The One-Year-Old Bipolar Yuppie

It’s been a year since my diagnosis.  I would love to say I am already free of the disorder but I feel it more keenly now than ever. Since then, I have learned to somehow accept who I am and what this disorder has done to my personality. I still have moments where I wish that I did not have this illness. But I just keep trying to move forward and advance in spite of it.

Around a month ago, I was rushed to the emergency room four times in a single week because of panic attacks that ensued from an uncontrolled manic phase. I was strongly advised, nay, pushed to resign from my job. Most therapists recommend that people with this disorder, in order for their therapy to work, work on a part-time basis or at least on a less stressful environment (i.e. no excessive overtime or killer deadlines). I disobeyed the recommendation, and I am miraculously surviving thanks to those short but sweet visits to EDSA shrine each morning before I go to work.

Basing from that limitation, I have to say that I am a suicidal person for keeping my current job. At one point, I just wanted to throw in the towel and look for an easier job. I googled “bipolar workers in the corporate world” and “bipolar at work” in an effort to find people like me. I found some useful sites, but it was not enough to paint a picture of what a bipolar lifestyle in a demanding job looks like. It’s hell on earth on some days, and utopia on the others. There is hardly an in between.

So what’s it like so far?

For one, my medications are making me so hungry and fat and a little older. These side effects break my heart. So far, I have tried Valpros, Epival, and Depakote. They are all monsters that keep me from writing with a steady hand. I can’t even hold a glass of water steadily. I get hungry, and when mixed with asthma medication I even got some mild seizure attacks. I tried not taking my medications from November last year to February but the panic attacks got worse and I really fell apart even at work. Today, I just settle with eating minimal rice to help cancel the Depakote pounds. And well, I accepted the fact that they are maintenance medication until I decide to get pregnant and/or survive without having fulltime work.

Second, career advancement in a corporate or office setting is a daily mountain to climb. There are days when I risk bursting into tears while seated in my office desk. I get so self-absorbed that I don’t get to read the verbal cues of my bosses or colleagues. These things can get misinterpreted easily. Sometimes, I get so spaced out because my neurons are all dried out (this is also the reason why bipolar patients are required a full 8-10 hours of sleep each night) in the middle of the day. And even mild forms of work pressure become an emotional trigger that explodes inside and makes me suffer in an indescribable depth. Sometimes, I tend to overthink, misinterpret, and blurt out strange stuff in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation. This is also why I prefer to just keep quiet, lest I say something wrong and embarrass myself.

Third, coffee and alcohol intake is out of the question. Night outs with colleagues have to be declined; sleepiness has to be combated with water and little else. I cannot collect Starbucks stickers without risking another emergency room trip. This is supposedly healthy living but there is little good health in the bipolar mind.

When I am in a manic mood, I can do a lot of things on the job. But once I swing to the other end, I am just a walking zombie. I count it to God’s goodness that I manage to get to work and survive on those low days. The zigzag pattern of my moods is quite tiresome to track so I trashed the mood diary and switched to just crying when sad and laughing when I am happy.

One year in the treatment and one would think that there is progress. Awareness, perhaps.

There is still that inner demon luring me to jump off the building when it hurts so bad, or go AWOL on my job, abandon my loved ones, change my sim card, and live in an obscure place where I can no longer be traced. I have just learned to face him, anyway. And I fight him back every single day, tears on my face and prayers in my head. He is invisible to everyone else, but so real to me.

I guess year one taught me one thing: Facing my inner demons.

For year two, I will work on killing them one by one.




Beginning Bipolarity

Somewhere in this online world, another bipolar or manic depressive person will be researching about his or her condition if he or she is in his or her normal mood. (This is pretty much the same with me giving board exam tips for people who will be taking their board exam this year and in the coming years. But this time I am writing as I go along with my recovery process.) While I am quite optimistic at the fact that I am already initiated into the messed up world of the intellectual elite through this mild bipolar disorder, there are still realities that must be faced and it is not an easy thing to deal with. I want to contribute with whatever information I can give from my resources here. To the bipolar persons who might bump into this blog, I hope that you find the information here a little helpful. Moreover, I hope it comforts you to know that you are not alone. There’s about 1.5% of the world population who suffers from this condition. I don’t want to hide my condition and I will explain this further later on.

As I began my therapy, the first thing I had to adjust to is the side effect of my medication. I was prescribed only half a tablet of Lamictal each night and I have been taking it for the past four days. I have these irritating rashes that are, according to Lamictal’s website, quite normal. On top of the rashes, I have those hand tremors similar to the one I get when I take Salbutamol for my asthma attacks.

I am sorely tempted to ditch the medications because of the rashes. I am a bit obsessed with the quality of my skin, even though I care so little about clothing and other fashionable stuff. However, I started reading on my condition from two psychiatry books my aunt lent me last night. And according to the books, worst case scenarios for bipolar syndrome include full-blown psychosis, lack of coherent mental function, and successful attempts of suicide. Between the rashes and losing my great but messed up mind for good, I think I’ll just embrace the rashes as part of my Lenten penance until I get alternative medications next month. (I already bought a full month’s supply of the darn thing so I have around 26 days to endure this itchy ordeal).

The primary ingredient for most bipolar medications is Lithium. Funny how I used to shrug that off as an insignificant part of the Periodic Table of Elements. Now, I need it to balance my Sodium and Potassium content, thereby balancing the mood swing tendencies. It was supposed to prolong the change of episodes between mania and depression. The thing with Lithium medication is that it enters the blood stream and it will actually be present in breast milk of a female bipolar woman, hazardous to baby’s health. On top of that, after each pregnancy, a bipolar woman will most likely have severe manic depressive episodes even when they have already recovered for some time. Genetically speaking, my children will also have a 10% chance of having bipolar syndrome because of me.

The statistics are against me when it comes to marriage and having kids. I am most certainly not fit to enter convent life because the depressive tendencies will just make me a liability to the other religious in my community. And I am not even a suitable roommate because I will be too overbearing for the people who live with me. I am actually trying my best to increase my material resources so that I can move out of my present home and not drive my mom, sister and cousin crazy with my strangeness.

Bipolar disorder at its worst has the tendency to hurt their loved ones even when they do not mean to do so. We do not mean to be rude for the most part, but it compulsively comes off to be so. It is so difficult to listen to other people since flights of ideas are just floating ceaselessly in my head. It is hard to sit still and much easier to worry too much. We appear egocentric even though deep inside we mean really well.

Women who have this disorder are not really recommended to have children, much less marry because they cannot sustain a romantic or family relationship without Herculean efforts. Loved ones who have to live with bipolar people are going to have a difficult time as well. We are one of the hardest to live with because of these mood swings. The tendency not to have a sense of personal boundaries can cause some things that can shock normal people but are not an issue to the bipolar person.

My shrink told me that I am still allowed to date but I am not yet allowed to have any serious commitments. I think the no strings attached setup is unfair for me and the other person, still. For one, if I like or love a person well enough to date him, I will always want him to be happy. And making that person happy in the long run means not getting him involved with me any further. 🙁

I will eventually not want to subject the person I love to this giant cross of having to put up with the realities of my disorder. If it gets serious enough for marriage, I will not want him to become a father to children who may have inherent mental disorders. I will most certainly not want that special person to undergo the difficulty of having to live with someone like me. I just cannot imagine causing that much pain to a person who I find to be very special and dear to me.

And before all this discovery, I thought that the only primary difficulty that I have to deal with is my inability to cook good food for the kids. Apparently, I will be bringing more damage to earth if I procreate. I must get used to being alone and make the most of what I do have, which is not really a few things. I am still blessed. Pining for the things that are already inaccessible to me in lieu of this disorder is quite a waste of time, because life is too short to brood over the things I cannot have in this lifetime.

I write it here so that I will no longer have to explain myself over and over again to the men who have been asking me out as of late. I am thankful for the attention and interest, but I think you will be much happier to keep me as a friend and peg your affections to somebody else. I will just give the link to this blog post each time I get asked out and I am sure most of them will back off happily.

These realities are hard pills to swallow right now. But I believe that it is more practical and for the common good if I forget about entering convents or raising kids. I must keep it that way so that I will not hurt any more individuals, especially the ones that I genuinely like the most.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions. I acknowledge that some bipolar people may find themselves able to marry and manage it amidst these sad scenarios. I am only expressing a view which I find to be more applicable to me, and I am not imposing it to other family-oriented bipolar people. I do believe that there are men or women with giant hearts who can be partners to bipolar individuals. But they are quite hard to find, and possibly non-existent in my side of the world.

The up side to this slightly abysmal situation is the fact that bipolar people are generally productive and creative individuals who can instigate positive change to the world and make timeless masterpieces that transcend their messed up minds for everyone else now and in the future.

While we are hellish to be in a relationship or live with, it is heaven to read our creations and benefit from our noble pursuits if these stream of hyperactive thoughts are channeled in the right way. This is what I am trying to do now, because there is nothing much else to do other than stick to the positive side of the condition.

It is not entirely a bad thing. And when I get my passport, I can sail into the oceans of unchartered waters because I need to revel in the one perk of being single forever: boundless FREEDOM from attachments.

I guess I can just volunteer to help take care of other people’s children. I’ve always wanted to put up an orphanage for abandoned kids. And I can just have silent retreats in place of the lovely solitude that monasteries give to nuns. It’s not going to be as fulfilling, but I choose to make the most of what I have because this is what God has given me.

I surely wish I can talk to more people with the same condition. I dislike hearing cliches like “Cheer up”, “Things will get better”, and “I know exactly how you feel because I have felt that way too”. It is not as easy as it sounds. I appreciate the good intentions of the people who say these things. It is quite uncomfortable for other people when faced with these issues. For all their good intentions, they do not really know what it’s like to have this kind of mind. I appreciate the efforts to connect and empathize, but I do long for someone who has been through the same thing and managed to survive it.

If it shall help anyone out there, my shrink also recommended the book entitled Personal History. It is an autobiography of Katharine Graham, one of the bigwigs of The Washington Post, mother to four children and wife to a brilliant, bipolar man who succumbed to suicide.

I shall begin reading it today, among with many other beginnings that this new revelation of my life has brought me.