t seem to keep straight.

For those who are unaware, a psychiatrist’s job is to prescribe psychiatric medications and to make sure that those medications continue to work and tweak them as necessary. A psychiatrist is not to be confused with a psychologist or therapist whose jobs it is to give you talk therapy and things like that.

My psychiatrist diagnosed me with everything I mentioned in the opening paragraph on my 2nd or 3rd visit and that’s when we began treating the bipolar and anxiety with medications. The only way to really do that is by trial & error, which admittedly was pretty brutal. She had me try a good 20 or so medications before we found the cocktail that worked, which took about 2-2 & a half years. Some of the medications I was severely allergic to, lithium and I didn’t get along well AT ALL and one medication, called risperidone, made me gain about 60 lbs in a matter of 3 months, which I’m still trying to get rid of 2 years later, because it fucked with my metabolism. I went from 100 lbs to 160 lbs and that made my self-esteem plummet. I should be starting a metabolic clinic in September (2010) where I hope to get rid of the last 20 lbs or so.

As I mentioned, I’m agoraphobic, which means that I rarely leave the house, although in the past couple of years, through immersion therapy, I’ve started being able to leave the house as long as Blake is with me, which is a vast improvement over the last 6 years or so where I wouldn’t leave the house at all. In the summer of ’09 I got to the point where I could drive to the post office in the middle of the night with my dog, Lucky, but due to certain factors, I’ve regressed to not being able to go anywhere by myself.

In order to leave the house, I have to take 1 or 2mg of lorazepam and sometimes when I am out, I have to take more.

At this time I’m not actively working on my agoraphobia for a number of reasons, but mostly because of lifestyle restrictions. We live in a VERY small town where there is literally nowhere to go BUT the post office, which is kind of far away, and we are a one car family, which means that I couldn’t drive anywhere if I wanted to. Also problematic is the fact that because of where we live, we have to go on major highways to get anywhere and I’m unable to go faster than 60 km/h in a car at this point. Another factor is that in the winter of 2010 we got a new car that I don’t feel comfortable driving. And last but not least, it’s simply easier and more cost-effective if Blake gets groceries  or check the mail on his way home from work.

I go back & forth. Sometimes I want the freedom to be able to go places by myself or to be able to drive, other times I’m just fine never going anywhere by myself for the rest of my life. Basically at this stage of the game, there’s really no benefit to putting myself through the hell of immersion therapy to get better so I don’t. Maybe once Blake gets a better job and we move to our “forever home”, in our “forever town” and when I have a car of my own, things will change, but I don’t foresee anything changing prior to then and we don’t know when any of that’s going to happen. Sometimes I feel like I’m just sitting in this house rotting away, waiting for my life to happen. Waiting for Blake’s stupid job to work out so I can start my own life. I very much feel as though I’m in limbo and unfortunately I’ve been there for quite some time and it appears as though I’m going to be here for quite some time to come.

Interestingly enough, my daughter said to me just weeks ago, after we spent the day talking (as we often do) about anything and everything, “I know you have your problems, but honestly, I think you’re a better mother for them.” I asked her why she thought that and she said that it was because I’m gentle, I’m always here if they (the kids) need anything, I’ll answer every question, I’m perceptive etc etc. I found that to be an interesting observation and it felt good to hear since I feel like I’m a terrible mother most of the time. Madison also said that she’s glad I’m not like the other moms of the kids in her class, that at least I do something with my life (art) as opposed to living my life around doing the groceries and picking up and dropping off kids from school. I thought that was interesting as well.

The generalized anxiety goes along with both the bipolar disorder and agoraphobia. To make a long story short: I worry about EVERYTHING to a ridiculous extent and if I don’t take my medication before bed, I won’t be able to sleep due to “racing thoughts” of worry.

1mg of clonazepam before bed

In the fall and winter, my depression used to spiral out of control, but since the introduction of using a light box beginning in October, I’ve been much better. This is called seasonal affective disorder and happens to a lot of people, particularly those of us in Canada where our winters last longer than most places, and it is often related to bipolar disorder.

Even with the light therapy, I’m not 100% okay during the winter, I’m just better with the light box than without it. If you read my blog for a year, it’s very easy to see where SAD begins and ends because in the winter my entries tend to be more complain-y and negative, whereas my spring & summer posts are much more positive.

Mental illness is a disability just like any other.
Those who disagree are called “ableists“.

So where did all this crap come from? No one knows. There is a family history of mental illness on my mom’s side of the family and my great grandpa committed suicide as a result of either his mental illness or the fact that he was probably an alcoholic due to self-medicating his mental illness. Almost all of my cousins on that side, and one of my uncles, are on psychiatric medications for various things, so while my diagnosis was hard to accept at first, it really does make sense. Also looking back, the bipolar diagnosis is no surprise really. Now that I know what it is, I can see that I’ve had it all my life. (My stay in the psych ward when I was psychotic was not my first visit. I was sent to a psychiatric hospital when I was 15 due to 2 suicide attempts that I can see now were partially due to bipolar disorder.)

The agoraphobia is probably fixable whereas the generalized anxiety and the bipolar disorder are only controllable and I’ll have to take medication for those 2 things for the rest of my life (the bipolar meds most definitely).

So there ya have it. My mental health profile in a nutshell. (As of September 7th, 2010.)

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