Today’s lyric is from a song called The New Sad by the Barenaked Ladies.
Former frontman Steven Page has openly spoken and written about living with bipolar disorder over the past few years, and many of the songs that he’s written depict his experience. This song has spoken to me for the past 10 years or so since I first heard it, and it’s one of many depicting the ups and downs of living through mood episodes. It’s on one of my favorite albums by them, BNL Are Me. The ending goes “I know it hurts. No one wants to die. Goodbye, goodbye.”
This is day 1’s prompt from a series of 31 prompts that I’ll be writing a little on (hopefully) every day.
What flavour of bipolar are you? What does your diagnosis mean to you?
On 18 June 2015, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. I had already been hospitalized once with the worst hypomanic/borderline manic episode in over 10 years a few weeks prior, and was about to be hospitalized again for full-on mania. Since, my diagnosis has been changed to Bipolar I, because I do get pretty scary highs that are more “severe” than hypomania.
When I was diagnosed, now almost two years ago, I had an initial sense of relief of knowing that I’m not insane and that there was a name for what I’ve always experienced. But I was still coming down from a pretty nasty high that had manifested itself in the return of my PTSD symptoms with a vengeance. Yet that relief was very short-lived. It quickly turned to guilt, shame, and fear. I had already gone through my first round of Med Roulette (I’ll get to this in a second) in about ten years, and it ended in a hospital stay. I was very skeptical of going at medication again.
I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in late 2005, and was put on Effexor. This was my first go at the “game” of Med Roulette, and it didn’t go so well. Med Roulette is a euphemism for this sort-of experiment that is inherent of pretty much all psych meds.. No two people respond exactly in the same way to the same medication because everyone has their own special dose of chemical brain farts. In other words, the regimen that works for me may not, and probably will not, work for someone else with the same diagnosis. Now, the “roulette” part is that there’s truly no way to figure out what will and will not work besides trial and error, and the side effects and adverse reactions that come with that.
In other words, medication is a loaded gun that is loaded and ready to shoot.
My first go at this… lovely… game, in 2005, ended in error. In fact, it was so bad an error, that I was manic and psychotic out of my skull for the better part of a year. In further fact, I don’t remember half of my first year of music school, because mania historically equals blackout for me. I was flying so high that I thought I was the world’s gift to music… Now, I’m a mediocre musician, and that’s cool, but my illness (and the side effects of undiagnosed bipolar while on a medication not recommended for bipolar because it can induce mania) made me believe that I was. I must’ve believed that I was superhuman and indestructible… and I don’t remember a damn second of that. In reality, this symptom may as well had saved my life. I felt so great, that I just stopped taking my medication and going to appointments… And then things got back to “normal” after I must’ve gone through withdrawal and all that fun stuff. I was so afraid of treatment after this scare that I simply refused to get help again.
But that was a foolish mistake, and my illness crept back up on me over the years. I thought I’d gotten pretty good at hiding my symptoms — forcing myself out of bed during lows, and looking forward to the insanity of highs. I flat-out denied that I wasn’t OK, and thought my severe and long bouts of ups and downs were “normal”. I also began self-medicating again with drugs and alcohol, but I didn’t know it at the time. I’d drink heavily to control mania, and do a lot of drugs to come up from depression. It got to the point where I simply couldn’t hide it anymore. I stopped being a “functioning” bipolar.
So, at the coaxing of someone dear to me, I got help. I was terrified of it all, especially medication. This second “first” round also ended badly. I was put on medication for the sole purpose of ruling out bipolar disorder. But guess what? Hello mania! I was flying so high that I was hospitalized twice in three months. See, with Med Roulette, no one ever really wins. And I was totally losing the game for a long time. I became terrified of it, and refused to “play” for a few months, but I ended up back in the hospital for Round 3 in September 2015. I checked myself in because I was starting to have psychotic symptoms, and that never ends well.
Since then, I’ve been compliant and have played the game every few months, and that is what I need right now. Medication is an important part of managing my mental illness, but it’s truly trial and error. I’m not quite in remission yet, but getting there. My latest round seems to have done wonders for a long bout of depression. Mania hasn’t crept in for a few months, and I hope it doesn’t. I use to look forward to the “relief” of mania, but it’s really not something to be too pleased about. I’m a dangerous and reckless manic.
My bipolar diagnosis means hope to me. It means that I don’t have to fight it by myself, and that I have resources to help manage this thing that’s a part of my brain. It means that I don’t have to feel like I’m insane, because there’s a name for my patterns, and that I’m not alone. I guess that’s the brightest part of having a lifelong brain illness that I’ll probably die with… that I no longer have to life afraid or ashamed. I’ve grown to learn that it’s pointless to be ashamed of who I am.. there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a transgender man, or being someone with an illness. Brains are just like any other organ in our bodies — sometimes, they too get sick. We don’t, as a society, shame people with most other illnesses… I don’t see the point in shaming or stigmatizing someone who’s brain just needs a little help from a trained professional, just like any other illness affecting any other organ.
I didn’t choose to have this illness… I don’t think anyone ever chooses to have any illness… I have chosen to get help for it in order to manage it in the best way possible.
I’m also choosing to speak out and advocate for myself because dialogue is the only way to alleviate, and hopefully end, stigma. I speak out because it matters.
With this blog, I hope to help out other people, especially transgender people, who are living with mental illness. Sometimes, knowing that I’m not alone in this fight is all I need to sleep. If I can be that one bit of hope for someone else, then speaking out is worth it.