I was an odd child - filled with happiness and confidence and yet - when others laughed at me one day in first grade I ran out of the classroom and sat in the coat room, which is where we got sent for punishment. In 3rd grade my confidence was stripped away as I got teased more and more for being amazingly skinny. Children are monsters when they know another child is sensitive to teasing. To this day I can be brought almost to tears by just the wrong kind of teasing.
My mother told me that at an early age I cried at TV comedies because the people on them were being laughed at. By 5th grade I was a depressed child and it just got worse. My parents took me - once - to a child psychologist, but there was no follow up. All I remember was that there were great toys in the office.
My social skills were nil. We moved in the summer between 5th and 6th grade but I quickly became the butt of everyone's teasing again. I was considered the most unpopular girl in my class.
I first saw a psychologist after graduating from high school, but the therapy wasn't effective enough. I was "highly neurotic," he said. Through college I struggled with depression, yet had times of great elation as well. Nost of my 20s passed in a fog of exhaustion and misery.
Then I went to a community theater audition and won a part - and the heart of an extraordinary man 23 years my senior. We had several great years together - until he died suddenly. I thought I was fighting through that, but 18 months later I went into the blackest depression of my life and was finally medicated for the first time.
Prozac sent me into a year of hypomania. I'd never felt so good. Gradually, though, it began to wear off. Mostly due to some hellish changes at the company I worked for, my stress level became so bad I could only work part-time. I was in a deep depression until I decided to quit - then returned to hypomania. I sold my house and moved back to my hometown to live with my mother, who'd been alone since my father's death a year earlier.
I went to see a psychiatrist at last because I knew I needed better medication. I chose the doctor because he was also an expert in sleep medicine, and I'd had terrible sleep problems since high school.
We only had a few visits before he said he was switching my primary medication to Depakote. I stared at him. "Are you saying I have bipolar disorder?"
He said yes - and he was right. So many things clicked together - the racing thoughts that drove me crazy sometimes in particular. The great year on Prozac that I didn't realize was hypomania till then. The way I'd gotten along on 3-4 hours sleep night after night during that first theater performance - until I crashed into a major illness. The raging, screaming fit I had during a rehearsal for another play. Sexual encounters that never should have happened.
Bipolar disorder made sense.
The years since diagnosis haven't always been easy - dozens of med changes, the black year being the primary caregiver when my mother developed Alzheimer's - and the mostly black year following her death. The complete joy of moving into my dream house - followed by an almost year-long depression that turned out to be because I had undiagnosed diabetes due to all the weight I've gained from psych meds. Since then, mood changes daily or weekly, often triggered by inadequate sleep or happy events, sometimes for no reason at all.
The diagnosis was a milestone. A corner. It wasn't an ending or a new beginning, but a new direction. The road still has its long low stretches and its briefer highs, along with little hills and deep holes - but I understand now. Depression isn't necessarily because I'm not trying hard enough to get out of it. Sometimes it just is.
Published On: April 29, 2011
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