14 March 2009

Early diagnosis

I've been thinking about my sister's post about whether or not it would have been better to have been diagnosed with Asperger's/Autism as a child. An adult faces different challenges but having a label might help as a child in that there would be a bit more time to learn to understand your condition and learn how to handle it. So...I was thinking about me and bipolar.

I've been told that bipolar is commonly diagnosed in young adults or teens and have even heard that it's not really possible to diagnose bipolar early on. I don't agree with that at all. For as long as I can remember I have been different people with different perceptions living in the same body. I couldn't fathom how I can be so sociable, likable, friendly and upbeat one week and be so negative, angry, anti-social and resentful the next week. Even as early as elementary school I can remember being excited at the idea of learning and books, eager to absorb as much knowledge as possible and have tons of ideas about how to finish a project. And then being overwhelmed at the idea of even trying to remember what page in the book to turn to, or have zero idea at how to begin creating the diorama for my project. I would want people to just go away and leave me alone, not talk to me or even notice me....then wonder why I have no friends - everyone laughs at my jokes and seems to find me fun to be around!

I can see now why I didn't have many friends - who could keep up? Who could be expected to understand why I wasn't that fun person all of the time? That's why I don't try for friends so much now. S had it right when he said what I need is a bunch of acquaintances - people to keep in touch with but no deep involvement.

Anyway, the diagnosis of bipolar just gave me a label and a bit of understanding about how my brain works and why. It would have been easier to be diagnosed younger, just because then I would have known why my behaviour is off the charts one day and normal the next. But even before the diagnosis I was beginning to understand that I had Ups and Downs, that a Supreme Up had a Deep Down to match, that I could extend an Up but paid the price in a severe swing downwards. I was starting to learn that my Ups and Downs had patterns and that my thinking and reasoning skills were completely different depending on where I was in my cycle. I also understood my judgment was compromised on an Up and I learned to be careful about what I did or agreed to do. And the biggest lesson I learned was that no matter how bad I felt in a Down I knew I would bounce and be back Up so I just had to learn to ride it out.

Actually, I wallow in a Down. I force myself to stay depressed by thinking all the sad thoughts I can, listen to as much sad music as possible and by letting myself feel coated in a thick blanket of Lonely And Sad. If I do that then I'll just look up at some point and feel better. I'll bounce, shrug off the imaginary blanket and get on with life. Please remember - the most severe part of the Down doesn't usually last longer than a couple of days. Maybe two days of Really Bad Down so it's not like I'm doing this for weeks or months. I know there are people with bipolar that live in Downs for months at a time. I'm not like that which is probably why I'm not suicidal during the Downs. I know they will pass quickly, therefore I can handle it.

I did try medication for a year. The psychiatrist gave me lithium to even me out. I found that in addition to the weight gain I was slowly evening out. But not in a good and happy way. I was steadily becoming more and more emotionless. I found it difficult to feel happy or sad. I just felt like a breathing lump of fat.

At the time I was also attending a group to better understand bipolar and its effects. During one session we had a psychiatrist speak about the need to be medicated to manage bipolar disorder. I took the opportunity to ask him why we needed to be medicated so that we are level, but on the down side of normal. I mean, if we are on medication anyway, why not adjust my moods so that I was always slightly Up? Not manic or anything, just happy. He said that the doctors medicate to that level because we (bipolars) have no idea what normal is. Hmm. Having bipolar disorder means I have experienced every single emotion on the spectrum...and you're telling me that I don't know where normal is....really.

So I went off the lithium very slowly and with supervision, but decided not to take the next round of medication offered to me. Very selfish, I know. But I figured as long as I'm not endagering the people I love or myself, then I will learn to manage my bipolar without medication. I've been fortunate to be able to do this and have a boyfriend who is willing to ride the roller coaster with me.

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