Archive for the ‘psychiatrists’ Tag

What’s Your Bag?   Leave a comment

First I take the Baggie, the same one I’ve used for at least six years, out of its hiding place in my sock drawer, and put it on my dresser.  Filled to the brim with plastic prescription bottles, they’ve punched wholes through the material greatly limiting its days of functionality.

Like Pigpen’s blanket, the thought of getting rid of it upsets me. That Zip Lock and I have come such a long way together.  The end of a marriage.  A divorce.  A year being single.  An engagement.  Now a broken engagement and I’m alone again.  Maybe the Baggie is actually bad luck?  No.  It couldn’t be.  Not my Baggie.

Next I count out all the pills I need from the various bottles.  I used to use one of those daily dose containers like the elderly, but I was too lazy to keep refilling them at the end of the week.  Then I count the pills to make sure I have the right amount.  Nine in the morning, seven at night.  I also make sure they are in the right denominations.  Two 250mg Effexor, One 100mg Lamictal and so on.

Finally I put them in my cupped hand, go to the bathroom sink, get a mouth full of water and gulp them down.  Then I inspect my hand and the surrounding area to make sure none of them went astray, slipped from my fingers or shot out a nostril.  Now I’m finally free to spend the rest of the day or evening ruminating over whether I took my pills or not and if so were they in the right quantities?

This has been the ritual for the past twenty-four years of my life.  And if I miss a “feeding” I definitely feel it.  Light headedness, trouble focusing, nausea, anxiety…

If you’re Bipolar medication can be a touchy subject.  For me it’s the only thing that stands between a life of relative normalcy and being curled up in a ball on the floor begging to be put to sleep like an animal.  I just can’t stand the depression.   The fragility of my life at times can be very unnerving.  I can’t go anywhere or do anything without my beat up Baggie of psychotropic libations designed to manipulate my dopamine and norfenefrine for the best possible reception.

Some people with Bipolar Disorder have chosen not to go the medication route for a number of reasons.  People don’t want to give up the manic highs.  Others don’t want to gain ten or twenty pounds.  There are even some who feel taking medication is an official confirmation of mental illness and they’d prefer not to wear the blue ribbon.  And in this day and age of only eating raw foods and free range massaged jicama, others do not want to introduce anything man-made into their bodies.  This includes medication that may make them less annoying individuals around mealtime.

I think all reasons for or not taking medication for Bipolar Disorder are justified.  Even if someone is very unstable, as long as they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, they should decide what to put in their bodies.  Especially when it alters their moods.

What does bother me are those with Bipolar Disorder forever searching for their capsule in a pill bottle of bright and shining armor.  They want the ultimate drug that never lets them feel sad and always exist in a perpetual state of “I can’t wipe this grin off my face.”   Maybe they had taken a drug at some point in their lives that briefly made the feel that way.  Or, they once mistook a manic cycle for a drug’s efficacy.  Whatever they felt that one time, they want it back and believe the right drug or combination thereof is out there.  They refuse to stop experimenting until they reclaim the crown of perpetual happiness which is rightfully theirs and inexplicably escaped them.    And, they snuff-out psychiatrists like spent cigarette butts until they find one willing to indulge their personal quest to find the matzoh.

We all know you can never go back home.  And people still looking for the old hood are never going to find the same satisfaction.  But as a fellow Bipolar in complete disorder, I can definitely understand the chase and why some of us can’t stop.   It’s like settling for a Casio when you once wore a Rolex.  They both tell time, but the Rolex made you feel like you weren’t really a prep cook at McDonald’s.

One time a friend came to visit me in San Francisco.  She is Bipolar as well.  I was in her hotel room as she unpacked and pulled out a similar beat up Zip Lock Baggie as I had tucked away in my sock drawer, only filled with her pills.  It made me feel really good and warm inside.  Not because we were both stuck in the same Bipolar boat.  But, because I thought about how many of us must be out there with our beaten up Zip Lock Baggies taking our psychotropic medications day in and day out each with our own little rituals.

We all may not know each other.  If we did we would probably never think to talk about it.  However it’s like coming from the same ancestral heritage.  You know as individuals with Bipolar Disorder we have certain traditions.  Jews wear Yamakas.  Hindus wear Turbans.  And Bipolars have a special bag for their pills.

In Bipolar We Trust   Leave a comment

Dealer:  “Hello, Car Dealer.”

Man:  “Yes, I’d like to bring my car in for service.  Do you have time available this week?”

Dealer:  “We do, but how do I know you are going to show up?”

Man:  “Because I want to get my car serviced.”

Dealer:  “Did you buy it here?”

Man:  “Yes.”

Dealer:  “Give me a minute.  I need to confirm that.”

Man:  “Can I please just schedule a service?”

Dealer:  “Is this your first service with this vehicle?”

Man:  “Yes.”

Dealer:  “You must pre-pay.”

Man:  “How do I know the cost without it being looked at?

Dealer:  “How do I know without pre-paying you’ll show up for your appointment?”

Man:  “Because my car needs service and I bought it from you.”

Dealer:  “Computer is down.  I can’t confirm that.  Call back tomorrow.”

Trust.  It’s one of the most important words in the English language.  Without it society ceases to function.  And in general the majority of people in the world are trustworthy.  But there are enough degenerates out there to ruin it for us all.

The car dealer example is a little extreme. But it’s not too far off the mark.  Most businesses will not take a personal check because they don’t trust you not to bounce it on them.  Hotels want your credit card number when you arrive just in case you decide to check out without paying.  Clothes in decent stores are hooked to the racks with alarmed wires because they are afraid you’ll steal them.  Even in Walgreens Pharmacy you can not get an electric toothbrush head without someone unlocking the cabinet.  Who in  the hell is going to steal a plastic electric tooth brush head?  Are we a society of thieves that will steal anything not nailed down, whether or not we need it?

However, we need trust to survive.  You have to trust the babysitter with which you leave your kids, or else you’ll never get out of the house.  You need faith that the item you bought and paid for on eBay is going to arrive as ordered.  And, when you sit down to eat at a nice restaurant, nobody does a credit check to see if you will be able to pay for the meal.

Trust is even more important to someone suffering from Bipolar Illness.  This is probably because everything about the illness and its treatments have a plethora of ways to present itself in each individual.  Consequently, a Bipolar person can not trust that the drug regiment that worked on their best friend will work for them.  And, that they will experience the same side effects to the same magnitude.  When it comes to treating Bipolar, even the doctors don’t make definitive statements.

But Bipolar people have to trust something.  Otherwise our lives will be in constant chaos.  We’d all be seeking different treatments, if any at all.  The majority of us would be in the throes of mania or in the deep dark bowels of depression.  So, we put our trust in our psychiatrists.   They are educated and know more about Bipolar Illness and its treatments than anyone else we have access to.  We trust them to guide us down the path to a better quality of life by learning how to best manage our illness.  We know the going can be rough until we find the right medication(s).  But, we trust the doctor to get us through it.

Bipolars also need to be able to trust people.   They need friends who will show up when they said they will for coffee.  Significant others who won’t forget to stop by the pharmacy after work to pick up your medications.  A Bipolar Support Group where you can freely talk about your issues to others going through the same trials and tribulations.  Whether they know about your illness or not, you need people who “have your back.”  In return, you must do your part and “have their back.”

A Bipolar twenty-something I wrote about once before in a Bipolar Support Group I attended took this “got your back” thing a little too far.  He has a Bipolar friend who was very depressed and cancelled plans with him several times.  The friend even told him about his depression being why he cancelled.  The guy in my support group was so disgusted he cut his ties with this person.  He said he was undependable, couldn’t be trusted and was lazy.  You’d think being Bipolar himself he’d be more understanding.  But he put himself on a pedestal for Bipolar achievement because he does not lie in bed all day.  I was pretty disgusted and asked him if he was so wonderful why was he still on state disability and not working?  He looked like someone just gave him a spoonful of motor oil.   His argument was crushed.

There are a lot of  mean people out there.  A judgmental, vindictive and belittling person can come into your life with a smile and warm handshake.  But so can an empathetic, generous and loyal friend.  For this reason never stop your quest for trust.  Exercise it whenever you can.  Trusting people often attracts other likeminded trusting individuals.  If you are Bipolar you can never have a big enough circle of friends.  And if you pick up a rotten apple, enroll them in one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Life Classes” on her OWN Network.  I heard she has an episode coming up called “I Know Nothing About Life.  Why Am I Giving Classes?”

Medication and Mixed Marriages   Leave a comment

I should have been happy, but she was driving me insane.  I almost had to ask my psychiatrist to add a sixth medication to my cocktail so I wouldn’t strangle my wife.  “Did you take your pills?  When did you take them?  Are you sure you took the right dose?  Lets double-check.”  At one point she even took to counting my pills out for me.  My word meant nothing.

You see, I was in a mixed marriage.  I am Bipolar II but the woman I married was sane.  However, after watching me suffer through two severe depressions ending in hospitalizations, several bouts with exhaustive mania, which usually included me buying a new car, a Swiss watch, jewelry, or all of the above, she became vigilant about me taking my medications.  To her this was the only thing she could do to ward off future episodes.  One time she even got the pills and walked them over to me like she was giving a dog a biscuit.  I was waiting for her to ask me to lift up my tongue proving I swallowed them like in the mental ward.

My wife had never experienced even a friendship with someone who was mentally ill until she met me.  And after we married I had my first major depressive episode, in which I overdosed on Lorazepam and washed them down with half a bottle of Seagrams Seven.  She was really rattled.  Watching the EMT’s accompanied by the San Francisco Police come into our apartment and load her semi-conscious husband into a waiting ambulance definitely made an impression on her.

Racially mixed marriages are easier even if you come from two different cultures.  You can experience each other’s heritage by eating favorite ethnic foods, listening to each other’s music, meeting the parents, seeing where you each grew up and getting to know one another’s friends.  But in this kind of mixed marriage, if you have Bipolar Disease, you can’t expect your sane spouse to climb into your head to experience your own private hell, have them take your medications so they can share the joys of shaky hands dumping hot coffee in their lap, have them cozy up to a schizophrenic roommate in a locked mental ward so they can see where you sometimes hang out and let them experience a manic episode culminating in a wild shopping spree, maxing out their credit cards putting themselves on the fast track to bankruptcy.

For this reason I think the chances of this type of mixed marriage working out are tenuous at best.  Lets say you are the sane one, and your spouse has Bipolar Disease.  At a certain point you are going to think they are lazy for sleeping too much.  And they are not much fun because they feel most comfortable at home away from noisy crowded restaurants and bars.  Plus they’re a total party-pooper because when the evening medication kicks in around ten PM, they are ready for bed.  Worst of all, they never want to have sex because their medication has sucked the horny right out of them.  I ask you, even if you know it’s the Bipolar Disease talking, how long can you put up with this type of in-patient lifestyle?  I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say it would be difficult for me, even knowing what I know about Bipolar Disease.

My wife ended up asking for a divorce.  She said my Bipolar Disease wasn’t a factor, but I know it was.  I was hypomanic.  I couldn’t stand to be touched. I was self-medicating with alcohol and doing most of it outside the home in various neighborhood bars.  This is also when I first started my quarterly purchase of a new car.  And, I wasn’t keeping my wife informed regarding my medications.  Her involvement in my illness was no longer welcome.  I could not live in her world of vigilance and who in their right mind would want to live in mine of drunken insanity?

I often wonder what it would be like if two bipolar people tied the knot? No longer would it be a mixed marriage.  However, I can see it either turning out to be a wonderful understanding, loving relationship, or two people fighting like hillbillies in West Virginia over a pot of three-day old rabbit stew.  On one hand they can comfort one another because they know exactly what he or she is going through.  However, being on the receiving end of a manic episode, severe depression, bouts of agoraphobia, time-consuming OCD or whatever else your mate might have bundled in their bipolar profile, might be quite menacing.  Even if you have Bipolar Disease yourself, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can take it from somebody else.  Especially if you are making more progress than your spouse in recovery.  Then you might even harbor unwarranted feelings of anger, as if they are just living a life of slack.  You could inadvertently become a Bipolar Snob creating a hierarchy within the disease.

I am not suggesting people with Bipolar Disorder give up on the idea of mixed marriage.  I think it’s the people who make the marriage work, not simply a non-afflicted partner’s ability to tune out the scary stuff.  It’s more important that they face their partner’s bipolar idiosyncrasies and possible breakdowns with an aire of calmness.  My fiancee (I still hate that pretentious word) is not bipolar, but when I hit a rough patch she is the picture of cool.  She makes sure I am safe, provides comfort and allows me to ride it out.

My advice is when entering into a mixed marriage or serious relationship, make sure the non-afflicted partner knows and understands Bipolar Disease and how it manifests in your particular situation.  Prepare them for how to handle a bout of depression or mania.  Then if and when it happens, they won’t be surprised and will already have an appropriate plan of support.

I once dated a girl and we were really starting to like each other.  She told me her criteria for getting serious with a guy is that he lived on his own and had no mental issues.  I stood up from the couch and handed her her coat.  “Well, I guess we’re not going to work out because I’m bipolar.”  It really pissed me off because it’s a disease, not an acquired trait or born out of a personality flaw.

She must have really liked me because she gave me a pass.  But I never could get her comment out of my mind.  And I knew anything I did would be under close scrutiny for being a product of my mental illness.  So, it turned out I was not comfortable dating her.  So the last thing I will say is that when embarking on a mixed relationship or marriage, save yourself some heartache and find out how the object of your desire feels about mental illness before you get too serious.  You could save yourself a miserable trip down Bipolar Break-up Lane, where relationship are only as strong as your medication.

Bipolars in Memorium   Leave a comment

If you can, think back to the 1950’s.  If you can’t, pretend you were alive then.  Big winged chrome adorned cars.  Ranch homes with long wooden HiFi-record player  consoles, black and white TV’s with rabbit ears on which to watch The Honeymooners and Leave it to Beaver, men wearing dark suits with narrow ties even when eating dinner at home and wives always in long hoop skirts with their hair looking like it was done from a mold.  All this with a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and some Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to shake things up.

Then imagine you are a severely depressed woman to the point you are having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.  You can not understand why everyone else is so happy and you are always so sad.  People have been telling you to “snap out of it,” but you can’t seem to crawl from beneath the heavy wet blanket of depression that has descended upon your world.  Everything you see, school buses, people walking to work,  the late afternoon sun, inexplicably bring on despair.  Every smell recalls unwanted memories.  Just taking a breath is exhausting.

Your husband forces you out of bed in the morning and pushes you to do to household chores, but even getting dressed brings you to tears.  Your clothes feel confining and uncomfortable.  They remind of going outside, which terrifies you. You can’t help but ask yourself over and over, “Why is this happening to me?  Does everybody get depressed like this and I am too weak a person to cope?”  You question whether you need to see a psychiatrist, but abandon the idea instantly when you think of the negative stigma it could bring on you and your family.  Only crazy people go to psychiatrists.

As soon as your husband leaves the house you climb right back in bed and sleep the day away.  Being unconscious is the only thing that brings you any relief from this painful existence.  Around five o’clock before he returns you force yourself to get dressed and through confused tears pour yourself a martini.  It’s the only thing you look forward to these days.  The warm sensation of the gin going down your throat into your empty stomach is comforting.  So you have  another.  By the time your spouse arrives home the alcohol partially washes away the sadness and you can lie about the productive day you had at home.  You light a Chesterfield King and stand in the kitchen with your apron on as if you were getting ready to cook.

But your husband sees through it all.  It’s obvious you are drunk and it triggers an argument, which leaves you running into the bedroom screaming, the martinis turning your mood from drunk to major funk.  You’re at your wits end.  Life is getting too painful to live.  There is nothing good left in it for you. Nothing makes you happy. And the alcohol in your system gives you the confidence to take an entire bottle of aspirin, the only available pills in your domicile.

So, you gulp down the chalky tasting pills with some water and lay down on your bed waiting to die.  Pretty soon it will all be over.  You can hear Gene Autry singing his cowboy music softly playing on a tinny sounding AM radio in the house across the street.  It’s almost surreal.

Suddenly you are jolted awake by an imaginary alarm in your head.  You find yourself strapped to a gurney in a padded room with the door closed.  Your stomach aches like you did one thousand sit ups, your esophagus burns like some one tried to strike a sulfur match on it and your head is pounding to the beat of your heart.  You also realize you’re laying in the moisture of your own urine.    It is slowly becoming clear that you are in a hospital.  People keep walking by and pressing their faces to the little square glass window on the door as if to see if you are still there.

Finally after about twenty-minutes the door opens and two orderlies in white coats looking more like truck drivers and a nurse in full uniform walk in.  The nurse tells you they had to pump your stomach last night as you tried to kill yourself.  Your husband had described the months of depression to the doctor and everyone has decided the best thing to do is shock therapy.

You almost break the restraints as you let out a scream.  “No!!”  You’ve heard about shock therapy.  You could lose your memory, become inert or your whole personality can change.  They tell you it’s modern medicine and not to worry, but you just scream even louder.

A shot to the arm of something almost immediately puts you in a state of partial awareness, but you are too drugged to stop what is about to occur.  As they wheel you toward the place where they do the procedure, you see patients in the day room wearing hospital gowns.  Some are talking to themselves, others sit and just stare.  A few are watching static on a television, smoking cigarettes and laughing.  A person you can’t see shouts “Good luck.  You’re in for the shock of your life.”  You can hear laughter from all corners.  The entire ward smells like a bathroom.

I can go on forever with this scenario.  The bite guard they shove in her mouth before they put the electrodes on her head.  How little doctors knew about shock therapy in the first place in the 1950’s.  The readiness to do it.  The cataclysmic outcomes.  And this being a better choice than a lobotomy, which was the treatment des jour until electroshock became a more sophisticated technique.

This is an imaginary scenario, but I promise you it mimics what went on in the 1950’s when someone suffered from severe Bipolar Depression.  Actually, this was probably a tame version.  And the stories get worse the further back in history you travel.

I took Memorial Day not only to think back on all the soldiers who have fought and died for our country, but for all the bipolar people who have suffered with the illness, bore the unnecessary shame and got no support.  And when things got bad ended up in the hospital for shock therapy and or enough medication to make them not have any feelings at all.

Or, the ones who self-medicated with alcohol or anything else they could get their hands on. These unfortunate souls ended up on the street seemingly crazy from drugs until they got arrested and put in the hospital for the criminally insane, died of an overdose or committed suicide when they couldn’t get anything else to quell the profound sadness.

Even if we are having a difficult time with our medications, depression or manic episodes, Bipolar Illness is an identified disease, there are many medications that can help curb the effects, mental wards are not archaic and shock therapy is a very last resort and done in an extremely scientific manner minimizing discomfort to the patient.  Most importantly, although mental illness still has a stigma, your sister going to a psychologist does not mean you will have to kill her for disgracing the family.

So when you get a chance, take a little time to remember those bipolars who have gone before us.  It was a lot rougher even in the 1980’s. While the happy go lucky were getting mullets, bipolars still suffered without the medications available today.  I’m not saying we should all be glad to have the disease, but let’s be glad we have it in 2012.  Because, I think I’d be the guy on the street in the 1950’s… Self-medicating, depressed and dying in some alley, with no idea help was just around the corner in another 60 years.

Medicating Children: Is It More for the Parents?   Leave a comment

More and more I see stories on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Net Geo, Health and Discovery Channel and other cable networks trying to catch low hanging reality TV  fruit with programs documenting children with serious mood disorders.  Many have even been diagnosed bipolar.  Naturally, you always see the worst cases for maximum entertainment value.  Like a five year old kicking and biting his parents as he screams at the top of his lungs “I hate you!” trying to simultaneously set fire to the living room curtains.   And naturally the parents profiled are tired, distraught and feel they are out of reasonable options.

Reasonable options might be bear-hugging the child until he calms down, giving him a time out in a “safe room” or diverting his attention to something other than pyromania.  I went through a period of almost a year when my daughter was three trying to get her dressed for pre-school and into the car.  I dreaded mornings.   I would have rather had my leg amputated without anesthetic than face my daughter in the morning.

From the moment she woke up it was non-stop crying, screaming and physically fighting me from getting her out of her pajamas and into her clothes.  I literally would sit on her, pin her legs and arms down amongst wild protest and “force cloth her” while her face turned beet red and contorted into an image so disturbing I almost came down with PTSD.  I often wondered if her behavior was normal?  Was it a sign of what was to come?  Did I need to consult a psychiatrist?  Was there medication to calm her down, which would also have the off-label use of lowering my morning anxiety ?

Many of these cable TV programs depict equally exasperated parents choosing the medication option to settle their hellacious havoc wreaking offspring.  But sometimes they seem to be doing it more for themselves than for their children.  However if your child rips through the house like a cyclone emitting sonic booms in every room and saws off the legs of the dining room table to use against you as fighting sticks at bedtime, any drug which calms them down is just as much for you as it is for them.  And I really don’t think parents should be ashamed for admitting their frustration and exasperation.  But is medicating a child under twelve or thirteen a wise decision overall?

I believe everyone needs to have a baseline for “normal.”  If a person doesn’t know what normal is, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment in time, how can they tell if medication is bringing them back to that reality?  Normal to them may be how a particular drug once made them feel.  If it made them feel amped up and giddy with superhero-powers,  for the rest of their lives they’ll be chasing the dragon for that “hot-wired” sensation from future medications.  Eventually when given proper drug therapies for their mood disorder, they’ll be rejected if they don’t get that same feeling of constant excitement.  Medicating children under thirteen could give them a skewed view of normalcy, causing their mood disorder treatment expectations to be off-balance for life.

Also, young children can not put into words when a drug does not make them feel “right.”  They can’t articulate the nuances of what they are experiencing.  Many won’t say anything and just go about their lives feeling poorly.  Very young children may not even relate it to the medication.  I remember being given an anti-depressant when I was in high school.  Bipolar illness had not been identified back in the early 1980’s.  It made me sluggish, paranoid and more depressed.  I was able to verbalize this.  But how does a seven year old explain “sluggish and paranoid?”  Remember, with a mood disorder finding the right drug or cocktail of drugs could take years of trial and error.  It bewilders me that psychiatrists or sometimes even a general practitioner will prescribe a child a drug, expecting it to be the correct medication and dosage right from the start.

I do not doubt that children show the disturbing signs of bipolar illness, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses at an early age.  And I believe in some instances when parents have tried all the holistic options and their child is still punching them in the back of the head while they drive,  medication is the only answer.  I’m just purporting we reserve it for the worst cases, and if possible stave it off until they are teens and can communicate more articulately their mental status.  Immediately pumping up a kid up with psychotropic medications at the first sign of trouble can create a medication monster, always seeking a mental state that only exists in a far off memory.

I went the “wrestling route” with my daughter and opted against the medication.  I was lucky because she eventually grew out of her morning madness and at twelve years old seems to be a very well adjusted child.  But I often wonder what if her outbursts only got worse?  Would I consider medicating her if I was getting calls from the pre-school that she was terrorizing the teachers and they wanted her expelled?  I’d say, “you never really know for sure until you’ve been there.”  Or, maybe I’d just take the easy way out and have my doctor up my own medications.

It’s Alive!   Leave a comment

I feel like I just created a monster with the release of Buzzkill.   Writing it was the most exhilarating, heart wrenching and challenging year of my life.  I completely put myself out there regarding my life long struggle with mental illness, misfiring medications, suicidal side-effects, horrid hospital stays, out of control OCD, psychiatrists who need to lay on their own couches and family members constantly adding accelerate to the wildfire burning in my brain.

Basically I put in to words for all to see everything I’ve spent my entire life trying to keep secret.  I unabashedly share how I’ve dealt with bipolar illness before I was diagnosed as a child, improperly diagnosed as a college student and finally properly diagnosed as an adult.  All this time was fraught with uncontrollable impulses I could not predict nor save myself the embarrassment of having in public.  WIth Buzzkill I feel like I am standing on stage in a packed concert arena, naked and with a giant spotlight shining right on my genitals.

But there is no turning back now.  And it is my sincere hope that “letting it all hang out” will help someone dealing with the same issues to “hang on.”  People don’t want to hear from a Phd., psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist or psychologist lecturing on the mechanics of and textbook treatments for bipolar disease.  They want reality in a language they can understand;  The truth.  Consequently, Buzzkill serves it up “head in the toilet” raw.   Of course I do interject some wit and levity into many situations, but nothing is whitewashed, out of bounds or off limits.

It’s Alive!