This past week has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. First my husband and I went to talk to my gynecologist about trying to have a baby. The news wasn't exactly good. She thinks I might have poly cystic ovarian syndrome which can make getting pregnant pretty difficult. While I knew about the disorder I didn't think that I had it because I didn't have a lot of the symptoms that people with it exhibited. I go back next week for more testing to find out exactly what is going on, but for the mean time our hopes of starting a family have been put on hold. If that didn't break my heart my doctors appointment today did.
I've written before about my decade long struggle with depression. It is something that is always with me, sometimes feeling like it is going to swallow me whole, but sometimes seemingly to lie dormant under the surface. The medicine that I have been taking for the last few years wasn't working. I thought that the dose just wasn't correct, so I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist. If you have never been to a psychiatrist before, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out. They can't draw blood to determine if you have depression, so they need to make you answer the same question 5 times in 5 different ways to determine where you are coming from. The first sheet asked, "have you ever at any point..." followed by questions like 'increased talking and rapid speech, been excessively hyper, had difficulty concentrating, get in arguments/fights for no reason....down a list. I started to get worried as I checked 'yes' for almost every question, except for irresponsibly spending money. I was thinking to myself that this sounds like bipolar disorder, but some of the symptoms had never been brought up and didn't seem as severe as what I thought bipolar disorder was. Anyways, I was hoping the sheet was just a quick assessment for something like ADD until I looked at the bottom and saw that it was printed by a drug company as a bipolar disorder check list. I sort of tried to play all of the yes's off by writing that it seemed to generally happen when I drank too much caffeine or took phentermine. Nah, I'm fine...I just need a refill for a different anti depressant and I'll be fine.
I get in her office and we start talking and she goes through the list and makes me tell her if I've ever felt any of these without chemical assistance. I realize...I have. In fact, I've felt or experienced most of them at some point. I started to feel my stomach drop as I knew what she was going to say next. I don't have depression. I'm bipolar. I am bipolar. My eyes are starting to tear as I type this, admitting to myself, and the world that I have a disorder that I have attempted to run away from. I was okay with have depression, hell most people seem to these days. But bipolar? Isn't that this super serious disease? Don't people do insanely stupid things like spend their life's saving and have sex with prostitutes? Yes, some people do things like that when they are manic, she explained but bipolar isn't about how high your manic episodes are, it is simply that you have them at all. The analogy she used is that having depression is like walking along and occasionally having the bottom fall out. Being bipolar is not only having the bottom fall, but also having holes in the ceiling.
I apparently don't have manic symptoms but instead a less severe type called hypomanic symptoms. She gave me a paper that listed some. I have some of these, but not all of them....
-You cannot stop talking often fast loud or excited (umm...yeah, that's me people--I talk too much even when a voice in my head is going "STFU!!)
-You are more active than usual, often without a purpose (I generally throw myself into doing some chores when I feel like this or jump up and down a bunch and then crash)
-You need instant gratification, attention and approval (to some extent)
-you are quickly irritable (sometimes for absolutely no reason...again, sorry hubby)
-you quickly show displeasure (sorry if I've done this to you)
-you exaggerate and overdo all behaviors (I don't think I do that...)
-You are more hostile and argumentative when you don't get what you want
-You wear brighter colors than usual (I found this fascinating, and true!)
-You spend more money and give more gifts (also totally true)
-You write more letters, make more phone calls and give more advice
-You travel more
-You don't care so much about the rights and feelings of others
-You enjoy taking more risks
Another thing I learned is that things like my fear of going new places, knocking on my neighbors door to meet them, doing things by myself isn't normal either. I apparently also have social anxiety disorder. I think my social anxiety and crippling, at times, fear of judgement and rejection has offset some of the ruder qualities of the bipolar disorder so basically I'm not a complete asshole to strangers (only the people I love...sorry guys). I think of the trip that I took to Spain in college and how much I regretted not doing more on my own, and now I understand why I kept putting it off, and why I would rather stay home and stay in places that I had been and was comfortable with. I understand why, while I suck at routines (apparently having bipolar disorder can make having routines difficult because you never know how you are going to feel at any given time) I need things MY way so that I can feel in control of the situation and not get anxious.
How does it feel to realize that you've been misdiagnosed for the last decade? Pretty shitty actually. The horrible part of it is that I am in the vast majority of people that are diagnosed. Most people go a DECADE before they are diagnosed. One of the reasons that people aren't diagnosed more is that people don't go to the doctor when the feel good--they go because they are depressed. They don't tell their doctor about the side effects above. One of the reasons I was so terrified of being diagnosed as bipolar was that the medicine, while better now than it was even a decade ago, is pretty heavy hitting. Anti psychotics and mood stabilizers have a lot more side effects than Prozac. My doctor wrote me a prescription for a mood stabilizer, a very low dose. She wants to see me again in two weeks. I will try it and see if it helps, or harms. I hate playing the Russian roulette of medicine, but at least I have learned in the last couple of years that I can live without medicine. I'm also going to find a therapist. I've realized that I have learned quite a few good coping mechanisms, and maybe in time I can learn to live without medication. Knowing I'm bipolar will also help if, when we do have kids, I have post partum depression.
I don't know completely how I feel about this so far. While a lot of the symptoms describe me, having this label doesn't define me and frankly I thought a lot of those things up there were 'normal' before now. A couple of weeks ago I was watching glee and someone said "your illness is not who you are supposed to be. It is keeping you from who you are supposed to be." Depression, bipolar, social anxiety disorder aren't ME. They are a part of who I am, but knowing more about them is going to be how I can LIVE with them and be who I've always wanted to be. I have dealt with so much in the last 8 years. I have dealt with so much--successfully and I think, no I know I can deal with this. I have to wonder how this diagnoses would have helped me as as teenager though, or if having to live through it and learn from my mistakes has made me better equipped to deal with this disease.
Please note: I am not a doctor or a therapist and the opinions and thoughts in this blog are mine. If you think you have bipolar disorder or any mental illness, please please please get professional help.
I drove home, stopped by the mail and drove up to my house. What I saw there both infuriated and scared me to my core. It was Henry, our strictly inside cat sitting on our front porch, our door open. Where the hell is my husband? Is he lying inside hurt? My mind immediately flickered to the creepy scam artist that tried to con me into buying magazines yesterday. Did the guy come back? What I did next came as instinct--I didn't even think about it. I pushed down the horn for a good five seconds. Henry jumped 3 feet in the air, and ran inside, followed closely by my cat, who was hiding behind the neighbors bushes. My cat has NEVER been outside. The only time I tried to take him anywhere outside of our porch was a misguided attempt at teaching him to walk on a leash. He crawled up me and lay in a trembling mass in my arms until I went back in. I slammed my car into park, grabbed my bag and ran inside yelling for my husband. Thankfully he was alive, although after I yelled at him, he might have rethought that. He came in, grabbing our recycling bin on the way and somehow forgot to latch the door. Our cats had been asleep on the couch when he came in, but at some point got up to investigate, and seeing an open door meandered out. We've been letting them out on the back porch, which is two stories up and they can't get off of, because the weather is nice but after this little 'adventure' I'm rethinking how wise it is to allow their fear of the outdoors to diminish in any way.
Tomorrow is our housewarming party. I know that even if only a few people turn up, I am in a place of love surrounded with friends and the best husband ever. I don't think I could ask for anything more than that, although I wouldn't mind some sunshine.