48: Q&A – Experiences with diagnosis

lunamorgan asked “What was diagnosis like? How did you get it all sorted, because from what I’ve heard, it’s really hard to get a proper diagnosis of bipolar, what with most people not seeing doctors during manic phases.”

There were stages to my diagnosis, and it probably didn’t help that I moved from Beverley into Hull a couple of months after I first saw a my GP because I was disconnected and depressed.  Well, it did and didn’t help: part of what kicked the depression off was that I wasn’t happy in Beverley, so moving to my new place kind of helped that… but I digress already!

In October 2001, I went to see my GP, ostensibly because I’d strained something in my hand, I think, but also because I was bursting randomly into tears on the train home, feeling completely disconnected from everything, apathetic… all the classic symptoms of depression.  My GP was absolutely lovely, very sympathetic, talked me through it all, and prescribed me Prozac.  I don’t think he asked any further questions which would have indicated symptoms of mania as well… but if he did, I didn’t answer them correctly because I was depressed at the time, not really clear in the head – and at any rate, I’d never realised that the symptoms of mania I had were a problem.  Even the serious hallucinations and paranoia, for some reason.  I conveniently forgot about all that once I wasn’t going through it any more.

Anyway, although I felt weird about being diagnosed with clinical depression – unsettled, worried, unsure what it all really meant – I think it helped me just knowing that there was something “real” wrong with me.  The Prozac was also somewhat helpful, though it did make me pretty groggy and slow (mentally) a lot of the time.  I decided to move out of where I was living and get a place in Hull, nearer my work.  Everything was going to be rosy.

Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that.  Within a couple of months, I was manic, and not in a good way.  I now know that being on the anti-depressants was only helpful while I was depressed.  With nothing else to counteract them and keep my mood from going to high, it shot straight past the on-top-of-the-world mania I’d had when I moved, and into hallucination territory again.  Really, I guess I was in a mixed state, because I was also freaked out about leaving the house, and I also now now that I tend towards anxiety and agoraphobia when I’m down.  Fun times!  It all came to a head when I was due for a doctor’s appointment at the GP I’d transferred to, and I was having hallucinations that the buildings around me were moving and changing (rather like in Dark City, only in the daytime and with a tragic lack of Rufus Sewell).  This was, I’m sure you understand, frightening and creepy as all hell.  I was late to my appointment.  The receptionist told me I’d have to go away and make a new one for another day.  I went outside… and had an enormous freak out of truely epic proportions.  Let’s just say I was a bit hysterical.  I got to see the doctor that day after all.  I was scaring the other patients.  And myself, because I couldn’t stop.  I don’t do public displays of extreme emotion, in general.  Well, not ones that include hysterical crying and injuring myself.  Thankfully, this has been a one off in my life so far!

Anyway, the point is, I saw the doctor, and he referred me to the mental health services and gave me a sick note.  It took a couple of months for me to get my first appointment, during which time I was off work and mostly living on my sofa from what I remember.  The very first appointmetn I has with the psychiatrist, she diagnosed me with bipolar.  I didn’t believe her.  I thought she’d just picked it out of a hat because I was creative / musical.  I was actually probably displaying clear symptoms of being in a mixed state in that appointment, with hindsight.  I was prescribed some anti-psychotics (to help with the mania and anxiety) to take alongside my anti-depressants (which had been changed to Venlafaxine by that time), but they violently disagreed with me breathing, so I only ever took the one dose.  Next appointment, she put me on Depakote instead, which I’m on to this day.  It took nearly a year, but finally I came to terms with the diagnosis when I started recognising manic episodes.  It was knowing what to look for, and also having friends on LJ who were bipolar talking about their experiences which made me see it.  One day I went to my appointment and said “I think I’m manic today”.  My psychiatrist smiled and agreed.

46: A bit more on “normality”

Following on from my last post, I thought I’d just write a quick one (I hope!) covering what’s “normal” and not when you have bipolar.  In my experience, that is.

As I said before, “normal” is when you can function.  But in a way, that’s a reasonably wide definition of normal, and you could be in a manic or depressive phase while still meeting the criteria for being normal in that case.  If you’re want to define “normal” as “not manic or depressed”, how would you do that? (I would actually call that “stable”, rather than “normal”, probably because normal is such a fuzzy label, but anyway.)

I think perhaps being manic or depressed means that you’re not in control of your moods or emotions any more.  You can’t “just snap out of it” or “cheer up” or “calm down”.  Your brain chemicals are out of whack, and you’re stuck on that rollercoaster until something happens to stop it.  That could be outside intervention (from medication, to therapy, to just someone letting you know that you’re not well – because sometimes you can’t tell yourself ), it could be a sharp mood swing in the other direction, or it could be that you are able to put coping mechanisms in place yourself and start to haul yourself out by your bootstraps.  So yes, it is possible to take control back if you catch the mood swing early enough, or at the right point when you’re going back in the other direction.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps you do that.  The meditation that I spoke about earlier is one of my coping strategies.  Getting it out of my head and into paper or screen is another.  Knitting and spinning are another.  And getting out of the flat and socialising is a very very important one.

Perhaps one of the problems with bipolar is that when you’re manic, it’s very easy to “fake normal”.  Everything’s brilliant, you can do anything and everything right now if you’re at the “right” stage of mania.  And it feels good.  It’s actually harder to admit to mania when everythings awesome like the awesomest thing ever, than it is to admit to depression (which can be pretty hard if you can cope with talking to anyone!).

Listening to: KT Tunstall – Miniature Disasters
via FoxyTunes

45: Q&A – How do we know what’s “normal” and what’s not?

Ptyx asked me: How do we know what’s “normal” and what’s not?

Before I got started answering that, I thought I’d better make sure I understood what she was asking, since there were a couple of different ways I can see to come at it (How do I know when I’m “normal” instead of in the grip of a manic or depressive phase; or how do we define normal as opposed to not?).  When I asked her, she replied: “The question was mostly general, that is, the second option: how can someone tell who is normal, or what behaviour is normal? I think the first option is part of the problem, too. But I guess that, before deciding if someone is behaving normally, we have to decide what is normal and what’s not.”

I think my answer to that will have to run very much along the lines of something my psychiatrist once said to me.  To give some background to that conversation, I’d been having what I like to call mild “reality issues” – and yes, I have degrees of reality issues, but when I’ve had the most severe ones, it’s been when I’ve been the most ill – so Mum was concerned that I might be heading in that direction.  Which is very bad no good stuff.  Anyhow, I’d been having some very vivid, lifelike, repetitive dreams.  Repetitive in the sense that I went to the same place every time: what happened wasn’t the same.  My sleep was a bit all over the place, so it all seemed a bit dreamlike when I was awake too, so it was making sense to me that both places were equally real.  YMMV.  However, in general, I was doing OK.  I was sleeping every day at some point, I was eating and going out, I was getting other things done.  There was just the risk that I might end up going too high.  So, I went to see the doctor, and after going through it all with me, he asked if it was distressing me?  No, it wasn’t, because the other place was perfectly nice and interesting, just different to here.  Was it stopping me from functioning when I was awake – taking care of myself, eating, socialising?  Nope.

In that case, he said, it doesn’t matter.  Don’t worry about it, just carry on as you were.  Make sure you keep taking your meds, keep track of your moods, and if it gets worse: becomes distressing, stops you functioning, makes you do things that are risky to yourself or others; that’s when there needs to be further intervention.

So I think that’s become my definition of “normal”.  Able to take care of oneself and function safely and well in society. Does that make sense?  I can be manic, I can be depressed, Person X can be a bit eccentric, Person Y can be schizophrenic, and so on, but if we’re all doing well enough that we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any damage physically or mentally… then that’s “normal” enough for me.

“Normal”, of course, is just as much a  label as anything else.  And it’s a subjective thing – different people will have different definitions.  Often, that definition will be “like me”.  That’s too restrictive for me.

Once again, I’ll point you to Cia’s post on the subject – it’s a good one!

Listening to: Florence And The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
via FoxyTunes

44: Going for food, brb for real this time

Well, since I’m suddenly really hungry, I think I’ll celebrate having caught up with myself (I have, right?) by going and getting that toast and some orange juice.  I might also reboot the computer.  I think it really needs it.

When I come back, I’m going to answer my comments, and see if I can also make a post or two answering questions I’ve been asked.  Back soon!  Really, this time!!

Topics for the Blogathon / Q&A

As I said yesterday, one of the things I’m planning to do during the Blogathon is to talk about some of my experiences with being bipolar, and I was hoping that people would ask me any questions they have about the subject so that I could have a go at answering and maybe make some things clearer.  I’ve thought of some possible topics to start with, so here’s a handy poll:

[poll id=”2″]

Or do you have any other questions or related topics you’d like me to expound upon?  Is there anything specific that you’ve heard about bipolar, or gathered from the media, that you want to know about?  Or do you want to know about stupid things I’ve done while manic?  Or what knitting has to do with it?  Feel free to ask absolutely anything (er, about bipolar / being bipolar) even if you think it’s a bit personal – if I feel it’s not something I want to talk about then I’ll say so, but I’m going to try to be as open and thorough as possible with this.  Anyway, leave any other questions in the comments.  Thank you!!

And as well as that whole topic, I’m planning to post about:

  • Knitting: what’s on my needles, recent finished objects, and what I want to do next.
  • Spinning: it’s the last two days of the Tour de Fleece!
  • Books, film, TV… maybe.  Things that I’ve been reading or watching recently, which may include fanfiction.  (Funnily enough I’ve just started reading Harry Potter fanfic again, which is what I did during the first Blogathon I took part in back in 2003.  Oh the synchronicity!)
  • Links to other ‘thon-ers (mostly likely when my brain has shut down in the middle of the night ;-) )

I think that should keep me going!

Blogathon 2009


So, rather later than I’d originally intended (July, where did you go?!), I have signed up for this year’s Blogathon.  Which is this coming Saturday and Sunday, 25th-26th July.  What does that actually mean?  Well, I’ll be blogging an entry every half hour (or thereabouts) for 24 hours, starting from 2pm Saturday.  It’s for charity, and like the last time I did this two years ago, I’m blogging for MDF the Bipolar Organisation.  They are a marvellous organisation which I’ve been a member of for a few years now, and as their mission statement says, they work “to enable people affected by bipolar disorder / manic depression to take control of their lives”.  That includes supporting and funding self-help groups around the country, running courses, providing information and advice services, increasing awareness of bipolar, and much much more.  In short, a really worthwhile charity.

Now comes the begging part: I need sponsors! The way the Blogathon works is, if you’d like to sponsor me, please please click through and make a pledge on the Blogathon site (you can either click that link, or the banner above and then look me up on the Blog List).  You can either sponsor me for a lump sum for completing the ‘thon, or for every hour.  Once I’ve completed then ‘thon, you’ll get an email from the Blogathon site letting you know, and giving you the link to make a direct donation to MDF.  Easy-peasy!  MDF doesn’t have a minimum donation amount, and even a pound or two goes towards providing important services.  Donations are handled via Paypal, and even if you don’t have an account you can use your credit or debit card.

I know this is a little late in the day, but hopefully someone will be able to chip in.  The Blogathon people did a Charity Spotlight on Medical, Health and Awareness charities, listing the blogs who don’t yet have $10 sponsorship.  I’m one of them!  (Thank you for the publicity Blogathon people – now I’m doing my bit!)  I would rather like to break that ceiling if I can, at the very least.

Anyway, let me know if you happen to be Blogathoning too, or if for any bizarre reason you’re going to be up all night Saturday – I’ll be signed on to every chat thingy I have.  And look out for a new site design: I’m just in the process of putting one together and it should be up before the ‘thon starts.  Which might be famous last words, of course.  I’m also intending to come back tomorrow and tell you what I’m going to be blogging about – this is another thing I’m leaving way too late, but I wanted to ask for questions about bipolar that I could answer during the ‘thon.  Mainly because I was thinking that rather than writing one enormous long post about it that takes too long (I have to post every half hour, remember!), doing a question or topic at a time would break it down better. And I can do other stuff in between.  But that’s for tomorrow!  Which is now technically later today.  Good night!