Part two of practicing my "In Our Own Voice" talk for NAMI. This one is all about the bad crap.
I was misdiagnosed with Major Depressive disorder as a teen. For twenty years I was on and off and on antidepressants, which sometimes seemed to work and sometimes didn't. I went through long stretches of time when it seemed like a monumental task just to get out of bed. There were other times that I felt more like myself... energetic, activated, electric, alive,
It was twenty years before I received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
I had experienced hypomanic symptoms but I never thought of them as problems. After all, I finally had strength to do more than just sleep all day. I had energy. Lots of energy. Energy to spare. The less sleep I got, the less tired I was during the day. I could tackle a hundred new projects - a thousand new projects. I was on fire.
Some of my activities during my hypomanic episodes were harmless. I frenetically engaged in a series of hobbies, immersing myself in one thing completely before abandoning it for the next obsession. Whatever hobby I was interested in at the time, it was all I would do. All I could do. I lost track of time. I slept less and less.
Some of my other activities were more questionable.
None of these things had disastrous consequences. In fact, they turned out pretty well. I got more garden space, a nicer looking shoreline, a new floor, cute hair. Because the results were positive, I didn't see the behavior as symptomatic. I realized I had a bit of an impulse-control problem, but I was just glad to have energy.
But along with the excess energy came a decreased connection to the world.
My four-year-old daughter wandered off from a school playground while I was talking to another parent. The principal of the school found me and said, "That was really scary." My daughter was in tears. I knew that I was supposed to feel worry or guilt or relief, but I simply didn't care. I had no emotional reaction whatsoever.
Then, I experienced my first psychotic episode.
I was crossing the Lake Street Bridge in my car, looking out on the Mississippi River. I found myself wondering how much force would be necessary to bend the railings. And would I need to hit it straight on with my car, or could it be a glancing blow? I tried to decide which section of railings I should aim for, but traffic kept interfering with my plans. I just needed all the other cars to stop so I could think this through scientifically.
At the time it made perfect sense to me, that I should run my car full-force into the metal guard rails. I had no intention to harm myself or anyone else. I simply thought that I should do this because people would want to know. I felt that I would be doing some sort of public good.
At the same time this was happening, my rational brain would break through in brief flashes and I would think, "Oh crap! I am driving a giant machine of death and my brain has been hijacked!"
But then my altered reality would assert itself again-- a reality in which the people around me all wanted me to drive my car off the bridge.
I realized that I had no mental health emergency plan. I wondered if I was a danger to myself and others. If so, what was I supposed to do? My spouse didn't even know the name of my psychiatrist. I didn't know who to call.
It was during one of my lucid moments that I considered the benefits of following through on my destructive impulse. I pitied my family. I found myself thinking that everyone would be better off without me. Because as long as I was still alive they were going to have to deal with things like this forever. Horrible, unpredictable, terrifying things.
Quaker, teacher, parent,