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Aug 30, 2013

My Bipolar Experience

I wrote this for someone on Facebook that asked for personal experiences with Bipolar II, which I've lived with since at least 2006. I have had symptoms of unipolar depression on and off since I was about 10. While in the Navy I became depressed again, and entered therapy, though I was never diagnosed with anything (not even an official diagnosis of depression), probably because it could've affected my Navy career. However, after the Kid was born, the depression I experienced was different from the unipolar depression I'd had before. It turns out bipolar depression is a very different animal from unipolar (typical) depression. What we all hear about in the media are the symptoms of unipolar depression, while bipolar depression has it's own symptoms, which at times can be opposite of the symptoms of unipolar depression. Anyway, I put this here for anyone who wants to read about my experience and so I have this available to copy and paste whenever I'm asked to share.
So, after my son was born in June, 2006 I started to get depressed, so my family practitioner started me on Lexapro because we thought it was PPD. I then switched to Zoloft because the Lexapro zoned me out, and I started to feel better. By my son's 1st birthday I felt so good that I stopped taking the Zoloft cold turkey thinking the PPD was gone. HUGE mistake. By August I was in a deep, deep depression, the deepest I'd ever experienced. I would have a day or so where I had an insane amount of energy, but mostly I was depressed with moments of being highly irritable. By October I was at my end, and was ready to kill myself. But the night I said goodbye to my baby and was about to do it, that rational voice in my head was able to shout out at me to talk to my husband (who had withdrawn from me) which I did. The next day he helped me find a therapist.

The first time I saw my therapist (who's a psychiatric nurse) was in November, 2007. At the first appointment, after telling her what had been happening and about my moods, she brought up the possibility of bipolar II. Like most people, I had only heard about bipolar I and had no clue about bipolar II. She gave me a prescription of Effexor to get rid of the suicidal thoughts and start working on my depression, and put me on a weekly appointment schedule. When I got home and looked up bipolar II online, I realized that it did sound like what I may have. My husband had been telling me he thought I was bipolar for a few years because of how my moods switch and I can freak out when really stressed, but I only knew about bipolar I and didn't think that was me. But I do fit into the bipolar II criteria.

Anyway, I started therapy, my Effexor was upped to it's current dosage of 225mg, but I was still cycling *a lot*, with my main state being either depressed or hypomanic/highly irritated and angry. Then in November, 2008, my dad died, I had a major falling out with my mom, I dealt with a family drama of helping a cousin's son out of an abusive situation, and constant fighting with my husband. My therapist had broached the subject of me taking a mood stabilizer several times, but because of how intense those drugs seem, I had put it off and put it off. But because of the high stress of the last year, my moods were rapid cycling, changing in a matter of every hour or so, and on my birthday in October, 2009, I had a mixed mood episode. It was the strangest thing I've ever experienced so far. I was pissed off but not. I was agitated but not. I really had the classic signs of a mixed mood, where I was feeling something and it's polar opposite at the exact same time. Very, very strange experience.

So I immediately saw my therapist and finally agreed on getting on a mood stabilizer. Since my husband and I are trying for another baby, and the fact that my cycling is triggered mostly by lack of sleep and I didn't sleep well typically, my therapist prescribed 300mg of Seroquel. Seroquel is labeled as an anti-psychotic, but at high dosage works as a mood stabilizer. (It also works as a mild sedative at 25mg, which my husband takes to fall asleep since he has ADD.) The first two weeks of the transition was really rough, especially since I was home all day with my 3 year old, but once that part was over, I felt good. I felt like I used to before my son was born, though calmer. My rapid cycling started to taper off, and I was finally getting some sleep. My husband immediately noticed a difference too.

I continued monthly therapy until May, 2010, where I "graduated" to an As Needed basis with my therapist. So I still see her now and then, whenever I need to and whenever she wants to check in with me to see how my drugs are doing. And I really do feel better. My biggest problem has been getting good amounts of sleep consistently, so I have had some cycling episodes because of that, plus too much stress can set my cycling off as well. I am under instructions from my therapist to not take a full time job unless I get plenty of regular time off like weekends, and the Seroquel knocks me out so much that I snore like crazy and have to have at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep to fully sleep off the sedation, plus days after I forget to refill a prescription are really rough. If I don't take the Effexor, my brain doesn't really work. I can't safely drive, and I can't do much more except watch TV. If I don't take the Seroquel, I don't sleep and I get knocked out as soon as I take it. So I do have a lot of responsibility in keeping my meds filled and taking them, but they help me feel normal and help me function, so it's worth it so much.
I will say that it has been hard adjusting to living with a diagnosis of bipolar II. It sucks being stuck with a lifelong disorder that requires daily medication. It sucks having to be caught in the restraints of daily treatment of this. But in the end it helps my family and most important it helps *me*. My husband has been a major source of support. He's read up on bipolar II, he listens to whatever my therapist suggests, and most of all he stops me and focuses my attention on my cycling when it happens. And that especially has been a lot of help. If I can stop and focus on what is going on mentally, I often find that I'm able to control it a lot better and handle my reactions as well. We are always aware that my treatment may someday stop working, and that I may even need to go into the hospital if things get bad enough. We hope that will never happen, but it is a possibility. But I have to do my work by staying on my meds, by being open and honest with myself, my husband, and my therapist (I'm even honest with my son about the bipolar), and getting the rest I need.

For anyone with bipolar II, I highly recommend the book "Less Than Crazy: Living Fully with Bipolar II" by Karla Dougherty. It's one of the few books I've found that talks specifically about living with Bipolar II, and is pretty good since Dougherty has Bipolar II herself.

 Hope this helps! Feel free to ask questions or message me or whatever.

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