Thank fuck…

…I’m not bipolar. Might sound like a strange thing to be relieved about, especially as it’s not exactly something one is generally thankful for on a daily basis ("thank fuck it’s not raining" "thank fuck it’s hometime" "thanks be to whatever deity I don’t believe in for Steve McManaman" or perhaps rather like the Orthodox Jewish prayer "thank you God for not making me a woman"; "thank fuck I’m not bipolar" tends not to come very high on the list of popular culture thanks).

But there it is. I’m not bipolar, and I’m thankful. And I’ve had my non-bipolar-ness confirmed by a psychiatrist, after waiting several weeks and keeping several pointless appointments. It wasn’t as clear cut a case as you might think (or perhaps you think the psychiatrist got it wrong; it all depends on your opinion of this blog) – after watching Stephen Fry’s Secret Life of the Manic Depressive and recognising an aspect of what they were describing, I’d been thinking to myself that if there were a mild version of bipolar it might fit me, but of course there isn’t a mild version of bipolar disorder.

Actually, there is, and it’s called cyclothymia. When I heard about that I got seriously fucking worried. Here might be a good time to go into the secret depths of my head, and give you an introduction to my version of normality.

‘Normal’ is a subjective thing. Every person filters reality according to their own personal beliefs, mood, upbringing, etc. There is no such thing as a definitive reality because everyone has their own perception. There is, though, what I think of as a ‘majority experience’, which is what people think of as ‘normality’. Some people are permanent optimists, others can only ever see the black side. Most people are somewhere in between. Me? I’m both.

I experience cycles of ups and downs. I’ve written before about the depressive side, that black cloud that saps all energy and life and enthusiasm and leaves me a blank shell. I can exert myself enough to just about function around people and not arouse comment, but it’s exhausting. If I’m not around people, I don’t move: I sit at the kitchen table for hours, not reading, not listening to the radio, not thinking. Just sitting. If it weren’t for the cat standing over me demanding to be fed, I wouldn’t get up.

But. The ups. Ohhh my, the ups. For each depth of depression reached, there’s an upswing of a corresponding size which either manifests as frustrated energy (occasionally developing into wall-kicking) or, more usually, a ridiculous sense of bubbling joy. It’s like I’ve got strings attached to my shoulders and I’m being pulled upwards. I grin at nothing when I’m just walking around (please remember: this good mood isn’t caused by anything external. I can be like this come rain, come shine), the sky is bluer, the world is more beautiful, people are funnier, food is tastier, I can do anything, I can take on anyone and win.

And I know what it’s like to be balanced – I go through balanced or ‘normal’ on my way to one or other of these extremes, on the way up or down. I just don’t stay there very long… it’s an incredibly dull place to be, anyway. It’s grey. There’s no excitement, everything’s just "OK". I’m used to things being either fire or ice, black or sparkly, cherry-blossom scented or dead and wilting. If I had to live in that in-between state I’d just kill myself.

This is what I told my GP a couple of months ago. Didn’t mention the word ‘bipolar’. If anything, I was explaining to him why my current anti-depressants aren’t working and why I wanted to come off them – I don’t think they’re meant for whatever it is that I have/am, cos they’re not making a blind bit of difference. Anyway, he referred me to my local Community Mental Health Team where I saw a non-psychiatrically-qualified box-ticker (but hey, it got me off the waiting list) and last week I saw an actual psychiatrist. The fact that it got to that level in the stretched psychological services of the NHS says, I think, a lot about how unsure they were, and how borderline I am. Anyway, the psychiatrist says that he can’t see any evidence of being "out of control" in any of my ‘up’ periods, which rules out mania or hypomania: thus, I am not bipolar. He still wants to monitor me for several months, just to make absolutely sure.

So what is it? The psychiatrist thinks it’s "just the way you are". (Cheers, mate. And there I was, worried you were going to be vague about this.) No, I ‘merely’ have an extreme personality; in other words, this is hardwired into me and aint changing. We discussed therapy but if, as he thinks, it is hardwired in there’s not an awful lot therapy could do and we decided it’s probably not worth it. I am coming off the drugs though, see what I’m like chemical free.

So. Anyway. That’s my excuse for being weird. What’s yours?

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5 responses to “Thank fuck…

  1. Nick June 12, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Cool. At least knowing it is hardwired means that it something to adapt to and you can get to know how your mind works.
    I thought the ‘ups’ was what it was like for ‘normal’ people? People without depression? So the ‘ups’ are a glimpse into the ‘majority experiance’?
    RE: Meds not working – weren’t you on a small does though so maybe that is why they weren’t working? I’ve been upped to 20mg of Escitalopram a day now and it certainly has the edge over 10mg. Either way good luck being chemical free. Hope it works out for you and stay safe.

  2. Rachel June 12, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Nah, these ‘ups’ are not what everyone gets πŸ™‚ It’s like me being petrified of wasps, people say “oh, everyone’s scared of wasps” but not to my extent of having panic attacks and majorly freaking out! These ups go through ‘normal’ and out the other side (one of these days I’ll create a diagram), they’re not controllable but I, myself, am not out of control. Slight distinction, but important enough for the diagnosis.
    I think the meds aren’t working cos it’s not ‘standard’ depression any more. Citalopram’s your fairly basic, entry-level anti-depressant, and I think what I’m dealing with now is not standard depression and is actually my natural state. Heh. What I possibly should have put in the main post is that I’m willing to put up with the lows in exchange for the highs, and would fight any attempt to put me on drugs that would even out the swings. I feel that would be like suddenly switching from living in colour to living in black and white – Pleasantville in reverse, if you like – and I’m not prepared to live like that.

  3. Nick June 12, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Your sounding like some of those people off the Stepehn Fry programme πŸ˜€
    I know what you mean. My ADHD meds work with my ADHD rather than against, enhancing the positives and dampening the negatives. I think this is one of those areas people struggle with. They can’t fathom why some people with mental ‘issues’ or neurological ‘disorders’ or any of the other malarky fight attempts to stamp it out. Ultimately what we consider a ‘gift’ and what we consider a ‘curse’ has very little rational basis. I guess what we very easilly forget is how recently a lot of the chnages to dealing with mental health came about.
    Interesting what you say about the ‘ups’. I think my ‘ups’ are very different then as I suspect they are unshackled ADHD.
    Ultimately I guess it comes to down knowing what you can and can’t live with and once you understand that things become a hell of a lot easier.

  4. Will June 12, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that hypomania isn’t actually solely associated with bipolar and can and does manifest in the cycles of depression.
    I think it’s very important that you do realise normality is subjective, as you say. In fact you have no way of knowing that your ‘ups’ are not other people’s ‘normal’. Therefore it’s not something you should dwell on. All that matters is how you feel and interpret the world around you.
    To be totally honest I’m staggeringly shocked to hear that you’re quite happy to try all sorts of drugs but couldn’t possible even entertain the idea of getting therapy. Are you worried about freeing yourself from depression (and these so-called ‘ups’, which may in fact be nothing other than a normal state of mind) or are you worried that maybe you’re not quite giving enough credence to external, environmental factors in your moods and therapy might unearth these?

  5. Rachel June 12, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    No, no: no drugs, read the comment – the citalopram isn’t doing anything and I think it’s pointless to try and ‘even out’ something that may be my normal state when it’s not harmful. And the ‘not going into therapy’ decision was taken in conjunction with the psychiatrist – in fact, it’s what he recommended. I’m sure we’ll discuss it again at the monitoring sessions.
    I haven’t ever hit a hypomanic episode (we think, how would I know, though?) so any condition related to hypomania isn’t relevant. And I’m sure other people have ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ but really – the BIG ones (and it’s not every time, it’s maybe 3 or 4 times a year for a couple of days a time, which is classic bipolar timing but the mood swing isn’t extreme enough) are Out There. It’s only recently I’ve become aware that it’s not what most people experience.
    And in retrospect, now I know what I’m looking for, I’ve been like this since adolescence. Possibly there may be something buried deep in my childhood to explain this, but the timing is too co-incidental, and that seems to be the prevailing psych view as well, now that the ups are being taken into consideration – there’s nothing wrong with me, I ‘just’ have a quite extreme personality.
    It also might be worth stating here – at the risk of going into too much detail – that the swings fit quite neatly into my menstrual cycle (and also fits into the post-adolescent theory). I hate saying this cos it’s just asking for some twat to say “oh, it’s just wimmin’s problems” and deride it as PMT. Bah.

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