Starting and then finishing anything these days takes a huge effort. My mind wanders and goes off on little journeys all its own, flitting from topic to topic as others either talk to me or I simply sit quietly on my own. Following any ‘train of thought’ to a conclusion is challenging and the harder I try to concentrate, the more I appear to meander. So lets see if I can manage to answer the next five questions without heading off on a tangent all my own!!!!
Question 21; Are you content with it being called bipolar affective disorder, or rather revert to manic depression or rename it completely? Why?
‘Manic depression’ has, in Ireland anyway, a very negative history. Those who struggled with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression)(think prince!!) in this country were historically horribly mistreated, placed in asylums with very little medication and lots of cruelty. While things have changed drastically in terms of services and treatments, the name still holds negative associations to this day. At the end of the day, it is what I suffer from – I have a manic depressive disorder. The fact that there is still so little really understood about the illness, still so much stigma attached to the condition for those of us who suffer from it and so much discrimination and prejudice shown to those of us with mental illness (and also accepted by us) is a disgraceful indictment of a modern society. The label won’t matter as long as those prejudices remain. The label doesn’t matter as long as medications to counteract the symptoms remain expensive and access to mental health services continue to be inadequate or elitist. I am lucky I can afford both the medications and the specialist psychiatry care. On average a months worth of meds and a doctors visit costs about $300 dollars or 3,500 South African Rand, with the medications costing more than half of that figure. Every month. I could attend a public clinic, but would get less care, less often. All things being equal, I don’t care what it’s called. I just wish lots of things were different – the name is not really one of them.
Questions 22. What meds gave you the worst side effects, how did/do you treat it/them, and do you still get any side effects now?
When I was first diagnosed, I was prescribed a drug called Fluanxol. It is a thioxanthene medicine, diagnosed for both schizophrenia and those of us suffering from depression. I was on this for about five years and I developed a shaking and weakness of the hands which was fairly difficult to deal with. I also had restless legs and would unconsciously move my legs all the time. I didn’t quite rock back and forth, but I wasn’t far off it. My doctor at the time, weaned me off fluanxol after about five years as he said that there had been cases of patients being left with face tics after prolonged use. I was put on tegretol which is a carbamazepine medication. The side effect of this was to give me what I called a ‘cotton wool’ tongue. It made my brain fuzzy, it made me feel like I had a swollen tongue and I was ‘tripping over it’. Sounds strange – how can you trip over your own tongue, but that is the closest description I can think of. It wasn’t until I was put on tegretol retard that this symptom mostly went away. Presently I take 1500mgs of this daily (just before bed actually). I was also put on Lexapro (an SSRI) about ten years ago and 18 months ago, that was changed to 60mgs of mirtazapine.
One of the greatest side effects of these medications for me is weight gain. I have over the last ten years put on a significant amount of weight, which I find extremely difficult to shift. I comfort eat as part of the depression itself, so of course this doesn’t help. Because my brain won’t ‘shut off’ I also take 15mgs of Zolpidem every night. But I don’t sleep well, even taking two tablets every night, my sleep is fairly disturbed – certainly not what I would call ‘restive’. I deal with the symptoms/side effects as best I can. That’s all I can do; it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.
Question 23: Why do I blog about bipolar?
I blog to quiet and clear my thoughts, to make sense of what I am thinking, how I am feeling and try and sort things out for myself. I write to have a record of my ups and downs so that I can track how I am actually doing. Sometimes it is difficult to gauge that for myself. I also blog to share with others who struggle and suffer as I do. There is strength in numbers and great support on the blogosphere. I like to feel that, to feel that I am part of a bigger group, to feel I am understood completely without having to explain myself.
Question 24. How much of your life has been stable/euthymic, depressed and hypo/manic?
Well that’s a tough question… to which I actually don’t know the answer. I am a rapid cycler. I have distinctive high and low episodes regularly. But I’ve also had a stressful life. I had three children under the age of four, a fairly stressful business to run, a home to run, and a husband who is a workaholic and an alpha male. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be all things to all people because I am also a bit of a perfectionist. I worry about things more than I should and find it extremely difficult to delegate. Of the last 20 years, I can say that probably half of it has been somewhat balanced, while the rest has been cycling either up or down. That is as exact as I can be.
Question 25. What state are you in right now, when did it start and what are your goals and hopes about it?
I was diagnosed as clinically depressed in March of 2014. My doc said that it was not related to my bipolar disorder. I had spent about five months before that wanting to put my car under a truck so that I could just “stop” everything. When I almost did it one morning on the way to work, I knew I was in trouble. Since March of last year, I’ve been battling to get out of that ‘valley of shadows’. The medications have been tweeked and upped until I felt at least I wasn’t getting any worse. I feel like I’m coming back to myself now. But anxiety has become a factor for me. Doc says it is like I am having a bit of a crisis, that life is just a bit difficult for me at the moment. When I feel too much stress, I get panic attacks, anxiety attacks and I shut down. But I’ve come a good way already . When I look back on how I was this time last year, I know there is a huge improvement. I just have to make sure that I keep that up, that I get control of the anxiety and I can have somewhat of a normal (or at least what passes for normal) existence. That’s all I can aim for – more good than bad days. I’d settle for that.