Sunday, August 2, 2009

A really low-key manic-depressive

Most of the bipolar people I've read about have really high highs and the really low lows. The high highs feel great, which is one reason people don't always take their meds.

My experience - my illness - is not like that. I do occasionally get "manic." I can tell I'm manic when I'm not sleeping, I've become fascinated by some subject, and I'm reading multiple books on that subject at one time. It doesn't happen very often, and except for the cost of the books, it's not really destructive.

The majority of the time, I was depressed - not all the time, but a lot.

I truly do not know how much time I spent in between the high and the low. I do know that my favorite songs as a child were all the songs on Simon & Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" , and James Taylor's "Mud Slide Slim" album, which came out when I was 11. I didn't understand what the songs meant, but they matched my world.

I got through high school with the support and laughter of my best friend, Tamara. I haven't spoken to her in 20 years, and I can't find a way to let her know it's only because I don't want to go back to those years. So my thanks to Tamara, and my apologies.

I married early, to a man I suspect was also a depressive. But I quickly realized I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up and didn't want to raise children while I figured it out. The marriage lasted about two years.

A few years later, a coworker/friend explained to me that I was chronically depressed; he'd been through it himself and suggested I get some help. I didn't believe him, and so I went through another fifteen years of pain and confusion. It gradually got worse until in 1995 I found myself fantasizing about ways to die, and spending my lunch hours in the car crying because I knew I didn't have the courage to kill myself.

I went to a psychologist, but by this time I had 25 years of practice at appearing "normal," and she had no idea what might be wrong - or whether anything really was. We talked for a few weeks, but all she could really see was that I was a fairly intense woman who probably had some unresolved parental issues.

I stopped seeing her, with her blessing, and then a few weeks later, I had one of those unexplainable shifts that sent me from barely hanging on to deep despair. I called the psychologist, who gave me an emergency appointment. She took one look at me and said "this is chemical. You need a doctor."

She sent me to an internist, who prescribed an anti-depressant and monitored me for some time. I felt better very quickly, then lapsed again. I remember asking him, much discouraged, whether I would ever really be better. He said "Julia, when you came into my office you were so far shut down that you might as well have been curled up in a ball under the table. You're already better. But your best days are like other people's 'blah' days. I'll tell you when you feel good, because you don't know how to recognize it."

I was better, truly I was - but not a lot better. After two years, I finally did what I should have done at the beginning - I agreed to see a psychiatrist.

It's the aftereffects of this illness that I want to write about, and the process of overcoming them.

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