“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor writes about her journey with bipolar II: Part I

Posted May 9th, 2014 by

Eleanor and her husband, Jim

 

We just posted that May is Mental Health Month, and so we wanted to help raise awareness by getting the patient perspective out there. PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor (redblack) first experienced bipolar II as a young woman, and she’s been managing her mental health with the help of her family and psychiatrist ever since.

She shared about her journey in a three-part interview series, and we’ll be posting one part each month. In this first edition, Steubenville talked about how twinkling Christmas tree lights gave way to thoughts of loneliness, how life in a convent seemed like the right plan, and how she learned to recognize oncoming depression and mania. Read on for her full interview and keep an eye out for part two in June!


Navigating the ups and downs of a diagnosis

Although I was diagnosed with bipolar II well into adulthood, I feel I experienced it very early in life. On a particularly joyous Christmas Day when I was about twelve, as the dusk fell early on a typical western New York winter afternoon, I stood alone, gazing at the twinkling Christmas tree, and suddenly thought, “This is how it will always be: cold, and dark, and lonely.” This is symbolic of the way I may still cycle during a single day, many times for no apparent reason. At that time, even on happy, fun-filled days, something I may have heard or seen might plunge me into a very dark place and hurl me into a struggle to hold back the tears.

Spiritual highs, melancholic music, lyrics of hymns and the all-encompassing silence of five years in the convent seemed to fit me like a glove. Bouncing from the precious fellowship of the sisters to sad reflection on the passion of Christ seemed normal to me, and I felt I had found the life I’d always craved. Later, when one of my four children whined, I’d reply, “Remember, the world is cold and life is sad,” words I’d often sung as a nun and always felt were such an apt description of life.

Besides the frequent cycling, I’ve experienced other unwelcome features of bipolar such as periods of irresponsible spending and lack of judgment in relationships. So often I found myself standing aside and observing a self who repeatedly cast aside her values and self-pride to pursue an elusive and imaginary gratification.

It took years of therapy and the patience of a saintly psychiatrist for me to begin to understand I had frequent mood shifts caused by mixed up brain circuits – and not existential, undisputable thoughts. First, the universe was amazing, full of possibilities, and anyone who disagreed was to be pitied. Then, suddenly, all roads led to hell. I was totally worthless and no one valued me. I could prove it!

My psychiatrist of thirty-seven years, Jon Betwee, helped me understand that when I was hypomanic, I could not remember depression. When deep depression took over, I was convinced all was lost forever, and the best way to spare others and myself further pain was to die. I tried – four times.

Now, when I see myself feeling a little too “high,” and I think I am funny, have brilliant ideas to share, and life cannot move fast enough, I tally these signs as being hypomanic and put the brakes on. No, I am not happiness and wisdom personified. I put in place some deep breathing, a quiet time of reading, or long conversations with my supportive, knowledgeable husband. Triggers can be too hectic or too frequent and demanding. Eliminating some social gatherings and frenetic activity helps.

I now recognize the approach of depression when I re-play sad and tragic DVDs, cry over everything or imagine hidden and antagonistic messages beneath the conversation of family and friends. Triggers may be letting myself get very fatigued, ruminating about past hurts, making mental lists of all my mistakes and weaknesses. Now I make myself get up, start a task that will absorb and re-direct my attention, and review “What would Jon suggest I do?”

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2 Comments

  1. I would caution those who may publish a blog. One of my four adult children feels shame that I have published this. The other three are very supportive; my daughter even put it on Facebook, declaring me courageous.

    I don’t regret this at all. I hope anyone who has had similar experiences or those friends or family members who have observed these behaviors and feeling in another will benefit from my story. No good deed goes unpunished. Winston Churchill said it well: “If you’re going through hell – KEEP GOING!” Eleanor

  2. I suffer from a little known condition called Empty Nose Syndrome. It has left me disabled and changed my life for the worst. It is caused by the removal of or resection of what are called inferior turbinates which control airfow, humidify the air, and protect the lungs. I had surgery for a deviated septum in which a procedure called Caldwell -Luc is used. When the turbinates are removed, the nose is hollow and dry as dust. I have to put Vick’s Vapo-Rub in my nose to sleep and also Kleenex to simulate the missing turbinates. It also causes mental aberrations including anxiety, and depressive disorders. I have been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drug for the past 20 yrs. The brain is receiving confusing messages from the wide open air flow. It’s like taking the nozzle off a garden hose and the water has no restriction. This is what happens when the turbinates are removed. Too much air is unrestricted by missing turbintes. I thought I would share this since ENT’s will not admit it exists since they caused it in the first place.

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