Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Riding the Bipolar Roller Coaster

It's been a long time, in bipolar terms, since I experienced a real depressive episode. But I remember, now that I've been going through it again, that depression sometimes presents as organic illness. I start to feel sick. Feeling sick is not my normal state. This feeling sick sends me to my internist. And in the early phase I might have some mild and transient illness that can either be treated or waited out. But I don't bounce back. Feeling ill lingers. Not sick enough to simply stay in bed, but not well enough to want to do much of anything. It's a headache that's hard to get rid of, or a bowel disturbance, or low grade fever, or a slow, creeping stupidity that scares me more than anything. It's the transitions from one pole to the other that are the most dangerous. It's when we, the bipolar, realize depression is bearing down on us and we still have the energy to do something about it, that we know we can't stand it again. That's when we think about suicide. If I were suicidal, I would not be talking about it, so relax. I'm not suicidal. But I have been there, more than once. It's why I don't fear death by cancer or heart disease or a fatal car accident.

In Salt Lake, under the umbrella of medicare, we have Valley Mental Health. And within Valley Mental Health is a group called The Master's Program. You have to be bipolar and over fifty to qualify. I think calling a program for the old bipolar patients The Masters Program is both funny and apt. If you've lived past fifty and you are bipolar, you're damn special. You have survived a very difficult life. And I'm always amazed how many of us there are. We are often treated for substance abuse(self medicating) which might result in a bit of trouble with the law, especially for men. Men are more likely to be incarcerated than women, since men are more likely to be violent against others, where as women are more likely to be self destructive.

We can be extremely charming, and we can be horrid. I would not choose a bipolar friend to hang around with. In my opinion many of us are more trouble than we're worth. And in transition we can be seething with barely suppressed rage. In a manic phase we can seem as if we're taking large doses of amphetamines--motor mouthed and loud. I sure wouldn't chose to spend my time with anyone like me. But for the person experiencing a bit of mania it's damn fun. We all live for the hypomanic phase of the illness. But, like the way down, the way up is also dangerous.

All this to say, I called The Masters Program today, got through the gate keepers to the psychiatrist's nurse. She said she would get back to me tomorrow when she'd had a chance to talk to Dr. Issabela, whose booked two months out. So I was instructed to call Fred, my therapist, set up an appointment on a day Dr. Issabela will be in the office. She will look in on me between appointments, consult with Fred and between them they will decide if I go off Doxepin Hydrochloride and back on Zoloft. I have over the course of my life dealing with this monster illness found that not that many of the drugs to control my illness are tolerable to me. They all have some side effects. And some are worse than others. This drug gives you tremors and this drug makes you fat, this drug makes you stupid and this drug steals your dreams. Go ask Alice. I'm guessing she was bipolar.


Paul said...

Thanks for all that, Utah.

I would not be eligible for "The Masters Program" for another three and a bit years.

Yet, I've clearly suffered from bi-polar disorder for about 30 years. The 30th anniversary of my first ECT session and first psych hospital admission is not far off. Also, I've been on and off Lithium, Epilim and anti-depressants since I was a teenager.

You are right that it is an achievement to be bi-polar and make it past 50. Dying in some accident while manic, an alcohol/drug overdose or suicide are real pre-50 possibilities for bi-polar people. I know it is a small miracle I'm still alive and might make it to 50.

I could rave on here forever about bi-polar but I wont but I will say I think group therapy for bi-polar people when they are relatively stable is great. I got so much out of it and I know my ex-girlfriend did too. Once, out of about 14 people, there were two other bi-polar women in the group, who had also believed themselves to be the Virgin Mary in the heights of mania; however, both were now recovered from that delusional thinking and were doing OK with jobs and relationships etc.

The prognosis with bi-polar or even bi-polar/schizo-affective CAN be so much better than schizophrenia. If one is lucky to respond well to lithium and/or epilim etc, manages to avoid alcohol abuse and drugs AND finds a good doctor/therapist there is real hope.........but it is still a cruel bastard of an illness.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

when I have my ... erm ... *episodes* ... my skin feels heavy. I can't leave bed because I feel like I have those x-ray protective vests on, but on my entire body. thankfully, i've only had one such incident since coming here and it was just 2 weeks ago. i was useless for over a week. the good news is, because i don't know many people, i don't torture many people with my foolishness. i do worry, however, that i will be discovered dead and alone someday. because i don't know many people who care.

i love you, utah.

Sheila Rene said...

Nice to meet you, Utah. Happened to trip over your post on Jay Bybee (let's get The Rack ready for that bastige.)

I'm 10 years away from The Masters Program but as worn-down as I feel today, it seems like it's already marked on next week's calendar. A major mixed episode last week left me knocked flat, and I know yet another one is lurking around the corner.

A roller coaster, indeed.

Utah Savage said...

We have enough for a good group therapy session right now.

Mob said...

Yikes girl, hang in there. Your viewpoint on the subject is much appreciated, as you know some of the family issues we've dealt with in the past month or so.

Regardless of your current state, you seem much more lucid than anything we've been up against recently, I'm quite impressed.

Utah Savage said...

MOB It's self knowledge gained through fifty years of dealing with this motherfucker of an illness. Still it creeps up on me sometimes. One thing you can't do to someone with BP Disorder is tell them to "Shape Up, get some fresh air and exercise, that'll make you feel better." Nothing will make you feel better but the right bipolar drug and that's kind of a crapshoot. Someone with bipolar disorder may be a complete asshole but they honestly can't help it. So berating them for their assholian BS just won't help.

La Belette Rouge said...

As a more dysthymic character I have sometimes foolishly envied folks with manic tendencies. I am sorry you find yourself on the roller coaster. I admire your honesty and your courage to share some of the ride with us.

Huge hugs and lots of love to you.xo

p.s.Another blogger I read regularly just wrote a post about living with Bi-polar that you might relate to: http://shallowcoffee.blogspot.com/2009/04/im-bipolar-is-that-bi-enough-for-you.html

Neither Here Nor There said...

You're doing all that you can do. It is much better than letting it overtake you completely. Stay strong and make sure you keep the your wheels on the track. We just met...

Comrade Kevin said...

You know that I completely understand what you are going through. Confusing a depressive episode with an actual physical illness is so common a phenomenon that it was included as a topic in a group therapy session I attended when I was back in DC.

I hope I can make it to The Master's Program, since I can almost guarantee by the time I'm fifty, there will still not be a cure for bipolar.

In my teens and early twenties, I did self-medicate quite a bit with pot and benzos, but coming off of both of those about three years ago was the best thing I ever did for myself.

I'm still here after all the trauma and glad to be. You mentioned that you'd never hang out with another bipolar person and while I understand where you are coming from, there are some of us that are quite pleasant to be around when we are properly medicated. Those who are not are the real problems.

Sherry Pasquarello said...

you are doing pretty good and your honesty has helped many.

having depression i've been thru some meds and some well meaning bullshit from people that haven't a clue.

i was relieved to find that i had depression and NF1 with learning disablities instead of just being lazy/stupid or a wimp plus a few more tiresome crappy labels.

that's sad, you know, being glad that you're really sick and not stupid and lazy.i still have many days when i get down hard on myself and think maybe they were right.

you are a brave person. i've known and know a few people saddled with bipolar. it can be hard trying to be friends but all of the people i've know with it are brilliant human beings.

you too.

Utah Savage said...

Paul, thanks for speaking up. I think we have a pretty good group here. For therapy and support. It does help me to know you are out there and you understand.

NJNRR, I love you, too. It's hard for me to imagine you are not beloved by all lucky enough to get to know you. But you are a bit on the private side, No? Very independent, and not quick to share the inner you? You can always visit me. We'll talk about it, whatever it is.

Sheila, I'm so glad you're here. I am on the roller coaster. A friend dropped by this afternoon and I was borderline manic. But I had a doctor appointment midday, then the grocery store, no food, and not enough fluids... I might as well hit myself on the head with my cast iron skillet.

Belette, my dear, I am up then crashing. It's a bit disconcerting. I can't be sure what words might fly out of my mouth next. It's nice when someone understands and doesn't judge me too harshly. I can do that quite will all by myself.

NHNT, Glad to have you here. What a wonderful support network I have. I'm glad you're with me.

Kevin, I followed your journey with great interest and gratitude to you for having the courage to participate in that study.

Sherry, I was always thought to be quite weird. I was my family's scapegoat and from my experiences in The Masters Program group therapy, it is quite common for the wounded child to be the scapegoat, the child to bear the negative labels. Pretty soon you start labeling yourself and it can be so hard to stop seeing yourself that way. I've always seen you as smart and witty.

Paul said...

When my depression is at its worst I can pray that I will die quickly in my sleep. I may not leave the house and struggle even to have a shower or wash my sheets etc......and I can hate myself for not having the courage to wash down ALL my pills with a bottle of whiskey.....and so on. I am hopeless.

Yet, when my depression is a lot less severe I really CAN push myself to get out in the sunshine and exercise a bit; and that really DOES make a big difference in how I feel. I am lucky now to have a young, mad, energetic dog who really demands and needs and is used to his daily exercise and this alone can motivate me on a lot of "so-so, moderately bad" days to get outside and do something.

Thank God bi-polar is episodic! And there are those times between bad "episodes" which are OK and life is manageable.

All the best, Utah.

susan said...

I never know what to say when you write about these episodes but I do read them with interest and sympathy. I wish you well, my friend.

Utah Savage said...

Susan, thank you. Your well wishes mean a lot to me.

lisahgolden said...

I'm wondering how you're feeling now. Would a bit of MathMan cheer you up at all? He can be very soothing or entertaining.

Goodness - what would he say about me pimping him out?

Utah Savage said...

Lisa, you haven't told him yet about our business deal? Actually I just watched your latest drive time webcam with titles and soundtrack. But Doug seems completely oblivious that you have sold him to me. When are you going to tell him?

themom said...

I don't know if it is an inane talent, but having grown up with mental illness in the home (not me - asshole brother), I can deal with anyone in any mood. I had a friend who would be so loving to me one minute and ready to tear my throat out the next. But I could take it all - I was there for her. I am here, although it is by wireless, and I love to listen to you. So hugs for now friend.

Unknown said...

Utah, it's really great that you speak out so honestly. You're helping countless people with this post.
When I read about what you go through, it strikes me that, well, yes, you manage, but you are Utah Savage.
Reading the comments and discovering that others can also live a full and rewarding life with the disease offers an extra boost.
Honor all you bi-polar people!

Stella by Starlight said...

I would not choose a bipolar friend to hang around with. In my opinion many of us are more trouble than we're worth. Aw, gee, Utah. You wouldn't hang around with me? I guess I've always seen BP as a gift. Well, except for the manic times. Yikes, I can be truly horrid. Paul, that's interesting about bi-polar people not making it past 50. I guess I'm doing alright for an old girl. And, yes, it is truly a "cruel bastard of an illness." Utterly well put.

Anyway, just thinking about you dearest Utah. My computer broke down and I'm still working too many hours.

...but I'm always hoping things go well for you. I don't have anything profound to say except I miss my cyber world and all your wonderful guests' comments.

Paul said...


I am sure the clear majority of bi-polar people make it past 50, but I do not know what any official statistics or research might indicate in percentages etc.

There are many people with bi-polar disorder who respond well to the different medications and do not have that dual problem of alcohol and/or drug addiction, and who live full and active lives.

Yet there are those who might be "dual diagnosis" (which is not that uncommon) and don't respond as well to medications etc and for these, if there illness starts around 20, making it past 50, from what I've seen, is an achievement.

There are also those who may have, for example, only two severe episodes in their whole life, while there are others who can have little full relief from some of the worse symptoms for year after year.

Anyway, I'm sure you and others probably know all this but I did not mean to give the impression of most people with bi-polar not getting past 50.

Unknown said...

Savage, I love your name and I love your writing. Probably I even out the statistics a bit of men in jail more than women. I've been incarcerated six times in two different county jails. Down in Beaufort County, SC, I littered, trespassed, resisted arrested, and oops, assaulted a police officer, and oops again, through bodily fluids. All, of course when I was manic. Charges were dropped but I spent a total of four months in jail. I've been stable for a year and a half, and have avoided two episodes by slightly adjusting my medication. I would be honored if you visited my site, bipolaroni.com and left a comment. Best wishes to you and I'll be visiting your site regularly.