Mental Illness Stories
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I was a jumpy, moody, nervous child, even as a baby. My mother said that even in a silent room, the soft click of a door latch would send me into a hysterical crying fit in my crib.
My father likes to brag about the depth I showed as a child when, at the age of four, I looked into a starry Gippsland sky one night and asked him, ''Dad, what's it like to die?'' He says that showed uncanny depth for my age. I have to wonder what a four-year-old was doing ruminating about death.
Mum had periods in which she was greatly productive, sewing and cooking with little need for sleep. Then she would have stretches where she would not get out of bed for days. Her father blew his brains out with a rifle when he was in his 80's. So, I'm guessing I got the mood gene from her side of the family.
I had my first episode of what I now know was depression around the age of 12 or so. I became firmly convinced that I was asleep and dreaming my entire life. I realised years later that I was psychotically depressed during this period, which lasted about three months. I told my mother about what I was going through. She encouraged me to pray about it. No suggestion about seeing a doctor was ever made. Maybe she didn't realise that I needed medical intervention. The episode passed on its own. I lived for years after in silent terror that I would return to that strange, dark, painful place inside my head.
As a teenager, I was into music, speech, art and football. I got into the radio business at the age of 15. While many of my friends were dropping into heroin, I only ventured into pot and alcohol. I had fallen completely in love with my job as a deejay and wanted to be in control of all my mental faculties.
As I grew into my twenties, I experienced dark and agitated emotions, which seemed to rise on their own, not being tied to external events. Still, I usually functioned fine. When I felt agitated, I'd drown myself in beer, sometimes combining scotch with it. Meantime, my radio career was building. I'd started out in the business in fairly small country town and by the time I was 23, I was doing my first morning show in a country region and earning loads of money. I was outrageous and crazy on the air. Off the air, I usually felt shy, sullen and withdrawn. The only time I laughed easily was when I was in front of a microphone.
My mood fluctuations sent me through two bad marriages by the time I was thirty. But while my personal life was in shreds, my professional life was going great. At 35, while doing a morning program, I experienced a total mental collapse, which came out of nowhere. I was psychotically depressed, and while not suicidal, I was in total inner agony. Unable to sleep, I booked an appointment with my general practitioner, who asked if I was depressed? Not knowing anything about mental illness, and not wanting to even think about the possibility that I was mentally ill, I told him no, I wasn't depressed. He chalked my sleeplessness up to stress and wrote me a prescription for Valium, which I found out later is highly addictive.
I began sleeping, although only for three hours at a stretch. And I began taking more than the prescribed dose of Valium. My graciously stupid doctor kept giving me more prescription repeats. I don't know how I functioned at work, as I'd gone nine days at one point with no sleep. But after two months, I was so depressed and so hooked on Valium that I knew I had to get help. So I checked myself into a rehab. I climbed the walls for days trying to kick the Valium, but did and was released early from in-patient treatment.
Immediately, the psychotic, agitated insomnia returned. I went back to my MD and asked for a non-addictive drug to induce sleep. He now knew that I'd been diagnosed as depressed, so he prescribed an older anti-depressant, Tryptanol. Within three days, I felt great and was sleeping through the night. But by day, I had boundless energy, which was largely unchanneled. After work, I would go to an adult bookstore and masturbate for hours in a booth while watching dirty movies. Or I would drive around town 'til all hours of the night, sleeping barely enough to get me through my four hour radio show each morning.
My boundless energy and lack of logic made me decide to move to Sydney when my contract was up. I began sending resume's to companies in Sydney, and found interest immediately. Thankfully, the radio station manager knew I was in an odd frame of mind and relieved me of my duties seven months early, telling me he'd pay me through the end of the contract. So I moved to Sydney while still being paid. I struck up a relationship with an old girlfriend and managed to move in with her.
I had believed that moving to Sydney would put my mood disorder behind me, that my depression had been merely circumstantial. Wrong. I no sooner arrived in Sydney than I lapsed into another dark, painful trough. My old girlfriend knew I'd been diagnosed as depressed, but I did not tell her I was fighting it again. I was gaining weight because of the Tryptanol. I cycled back and forth between feeling vibrantly productive and painfully bleak. Two years after moving to Sydney, I was finally diagnosed as bipolar. By this time, I'd been on countless anti-depressants which had made me bounce off the walls, up and down and back up again.
Now, at 40, I've stabilised on a fairly low dose of Neurontin with an occasional dose of an anti-psychotic, Zyprexa. I don't drink much anymore, and no street drugs at all. I work out three or four times a week. I've managed to jumpstart my career, which had stalled five years ago because of depressions and moving to Sydney. I earn a strong salary again and my old girl friend and I are now married. She knows full well of my inner battles and attends psychiatric appointments with me.
I am thankful that I've never been suicidal. I never know how I'm going to feel from one day to the next. I have learned to spot depressive episodes coming and know how to head them off, but the manias are far more deceptive, so I take Tryptanol and Zyprexa mainly for these ''up'' times. I am a beginning student of Buddhism as well as a long time believer in Biblical religion, too. Physical exercise, especially running and weight-lifting, keep me anchored inside my body. I believe this illness has many facets, so the way to beat it must also be multi-faceted. Meditation, prayer, exercise, medication, laughter, a good career, love for and from my wife have all contributed greatly to the progress I'm making.
The Never-Ending Roller Coaster - Jane's Story
The never-ending roller coaster is probably the best way to describe my life. Meaning, that I am constantly going up and down and left and right and twisty-turn and upside down and right side out. That is the bipolar life. That is my life.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I at the age of 15 Â½. Now, over 3 years later at the age of 18, turning 19 in August, I am very surprised that I am still alive. Around the age of 15, I went from the perky, happy go lucky, smiley, bubbly teenager that I was, to a cynical, irritable, moody, slightly depressed pain in the arse.
Let me start you from the beginning. Since the day I was born, I was very out-going, social and wanted to know everyone and everything that was out there in the world. I was regarded from the earliest of ages as being exceptionally bright, articulate, intelligent and creative. I had a flair for talking and writing. And I breezed through school effortlessly. I had a knack for school, sports, the arts, and people. Being the oldest of another sister and younger brother, my sister hated me and looked up to me all at the same time. But by the age of 15, everyone was wondering what was happening to Jane? I had just bought my roller coaster ticket.
My parents were really at a loss for what was happening to me. What was happening to their essentially perfect daughter? It was bad enough that our perfect, Walton like family was falling apart due to my parents' disruptive divorce. But, there was a lot more to it. Finally, my family could no longer stand my fiery irritability, ever changing moods, and violent out bursts. I was never violent before this. I was all for trying to talk things through and listening and all that. So, one day in September, I went to a hospital psychiatric department for children. That is when I started therapy with one of the perkiest woman I have ever met. Well, at that time she seemed really happy. She was my therapist. I also had a psychiatrist brought in, to recommend a medication program for me.
For the next two and a half months, I saw Jodi, my therapist, and my psychiatrist, separately, once a week - but, it wasn’t working. In November I attempted a small suicide gesture. I really wasn't attempting to kill myself, but just inflict pain onto me. But, picking at my wrists with carpet tacks was enough to send me to the children's psych ward for 6 days. I was then diagnosed with bipolar. Jodi and the psychiatrist were still investigating every possibility from the obvious major depression to add, to borderline personality. But, since I was constantly in therapy. I was asked every question possible. My history was, that from the ages of 13 to 15, I was bouncing back and forth from manic, hypo-manic and normal episodes. Looking back at those years now and knowing what I know about bipolar, I can totally see how I was manic. I was all sweet and innocent and maintain my perfect image and excellent grades, to my family and a lot of my friends, but I was not acting how a person my age should act.
I was smoking half pack a cigarettes by the age of 14, drinking, smoking weed, partying, staying out till sunrise, hanging out with 20 year olds. I had lost my virginity at the age of 14, and had my first one-night-stand at 15. I was working at this time and I was spending money like it was nothing. I bought myself everything I wanted and things for my friends too. I didn't care and I wanted to everything possible. Even my friends were saying that my energy was too much to handle most of the time and my happy disposition was becoming annoying. That soon all changed. I then dipped into the worst depression, I have experienced to date. At this point I missed so much school it only worsened my depression and I stopped going. Or make a weekly appearance. I was fortunate to attend a suburban all girl private school. So as long as our monthly tuition checks were in, I was good to go. In December, I was back in hospital. This time I had serious suicidal intentions. I had not done anything this time, but if I didn't go into the hospital I was going to try something, and we are not talking about carpet tacks anymore. I got out of the hospital 2 days before Christmas and made a serious promise to myself I was going to clean up my act. And I was able to pull it together.
I finally left my all girl school and decided to leave the city and live with my cousin and aunt in the outer suburbs and finish my school there. I finished my year 10 without incident. I went from almost failing, to get all A's for the second term. I thought I was back on track. Not knowing at the time, I was extremely manic during the summer before my next year of high school. I was doing some hard-core drugs. I was snorting coke, taking acid, going to raves, and staying up all night long, sometimes for 2 days or more. I was out of control. And once again, I was losing it. I had relapsed, and this time I was going to jeopardize my life.
I was now at my third high school in 3 years. It was a high school. But this time, a lot of my girlfriends were attending the same school. The first term went ok. I had calmed down a little a bit. And I was doing well. By time the second term rolled around, which was in January, I was manic again. I was skipping my therapy sessions with Jodi and the psychiatrist
I was lying and saying I was taking my meds and I wasn't. Once the psychiatrist found out through blood tests, he gave me an ultimatum - start your meds again and stick to them and your therapy, or you are going to the hospital. I laughed at him and his threat. But in February I was sent to psych hospital. And I didn't go quietly. I went kicking and screaming.
They called in security and I was escorted to the hospital to be sedated. And then off to the suburban hospital I went for a lovely 9-day stay. There I started my meds again and was put under constant observation and put in the quiet room many times. But by day 5 or so, I was on so much drugs and other meds, I became quiet as a mouse and as still as a statue. When I returned home, they tapered my drugs, so I could carry on with my daily life. But I was still not myself. I stopped going to school again and I was getting depressed. What goes up, must come down. That is my life.
My depression was getting worse and therapy, combined with my meds was not working. In July, I attempted suicide. At this time, I was living with my father and brother. My parents were separated and my mother said that she loved me, but couldn't handle me anymore. So, one July night after a few friends and my dad, brother and I watched a movie, I went into my room and I cut my wrists. I hate pain, so I guess I didn't cut deep enough, due to my low threshold for pain. It seemed like I did cut deep, because it would not stop bleeding. I then passed out. To my dismay, I woke up very much alive. I just was a bloody mess and with some pretty damaged wrists that were in a lot of pain. 2 days later, I had to meet with my psychiatrist. I had screwed up my therapy with him and Jodi so much, that if I missed a session with either one of them, without a valid reason, they would notify my parents. I didn't have one, so off I went to see my psychiatrist again.
Now look at this situation - It was January, not to mention, that this summer was particularly hotter than previous ones. Here I am, going to see my doctor, a psychiatrist, to try and lie to him that everything is great, so I can get out of there as quickly as possible. And I am a wearing a sweater. I did this because I had to bandage my wrists and I didn't want him to see because I had plans to try again that night. Either way I was screwed. If I didn't go to my session, I would hear it from my dad and he would take me there later in the day for a later appointment. If I did see my psychiatrist, I was going to be extremely lucky if I could pull off the session without incident. Well, needless to say, I went to the hospital that day. I went to the psych ward again and this time I stayed there for 21 days. I was on 7 different meds and taking medication 5 times a day. I was a medication mess. But I could not snap out of it. Besides my bipolar, I have suffered from extreme paranoia. And my paranoia at this time was sky high. I started getting delusional. Hearing things and seeing things. I didn't care if I died. I wanted to die. I left hospital 2 days before my 17th birthday.
Somehow something in me just clicked. I wanted to try and make something of my life. I don't know what it was or if it was just my bipolar doing what it does best, change moods. I didn't want to be stuck in this hospital anymore and I wanted out. I wanted to be free and be in the real world and learn to cope and deal with crap.
Now, almost 2 years later as I approach my 19th birthday, how is Miss Jane doing? - In October I went off my meds. It wasn't my doctor's choice, but mine. I have been off them for 9 months. But as of last week, I went back on my antipsychotics. I am hypo-manic according my good ol’ psychiatrist. Yes, I am still with him and Jodi. He thinks that I am having a mixed episode. Do I agree with him? Really, I don't know. All I do know is, I still remember my past way too clearly and I do not want to re-live it again.
I want to say this about everything I have been through:
I am very lucky to have my good ol’ psychiatrist and Jodi in my life to help me. It hasn't been easy for me. Currently the guy I am with, his mother isn't handling my past too well. I think she is being closed-minded. And hopefully someday, she'll give me a chance. I live in a small neighbourhood in a large city, but because of where I live, everyone knows everyone. And people know of me and my past. Some only know little details, some know the whole story. And some think that I am crazy. Oh, well. I am not going to lie and say that this has been easy and I am over everything. Every day is a struggle for me. Some days I don't want to get out of bed. Some days I don't go to bed. That is my life. But every day I do try and deal with it a little more.
I thank you for reading my story. I hope it has helped you in some way or another. Through everything, I have learned that there is one thing that helps me the most:
Take each day, one day at a time.
I try not to put too many expectations on myself and only make short term goals. This way I don't let myself down and this gives me a chance to get more out of my life.
Thank you and good luck. I know it isn't easy. But remember nothing is. And what doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger. I am not very religious and I know that not everyone believes in god, so take this as you wish and apply it to yourself as you like:
"If God had meant for today to be perfect, he wouldn't have invented tomorrow."
And please remember, there is always a tomorrow.