Hard headed, stubborn, I-can-do-it-myself, Don't need anyone's help tough guy…Sound familiar? This is how I've always seen myself but I've also dealt with depression since I was a teen. I was recently diagnosed with Bi Polar II and this is my story about how I got to this point almost 30 years later.
I'm a 46 year old guy that grew up thinking responsibility, toughness and leadership are what defines a man. I always fix problems and never look to someone else to do that for me. The idea of asking for help to do ANYTHING has always been an idea that never really settled in. This has frustrated most people around me at times but I'm also the one everyone comes to for help. I've always been the leader of any situation that I've been in. I'm not some narcissistic, ego-maniac that thinks he rules the world…I just have always felt that I can do anything and shouldn't have to ask for help. I'm also very driven and have owned 2 successful business over the past 26 years. The idea of someone else being in charge…What? Forget about it! I've also always believed that if you've got a problem, fix it! Don't set around whining and bitchin' about. Quit feeling sorry for yourself…get off your ass and fix it! When I wasn't able to do this in my "down" state, it led to a lot of frustration and self hatred at times. I have always had a lot of confidence in myself and my decisions. I lost a lot of that confidence as this thing got worse. I've finally reached a point of seeing some daylight at the end of the tunnel but it's something I have to work at every day. The big difference is I can finally focus on doing that. My intent with this is to help myself get some of this out of me plus hopefully help someone else realize they can put their stubbornness aside and get some help.
Ever feel like your living in a pit and every day is a struggle to try and climb out? Most days you fight and hopefully can keep from falling all the way down to the bottom. On a really good day you manage to climb to the top and can look out to see the rest of the world going by. On a bad day you fall all the way down to the very bottom where it's pitch black. This is the best way I can describe parts of my past 30 years. It wasn't this bad for probably the first half but has slowly progressed to this.
The first few years were spent wondering what was wrong with me. I was up and down and felt like I really had no reason to be depressed. I had a good family life, plenty of friends, straight A student, girlfriends…all the normal stuff that makes up a teens life. Looking back and having teens of my own, I realize how up/down a teens life is anyway. I think the depression was pretty mild back then but I remember not understanding why I was so moody a lot of the time.
My early 20's were really just a continuation of what I was feeling in my teens. I just felt like it was slowly progressing thru something I didn't understand. I knew I didn't want to feel that way and wasn't in to the whole Nirvana feel-sorry-for-myself, everything’s-my-parents-fault, I-hate-my-life attitude that seemed to be the 90's. I hated having these mood swings and would fight them off as best I could. I got married in my later 20's, had our first child and was happy most of the time. The mood swings got a little more frequent but mainly were getting worse. One thing a lot of Bi Polar people have in common is they only notice the depression. I've since learned that Bi Polar includes these crazy up swings, but I'll get to that later.
My 30's were a time of "acceptance" I guess. I knew I was fighting depression but I also knew I'd get through it. It was like a storm coming but I knew it would pass within a few days. I'd fight it and hide it as best I could because I knew it'd be better in a few days. At this point I was losing interest in a lot of things that I used to enjoy and was pulling away from friends and family. I think the main reason was I didn't want anyone to see me this way. I was feeling a lot of shame and guilt because I wasn't fighting off something that I thought I should be able to. Some of the down days were getting pretty bad and I was feeling a lot of hopelessness.
Towards the end of my 30's and in to my 40's has definitely been the worst. Prior to finally looking for help, I was depressed most of the time. I started drinking a lot and usually felt better at night with a good alcohol buzz. I never got to the point of being an alcoholic or drinking so much that others could tell. I just wanted to sedate myself enough to stop thinking about this. I think that's probably been the worst part of this…constantly thinking about how miserable you are and feeling like there’s nothing you can do to fix it. I started going through a period of anger towards this problem and myself. I hated myself for being so weak as to let this invisible monster destroy my life. My business was starting to suffer because I had too many days where I couldn't focus on what needed to be done. I had a lot of days where I missed appointments because I just couldn't will myself to even get out of the car. My marriage was going down the toilet and my kids were starting to notice changes in me. I love my kids more than anything in this world and have always tried to hide this condition from them. They definitely started noticing that Dad wasn’t much fun anymore and was starting to lose his temper. It was a big change for them because I was never like that when they were little. Knowing that I haven't been the Dad I should be is what kills me inside. My kids are also the reason I haven't pulled the trigger on the couple of nights that I found myself wanting to.
Let me explain the suicidal thoughts because they were based on the feeling of hopelessness. I reached a point where all of the hurt, pain, guilt and loneliness combined to make me feel like things were pointless. I figured if every day of my life was going to be like this then what was the point. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself but like I said, what’s the point in sticking around if everyday is going to be miserable. I wasn't accomplishing anything or making any kind of difference in anyone's life. I was angry more than anything because I didn't see many options left for me and I realized for the first time I couldn't fix this. I didn’t think that seeing a "shrink" was going to do anything for me either. I guess I had no desire to spend an hour and $125 whining to someone about how miserable I was. I realize now this was a negative way to look at this but it was where I was at in my head at the time. As I said though, the thought of putting my kids lives in that kind of chaos has always kept me from following through with it.
Last year I finally reached the point where I knew I either needed to get some help or I wasn't going to be able to control my depression any longer. I first went to my family doctor (big mistake) and asked for something for depression. I gave him a quick 5 minute history (that’s about all the time most family Dr's spend with you) and tried to explain the whole "living in a pit" scenario. I was so ashamed to be there that I don't think I ever looked him in the eye. His first question was "How do you feel about the election that’s coming up and the candidates?" I thought you've got to be kidding me. I've just described a 30 year state of depression and he thinks I'm just depressed over Obama or Romney becoming President! I told him never mind but he did go ahead and prescribe me Zoloft and said I should find a good therapist. The Zoloft did absolutely nothing for me but kill my sex drive. Being a guy I kind of enjoyed thinking about sex 20 hrs a day…every day! The Zoloft not only killed the physical ability to perform but also the urge. Not a good state for a depressed guy to be in. Seemed like just one more thing to add to the list of "What’s the Point Anymore?"
I spent the next couple of weeks looking for a good therapist out of desperation. I can't tell you how many times I dialed a number and hung up. I finally just sent an email and made an appointment that way. I found an older woman with a number of years experience with treating depression. The reason I bring up her gender and age is I think a lot of guys might be uncomfortable exposing this perceived "weakness" to another guy. I also didn't want some 28 year old trying to psycho analyze me and act like they understand things like marriage and raising kids when they probably hadn't experienced it yet. At least not over 20 years of it. I needed to connect as best I could and as quickly as I could or I knew I wouldn't continue with the appointments. I felt like the first visit went well and she made me comfortable within the first 5 minutes. I tried to tell her as much as I could about the past 30 years. I figured this was my time to put it all out there and start exorcising this demon. After about 45 minutes she said she thought I was showing signs of Bi Polar and sent me to a Psychiatrist for a change in medication. She said the Zoloft was the wrong thing for me and my first step was to get the right stuff. We would continue the therapy once I got on the right meds.
I saw a Psychiatrist the next day and she said I was definitely Bi Polar and put me on Lamotrigine. I told her I didn't want any Zombie meds…just something to clear the fog so I could focus on getting some help. She also started weaning me off of Zoloft because she agreed it was the wrong stuff. Let me cover the other side of Bi Polar and then I'll wrap up the effects of the new medication.
After my therapist suggested I was Bi Polar, I started researching it online. I had heard the term but had no clue what it was. I was amazed at what I read and was surprised my picture wasn't included with the definitions and symptoms. I told the therapist that along with major depression I also had episodes of being extremely hyper, my mind would be racing, I couldn't set still and would pace the house looking for something to do. I'd usually jump in to some big project like building a deck, installing a hot tub, putting in a swimming pool, landscaping the yard, buying and rebuilding a boat, remodeling the house (Yeah, I've actually done all of these things in the past 5 years). These were all spontaneous ideas that just seemed to come out of no where. My wife was usually shocked to come home and see me building a deck that I had never even talked about doing. I'll come up with these big plans for vacations and research them down the smallest detail. I'll get these ideas of all these new things I want to learn to do. I actually told my son last month I wanted to learn how to fly helicopters…no kidding and I was dead serious. Here's one of the most common things though about people with Bi Polar…they never finish anything. Just about every project listed was never finished. They were done to about 95% but never completed. I would spend every day planning to finish them but it's never happened. Even when I'm zooming through a manic state I still can't focus on finishing these things. This has been a life long issue for me and it helped explain so much to me. I actually love the manic episodes and told the Psychiatrist I didn't want anything to stop those. I think people with extreme mania probably need help with it. I wasn't running around the neighborhood butt-naked or thinking I was President or something so I think that’s why they said I was probably Bi Polar II. If you are getting butt-naked in the front yard you definitely need to share that with the Dr…I’m being serious. The only way you'll get a proper diagnosis is to share everything.
So since I've been on Lamotrigine its amazing how "normal" everything seems. I haven't had a major depressive episode since starting it. I've had some down days but nothing like before. Even then they never last for more than a few hours instead of days/weeks like before. My sex drive came back almost right away (Woo Hoo!) and I still have mild manic days. Either that or I'm just realizing I can be a happy guy. I actually walk around singing and being goofy around my kids. Don't think they necessarily like my dumb jokes but beats the hell out of me having a melt down because they didn’t clean up their room.
The only side effect I've had with the new meds is major insomnia. I'm only sleeping 3 or 4 hours a night but I'm always mentally alert. Physically I'm running out of gas but hopefully it's just an adjustment period. Any kind of drugs will effect different people in different ways so keep that in mind. I think there's a number of meds out there but everything I've read says Lamotrigine is definitely a good choice for Bi Polar.
The main thing is if you're dealing with depression or even the manic episodes I mentioned, don’t think your alone. You're not being a whiner or lazy because you can't get motivated or you go from way down to super hyper. There's days I've gone through both within a few hours. This IS a disease that's no different from having cancer, high blood pressure or whatever you want to fill in the blank with. It will get better and you can be the person you want to be. If it takes some med's to do that then accept it. My mom has stage 2 cancer and she’s on meds to survive…I'm no different. I'm not only surviving something that I know was going to eventually kill me but I'm starting to see the life I want to have is there. I've just got to get off my ass and do what I need to do. If it takes someone smarter than me to help find balance in my life, then I've finally realized asking for help isn't such a bad thing.
I still believe that if you've got a problem…Get Off Your Ass And Fix It!