Friday, October 08, 2010
Sane Enough to Know I'm Not: Depression (2)
About the only smart thing I did when I filed for a divorce was to put my daughters in therapy. It was a long nasty divorce and they deserved an objective support system, professionals who would be totally in their corners. I couldn’t do the job because I was one pissed off cookie – scared and more than half nuts.
I took them to three different mental health professionals each and let them choose the person they felt most comfortable with. They chose wisely. This was a raw time for my girls – dad was pulling the usual strings and mother was in la-la land.
They hadn’t been seeing their therapists very long when my oldest daughter’s counselor recommended she see a child psychiatrist. The dreaded bipolar word was dropped. Quickly flashing back over her life – all the way back to when she was a toddler – the only appropriate response I could give was simply, “It fits.”
I knew something about manic depression but not as much as I needed to know to help my very sweet, smart, talented but troubled 15 years old daughter. So I became a mad researcher. It didn’t take very long at all to see these red flags flying smack dab in my face. If the wind had been blowing any harder, they would have knocked me over – all one thousand of them. Even my little black cloud began flashing red lights.
I had been seeing a therapist for several years by this time – trying to deal with “hubby’s” alcoholism and the long periods of intense emotional, verbal and physical abuse. I told her about all those red flags. She immediately connected me with a delightfully witty and brilliant psychiatrist. Diagnosis: Bipolar.
Over time, we learned that I had indeed been born with depression and that the manic episodes had kicked in when I was about 15 or 16. We also learned that this was a family affair – that there was strong evidence that much of my father’s side suffered from various forms of mood disorders. It took forever to find a medicinal cocktail that worked for me, I suppose because of the rapid cycling. Who knows? I view my brain in much the same way as I do my computer. Who cares how it works as long as it works?
Not everyone has the same symptoms by any means but there are guidelines in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) that list certain characteristics of bipolar disorder. Mayo has another list. These indicators have been derived at through years of study and research but they’re not cast in stone, they can’t be, but they can help in identifying whether or not enough of these criteria are met in order to diagnose manic depression.
Overwhelming sadness day in and day out: You’ve already met my little black cloud. He almost incapacitated me with his weight sometimes. For no apparent reason he caused me to tear up and cry - in the car, in line at the grocery, in a large gathering, or at home all by my lonesome. For hours, days and weeks. Certainly alcohol was a factor but in general I was never happier than when sitting around with my buddies getting wasted, or so I thought.
Feelings of hopelessness: Since I was a small child.
Inappropriate guilt and feelings of worthlessness: This goes beyond insecurity. My conscience could rip my guts out if I so much as dropped a book, spilled something on my blouse, hung a picture crooked, or said or did something inappropriate. A perfect match for an abuser, I already had a lot of practice apologizing for just being alive by the time I married the second time.
I didn’t self-mutilate as a rule but the urge to do so was almost overpowering – like one time when I was ironing and seriously contemplated placing the hot iron on my arm – just to see what it would do. Or another when I had the urge to place my brother’s hot soldering iron on my arm. I lost that battle but I was too numb to feel anything.
Loss of energy or interest in daily activities: Would sit and stare into nothingness for days at a time. Too numb to even feel lonely or give a damn. Or I’d stay home reading for weeks at a time without going dancing or associating with friends at an age when everyone else was doing it.
Irritability: One time in that nunnery boot camp I got angry at one of the nuns, walked into the dorm room, picked up my Underwood typewriter and slung it across the room. My roommate, poor gal, ducked as it went flying past her head. I wasn’t aiming at her but how in hell would she know? I developed quite a pitching arm which came in handy years later as I threw china and anything I could find across the room.
It also shows up in my nasty one-line zingers. But I’m always quick to apologize.
Suicidal thoughts: This is not merely thinking about the fear of dying but it is reoccurring thoughts of suicide. But you have to have a plan. I just think about it – a lot.
Sometimes the lights just go out and there’s no joy in living.
This is long and it's depressing me, so I will tackle the manic episodes in the next post. I can just about guarantee that the ride will be a hell of a lot more fun.
Sane Enough to Know I'm Not: Introduction
Sane Enough to Know I'm Not: Bipolar 101