Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? If we could only have it first!!. But more of that later.
I have been diagnosed as suffering from a form of Bipolar Disorder (previously known as Manic-Depression). I was diagnosed following my second major depressive episode. The first spell of major depression hit me very suddenly in late 1995. Not only did it hit me quite suddenly, it also hit me very hard and I was unable to work and was on sickness benefits for six months or more and off work for about a year in total. Initially I was seeing a psychiatrist every couple of days and then weekly, fortnightly, monthly until finally I was released under medication to my own family doctor.
I had serious suicidal thoughts and tendencies and really believed for a while that my family would be better of without me. Thanks to God, I was prompted to seek medical help to find out what the matter was with me. I was blessed to find a spot in a Health Department clinic that gave me access to psychiatric care under the public system that I could not have afforded through private medical means at the time.
Sue and my family were tremendous in their support and help and through them and the efforts of my psychiatrist; I finally got back to work and to a normal life.
I started feeling depression returning in May 2001 and went to see our new family doctor who agreed that there were depressive symptoms and suggested that I go back on anti depressant medication to stabilize the condition first and then we could consider future courses of action.
I started on Luvox at 100mg per day in May and increased to 200mg per day on the 11th July with a further increase to the nominal maximum of 300mg per day on 24th July. The depression seemed to start to stabilize at this dosage level and although I still got days where I felt depressed. Generally it was getting slowly better. I was placed on a 350mg per day dosage not long after that.
My GP noticed that my moods were actually cycling up and down and he suggested that I start recording them to see if they really were and by how much. It wasn’t too long before it became obvious that it was more than depression and I was tentatively diagnosed with a Bipolar Disorder and an appointment was made with a consultant psychiatrist to get a formal diagnosis and the right medication and treatment started.
I saw a consultant psychiatrist who concurred that my disorder is Bipolar in nature and I have probably had it for many years but until the major depressive episode in 1995 it remained unrecognised, as is often the case with milder symptoms. The official diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder, Cyclothymic in nature with rapid cycles now.
My mother suffered from mood disorders for many years and two of my children are being treated for major depression/mood disorders at the moment. So there is a family history of mood disorders. I have now started on the mood stabilizer Epilim to counter the breakthrough mania caused by the unopposed anti depressants.
It’s hard to describe how a mood disorder feels on a general level, the best way I can put it in words is that it is like having a cloud overhead all the time. Not actually raining, but you feel like it could at any time, metaphorically speaking. On the days where the mania takes over – I feel on top of the world and able to handle anything. But I also am extremely quick to flare up in anger and irritation at those unfortunate enough to get in my way.
I have been told that I will need to be on some form of mood stabilizer and anti depressants for the rest of my life. As long as it helps me get off the roller coaster – I really don’t care. I just want to be like my old self and be able to care better for my family.
I have decided to share some of the events of my life that helped the psychiatrist in determining that bipolar disorder as well as current symptoms so that it may help some one else to see the possible patterns that may mean that a mood disorder is present.
This is where the hindsight comes in!!
Up to about my 13th birthday – I was a shy retiring boy. More comfortable with my books and similar hobbies than anything else. But around this time I suddenly became more outgoing and gregarious.
I, who hated to be in public, joined the school debating society, took part in school plays and events that normally I avoided like the plague! I also started with extreme attention getting stunts at school, like sitting in a corner of the playground pretending to do Indian type meditation until a crowd gathered and a few other more embarrassing things.
I started doing more risky things with one of my cousins that I would have never even considered before, like petty shoplifting from one of the town department stores, and yes, we did get caught. I started mucking up in class so much that one of my teachers nicknamed me ‘Iron backside’ from the amount of times that I got the cane or strap from then on.
This sort of behaviour was interspersed with brief times where I generally felt a little down and out of sorts.
When I was about 16 my family emigrated to Australia from the north of England and it was a wonderful exciting time for me! New opportunities, experiences and of course, sunshine!!!!
It all felt so exhilarating. Learning a new way of life was wonderful and I found that my newfound confidence blossomed in this environment. I became even more outgoing and self-confident. I started chasing girls (and occasionally catching one) like I had not done before. I became involved in sports and activities that I had never thought of before and pursued them with an intense devotion.
During this period – about 1964-1969, I threw off what I thought of then as the old constraints, well, this was the Hippy period, and became involved in activities and changes of living that led me to moving out of home into the Kings Cross area of Sydney for a while.
My job record became very changeable – I had 5 or 6 different jobs in that time before settling into one job that is my record with any one employer of 11 years, although with a lot of different jobs within that organisation in that time.
I also started taking a lot of risks in my personal relationships that I am not proud of at all now. Again the hindsight is wonderful.
From being a tee-totaller I become a heavy drinker. I forget the number of times I went out from my flat for a few drinks and then woke up back in the flat some time the next day and had no idea whatsoever what I had done or even how I had got back. The drinking continued to be a part of my medication routine for a number of years until it almost caused my marriage to collapse in the mid seventies.
It seemed that the drink helped me sleep when I found it hard to turn off when I was operating at full throttle and working night shifts and getting about 3 and four hours sleep, then going out and partying before work, then working a shift, drinking through the shift followed by a few bottles again as a nightcap in the morning.
On the occasions that I felt down in the dumps – well there was nothing like a few drinks to cheer you up was there?
I married a wonderful woman in 1970, and incredible as it is, we are still together some 32 years later despite my antics in the early days of my marriage and my mood swings throughout the period.
When I look back now and see these things and the alternate shouting and irritation at my children and wife followed by despair and depression over the way I treated them and the cycle repeating.
The periods where I became obsessively involved in different activities to the exclusion of almost everything else, the times where sleep seemed irrelevant while I could do anything and the absolute exhilaration I felt when involved in teaching and instructing people in high risk environments and activities.
And then the final crash and burn. It all seems obvious when you know what the symptoms are doesn’t it? Who knows what my life would have been like if I had realised that there might have been something wrong earlier? If I hadn’t shared my mother’s absolute terror of being labeled with a mental illness as she was?
What would my children’s life’s be like if my bipolar disorder had been diagnosed at twenty-odd instead of 51 years of age?
I will never know – all I know is that my life has changed because of the love of a wonderful woman and a very astute GP who started to put 1 and 2 together and an excellent psychiatrist who has continued the work and his helping me to come to terms with my disorder and the effects of my earlier life.
So why have I written this?
If just one person reads this and thinks that they might have even some of the bipolar disorder symptoms and takes steps to have them looked just in case. Then I will feel that I have paid forward to some one else what was given to me.
God bless you.