ECT. aka, Electro Convulsive Therapy. My lifesaver. Maybe the only reason besides my kids that I’m still here today. Here, and relatively happy. I tried everything else. Dozens of meds – every possible combination – but if there was a nasty side-effect to a pill, I would experience it. Weight gain (why never weight loss?), rashes, hair falling out, insomnia (the worst is the insomnia), restlessness, uncontrollable crying, nausea and tremors. The side effects for the oral meds were awful, so I tried alternative treatments: hypnotherapy, acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy. Sadly, insurance doesn’t cover those. Even more sadly, none of them helped. I’ll get into my life prior to starting ECT in other posts, but let’s just agree it wasn’t pretty. And I was losing my family. My children were scared of me. My husband was scared for me. And I was miserable. Miserable to be around, miserable in my existence. I had been offered the option of ECT by three psychiatrists and four therapists over the course of three years. I usually emphatically insisted “NO!” before the suggestion was even out of their mouths. It scared the shit out of me. Truthfully, it still does. But ECT is the reason I’m still here. ECT helped me get back on track. It saved my life. I wish I could say it saved my marriage, but that’s for another entry, as well. I could describe what it’s like to experience ECT, from start to finish. Is that something people want to hear about? Prior to my first treatment, I went online hoping to read someone’s description of the process, thinking it might settle my nerves a little. What I was able to find was scarier than I thought necessary to share with prospective patients. I was hoping for a less graphic description. Let me know if you’d like to hear about my experience. I’m happy to tone it down a bit. I’m not looking to frighten anyone, although to claim the procedure is not in many ways scary would be a lie. But if you’d like to know what to expect from someone who has now been voluntarily electrocuted nearly 40 times, drop me a line and I’ll share my experience with you.
I have a 10-year old daughter. She is smart, and beautiful, and talented. She is funny and charming and compassionate. She is also bi-polar, which means in addition to all of those aforementioned traits, she is manipulative, emotional, alternately manic and depressed. She is hypersensitive both emotionally and where her senses come into play. Noises are too loud and annoying, light is too bright, touch is too prickly. Keeping in mind that this child is only 10, it goes without saving that she is also confused. And me? I’m guilty. Because the bipolar genes came from my side of the family, not her daddy’s. Her therapist once said, “What were you going to do, NOT have children because there was a chance you’d pass this illness along to one of them?” To be truthful, there are days when I wonder how I could have done this to another person. How I could have invited this disease into her life? What kind of mother would take that chance, knowing full well how my child would suffer should she have the misfortune of inheriting not only my blonde hair or straight teeth, but also claim this illness that has caused me so much pain and heartbreak? What kind of mother would take that chance? Apparently, this kind.
I’ll admit it – being bi-polar sucks. Maybe because there’s neither a cure, nor will I directly die from it. Instead, I’m hanging about in limbo, suffering from a disease that makes most people think of Jack Nicholson’s fine acting skills in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Nobody sympathizes with the manic-depressive. There is no tenderness extended to a woman in her 40’s with a disease that bears no relation to something “serious” like cancer. Or diabetes. Or heart disease. Or any number of diseases to which there is not attached a death sentence, but which does come complete with a stigma. I was watching the Oscars tonight. An actor was nominated for his portrayal of a bi-polar ex-looney bin patient who “snapped” when he found his wife in the shower with a colleague. Why did the character have to be bi-polar for that to be upsetting? Don’t “normal” people find that painful? It seems that, suddenly, there are a lot of TV and movie characters surfacing who have bi-polar disorder. There’s the CIA agent on the Showtime series who is bi-polar and she can’t let on at work because they will fire her so she quietly gets her meds from her sister the doctor and together they keep her illness under wraps. Would she be hiding diabetes? Why does mania and depression have to be characterized on TV as so unmanageable that they have to be kept a secret? In light of all the stigma surrounding bi-polar disorder, I am amazed with myself that I am still sensitive to the reaction I get when I share my diagnosis with someone new. When I tell someone, “Actually, I am bipolar” and they step back a bit like I’ve just admitted to spreading leprosy, I’m surprised to still find that shocking. A few words of advice: should someone disclose his or her bipolar disorder with you, invite yourself to learn about it. Ask questions. Chances are, she’s not sharing with you because she likes to hear herself talk, or because she is looking to alienate her friends. It’s ok to ask about the disease – if she’s volunteering her diagnosis, she’s reaching out. Try a little tenderness – ask what you can do to help, or at least feign a little interest. But a little tenderness can go a long way.
I honestly don’t remember when I first knew I was bipolar. I just remember not sleeping. I mean, never sleeping. Not at all. I would go days and days without even nodding off. I had college roommates who would say, “I didn’t sleep a wink last night”, and it would infuriate me because I would enviously watch them sleeping while I wasn’t. And while I wasn’t sleeping, I would be cleaning and re-cleaning and studying and doing laundry and writing letters and cooking and cleaning again and pacing and rearranging and anything that would keep my mind busy while I wasn’t sleeping. And miraculously, I could actually function during the days that followed three or four consecutive sleepless nights. I had boundless energy.
And then I would hit the wall. And my downward spiral would begin.
Here we go……
When I tell people I am bi-polar, I get a variety of responses: “oh, I’m so sorry” is one I hear often, typically followed by a statement of ignorance: “yeah, my dad had that once”, or “my grandmother told me I have a chance of getting that because my uncle has it” or “I had that in college”. Let’s start with the biggest misconceptions related to bi-polar disorder: this is not an STD; It’s not cancer but it’s not the common cold. Can it kill me? Maybe indirectly. Do I sometimes wish it would kill me? Maybe indirectly. Bi-polar is something I am, not something I have. There is no cure. And I’ve been letting it define me for a number of years. I’m hoping to change that with this little blog. I’m hoping that with the use of some humor, some personal anecdotes and a lot of self-reflection, I can change the way I’ve been viewing my illness, my lifestyle, for far too many years. I’ve tried a little bit of therapy and counseling, a lot of ECT, and dozens of various kinds of meds. But this is the first time I’ve tried “outing” myself. This is the first time I’m going to try to battle this disease by sharing my story with you, instead of hiding behind my diagnosis, ashamed and afraid. I don’t know if there’s an audience out there for this kind of thing. Are there people out there who will read my little blog because it mirrors their lives and provides a little relief knowing they’re not alone? Or maybe they’ll read it because there’s nothing good on TV. Regardless the reason, thank you in advance for giving me the five minutes it will take to read through my little blurbs, knowing if nothing else, you are helping me just by following along.