Continuing the Surviving Bipolar series.
They say that admitting you have a problem is half the battle. Whoever coined that saying obviously did not have mental illness in mind.
Far too often, it feels like the real battle isn’t in seeking care but in trying to find the help that actually makes you better.
Too many bipolar patients stop trying to improve because of the struggle to find that right combination of medications to make life livable without unbearable side effects. They search repeatedly for a doctor who is interested in their wellbeing rather than just someone to throw prescriptions at them.
This post shares the first part of my journey to recovery. As you will see, it got off to a bit of a rocky start.
A bit about me
My name is Scott, and I’m the voice behind Speaking Bipolar. After losing far too many people to suicide, I decided it was time to speak up about my own mental illness. In addition, I also live with an auto-inflammatory disease called Familial Mediterranean Fever.
My hope with this blog and sharing my story is to provide understanding, comfort, and validation for someone else. You can survive bipolar disorder.
Please note, I am not a mental health professional. Speaking Bipolar is a collection of my experiences of living with illness. If you or a loved one are experiencing mental illness symptoms, please seek professional help immediately.
Becoming part of the Prozac Nation
Opening up to friends was only part of the process. It took months for me to tell my medical doctor about the issues I was experiencing.
Not all doctors are created equal, and it should be illegal for a doctor without mental health training to prescribe medications for mental illness.
I want to believe my doctor had my best interests at heart. I want to believe, but I can’t. Now, decades have passed, and watching her practice grow, it’s been painfully obvious that all she cares about is taking money. The only concern she ever had toward me was in getting me out of her office.
Dr. Despicable, as we shall call her, listened briefly as I told her what was going on in my head. A few seconds in, she interrupted me.
“I’m very busy,” Dr. Despicable tole me. “You’re depressed. I don’t need to hear anymore.” She wrote me a prescription for Prozac and sent me on my way.
I didn’t know enough then to be offended or concerned. I was 23 and had little experience with doctors. It was the first time I ever discussed my mental health with a medical professional. I was clueless about the evaluation I should have received. Convinced her diploma meant she knew what she was doing, I trusted the “professional” and went on my way.
Sunshine and rainbows
It was the mid-1990’s, and everyone seemed to be on Prozac. For a brief time, there seemed to be a little less stigma around mental illness. No doubt a big part of that was the aggressive advertising campaign of the drug company trying to get Prozac into as many homes as possible.
Prozac was wonderful. It took a few weeks for me to really feel its effect, but after a couple of increases in dosage, I felt great.
Prozac was a miracle drug, and I told all of my closest friends about it. That circle was small because I was still hiding my mental illness from most people for fear of being judged as weak, unmanly, or as a person without faith. For the few people I felt I could trust, I sang Prozac’s praises every time I opened my mouth.
It was a new world, and every day seemed just a little brighter. Colors were a hint sharper, and every emotion was warm and fuzzy. My bipolar mind told me the green and white pills had cured me.
Mental illness reality came knocking
Looking back, I know now that I was living in a mirage. Nothing was well or wonderful. In fact, Prozac is a drug I should never have been prescribed. The modern trend of genetic testing later proved that my body can’t properly metabolize the drug.
Note: I’m not saying Prozac is bad medicine. It has successfully improved the lives of many people with depression. It was simply the wrong medicine for me and for bipolar.
The euphoria I was experiencing was actually a perpetually manic state. Each dosage increase fanned the flames of the mania. While being manic can be a lot of fun on the front end, it always comes at a hefty price. That price can be deadly.
As time went on, I slept even less than normal. Some of my friends marveled that I never seemed to get tired. Inside, I worried a little about my lack of sleep, but I convinced myself that eight hours of sleep was merely a recommendation, and not all suggestions were right for all people. I was “lucky” enough to be one of those people who needed much less than eight hours.
Soon I would learn that luck had nothing to do with it.
One voice of reason
During all of this, one of the voices in my head tried to whisper with reason. I expressed its concern to Dr. Despicable about my decreasing need for sleep. Her response was to prescribe tranquilizers to bring me down at night.
As if I wasn’t already flying down a deadly roller coaster, the new meds only made things worse. Much worse.
No rainbow lasts forever, and the darkness that followed nearly ended my life. I’ll share some of that darkness and what it led to in my next post.
Until next time, keep fighting.