Is Anybody Out There?

Hi, my name is Angela and I have bipolar depression.

The manic episodes don’t cause me to go on wild spending sprees, or sleep with every man who crosses my path, or believe I am the Queen of Albania or anything like that. They just make my drive to succeed go into overdrive. Like when I was in college and I’d spend three days in a row studying for an exam or writing a paper on only three hours of sleep, and not feel tired. And then I’d get an “A” and feel super-accomplished so I’d join 3 student organizations and become president of all of them. Because I really should be more accomplished.

Then I’d get to the point where I’d feel sad. Really sad. And I just wouldn’t get it because if everything in my life is going so well, why do I feel so sad? Like I didn’t have a right to be sad. Or to feel like despite my accomplishments, I was really quite worthless and any day now everyone will come to that realization and stop loving me. So the depression would kick in and though I’d still do things like go to class, I’d feel utterly empty inside. And I’d begin to imagine ways, not to kill myself, but to just make myself disappear so I wouldn’t have to deal with anything anymore. Like maybe go into a coma or become a cave-dwelling hermit or something.

What’s worse is I was terrified someone would find out how I felt, and realize I was not perfect after all. So I’d wear a mask, and smile a lot like everything was ok when really I was withering away.

Pregnancy only exasperated the manic-depressive cycle. After my first was born, the manic episodes manifested themselves in different ways. For example, I’d become hyper-accomplished at work, teach my baby sign language, make all the baby food by hand, bake homemade bread every week and generally work towards the goal of being the best worker, mother, and wife EVER. Oh, and I wouldn’t sleep. But I didn’t really feel like I needed to anyways.

Then the depressive cycle kicked in, and I panicked at the idea of going to work for fear I might mess something up. I wouldn’t feel capable of doing any housework or hobbies - I was clearly a worthless piece of shit that was terrible at everything. I’d stop communicating with my husband and draw inwards because I just felt incredibly sad and guilty that he had to deal with being married to someone who just couldn’t deal with life. And 3 months, then 6 months, then a year went by and I just couldn’t shake the guilt I felt at having my daughter in daycare.

After a year of this, I finally broke down into a sobbing mess. My husband convinced me to go to our family doctor and get some drugs, which I did. I was put on Effexor and it helped. Somewhat. At least I could function again.

And then my second was born. And a few months later I could feel the depression kicking back in, so I went back to my doctor. And she kept giving me higher doses of Effexor, and higher doses of Effexor, and higher doses of Effexor, and it wasn’t working, it wasn’t working, IT WASN’T WORKING.

Eventually it got so bad that I seriously considered downing the entire bottle of sleeping pills my doctor had prescribed. And the only thing that stopped me was the knowledge that my girls needed a mother, and it would be terribly unfair to deprive them of a mother at so young an age. But I was scared. So I called my husband and asked him to come home immediately. And he was scared. Because he didn’t know what I would do. Neither did I.

So, I got myself to a psychiatrist, who recognized that I didn’t have just depression, but bipolar depression. So we slowly started the process of weaning me off the antidepressants and onto mood stabilizers.

Now, for the first time in nearly 10 years, I feel relaxed. I didn’t realize how on edge I always was until I started the new medication. I was literally in a state of fight-or-flight all the time. And for the first time in my life I could forgive myself for not being perfect, and let go of the impossibly-high standards I had always imposed upon myself. I still have manic-depressive cycles but they are comparatively mild, and increasingly less frequent.

Yet I feel so solitary in this condition. And though I absolutely do not want the struggle I went through to thrust itself on anyone I know and love, I wish that I could meet someone new in real life who has gone through what I went through. So I won’t feel so alone.

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