Thoughts on Bipolar Overawareness Week: Part I

I finally sat down and read all those posts that I linked to about Bipolar Overawareness Week. I mentioned in my previous post that I feel like I had a contrarian view. Well, I do. Somewhat. Although it’s probably not as contrarian as I’d think.

Let’s take my experience, for example.

I can remember struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts as early as 12 years old. (This edges into the childhood bipolar disorder discussion.) I never really got official help until I was 14 and tried to jump off a balcony four stories down. I figured I was just being stupid, you know. I was depressed because I didn’t have any friends. Not a reason to try to commit suicide but nothing I would think would lead to clinical diagnosis.

Then I tried to jump out of a window at school the same year. Same reason. Hated my life, no friends, too smart for my own good. Since this was at school, guidance counselors and such got involved and I was required to go to psychotherapy. I remember the lady with red hair there creeped me out. It was one of those old-fashioned psychologist styles: the psych doc sits there and asks you a question while you’re expected to ramble on for the entire session about your problems, your life, and what’s bugging you. I remember leaving those sessions feeling emptier and more unhappy than when I went in. It’s as if it didn’t solve a thing.

During the summer at 15, I took a health class. We were supposed to write an essay around three reasons on why suicide is bad. I thought I’d be "smart" and write three reasons why suicide was good. I’d just read Julius Caesar so I thought it was somewhat creative. My teacher wasn’t amused by it like I was. I ended up in another guidance counselor’s office AGAIN.

At a friend’s sleepover 16th birthday party, I tried to overdose on Tylenol and came out of the kitchen threatening to stab myself with a knife. The knife ended up being flung across the room. Thank God, it didn’t hit anybody. Of course, I was no longer allowed to sleep over. (However, this friend and I are still friends to this day.)

During my senior year of high school, I suffered from severe depression which resulted in frequent absences and chronic fatigue. Somehow my white blood cell count was low so I got away with a mono diagnosis. I had a few teachers – and a guidance counselor – who didn’t believe me and thought I was trying to coast through senior year while trying to do minimal work. I had other classmates who thought the very same thing. My dance teacher threatened to fail me if I didn’t show up to class. I nearly dropped out but somehow managed to finish the year.

The mental strain of my senior year caught up with me after graduation and after a fight with my then-boyfriend, I overdosed on ibuprofen. My mother called the police and they escorted me away in an ambulance (even though I was calm and cooperative). After being given a small Dixie cup full of charcoal (it took me about an hour to drink that thing), I was put away in a private hospital for about a week.

My diagnosis? Depression.
What was this diagnosis based on? Overdosing on pills a few days before and nothing more.
Did I want medication? No.

From about the ages of 14-18, I’d always sensed that I was "bipolar." (Yes, incorrect use of the word.) To be honest, I was somewhat jealous of anyone I had heard was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I sometimes reasoned with myself that I was just suffering from pubertal mood swings and teenage angst. But somewhere, somehow, I just knew, deep down inside, I had bipolar disorder and that none of the doctors had diagnosed me properly.  CLPsych at Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry quotes David Healy from a 2006 article:

One of the most famous direct-to-consumer television adverts for a drug begins with a vibrant woman dancing late into the night. A background voice says, “Your doctor probably never sees you when you feel like this.” The advert cuts to a shrunken and glum figure, and the voiceover now says, “This is who your doctor usually sees.” Cutting again to the woman, in active shopping mode, clutching bags with the latest brand names, we hear: “That’s why so many people with bipolar disorder are being treated for depression and not getting any better—because depression is only half the story.” We see the woman again depressed, looking at bills that have arrived in the post before switching to seeing her again energetically painting her apartment. “That fast- talking, energetic, quick tempered, overdoing it, up-all-night you,” says the voiceover, “probably never shows up at the doctor’s office, right?”

Those cynical of the pharmaceutical industry can probably hear the sarcastic tone in the paragraph. I sure can. However, it rings true for me. A doctor never asked me if I stayed up all hours of the night, unwilling to go to sleep. Maybe it’s circumstantial; I was still enthralled by the wonders of the Internet between 1996-2000. I’d always been an insomniac as a kid. I’d always had "racing thoughts." Even my parents told me to stop "thinking so much" when I was 6 years old. Maybe I was hypomanic. Who knows? I can view my whole life through the lens of any diagnosis I choose.

Maybe this is the problem with DSM diagnosing. Normal feelings and emotions from circumstances could
be diagnosed as a psychiatric problem. It makes me wonder how much of I am of my diagnosis or how much of my diagnosis is simply a part of me. (Back to start.)

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1 Comment

  1. May 20, 2008 at 1:12 am

    These examples are surely good indicators that you haven’t been “misdiagnosed” or “overdiagnosed.” Clearly, there have been problems for a long time, and it would seem like medication would be a Godsend for you.
    Having said that, I also must say that I don’t believe people don’t positively post about medication because it’s not a “good post.”
    Rather, I think that many people are either taking the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, or the side effects outweigh the positives.
    But, for those for whom medication truly makes them feel less depressed and more hopeful, it’s a miracle! And they should feel grateful it’s available to them, and let others know what’s working for them.
    Susan


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