The National Institutes of Health defines bipolar disorder as “a serious medical condition” causing dramatic up and down shifts affecting a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. It is also known as manic-depressive illness.
Joan (not her real name) has experienced the bipolar disorder symptoms since 2002. She reads this column in Rocklin Today, which covers suburban Sacramento, California.
“I had to quit my job because of (the symptoms) in 2004,” said 38-year-old Joan in a telephone interview. “I was stressed out and couldn’t focus. It was affecting my job. At the time, I was working as a nanny and attending school.”
For one, she had trouble controlling racing thoughts during the manic (up) stage of the disorder, which, for example, made listening to professors during lectures too much of a challenge.
“And I was crying a lot,” she said. “I was having a hard time making decisions. I was extremely distraught and knew something was going on, but didn’t know exactly what was happening.”
To learn more, she visited a family planning clinic to tell them of her dramatic mood swings. They thought her problems were hormonal, so they recommended birth control pills. To make a long story short, the birth control pills caused blood clots and Joan ended up in intensive care. A gynecologist referred her to a mental health professional, who eventually diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. It was a long, drawn-out process getting the right diagnosis and medication, she said.
Now with medication, she has the mania under control, but not so much the depression. Her weight has risen to 500 pounds. This last January, she attempted suicide, which isn’t uncommon for people with bipolar disorder.
“I felt like I was just done,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t get out of my issues. Things were going too fast for me.”
Soon after the attempt, she told her family after having kept her mental illness a secret for five years. Now she regularly sees a counselor and a psychiatrist.
Advised Joan, “You need a support system. I’d been so ashamed to tell my family because I didn’t want them looking down at me or treating me differently. Mental illness is such a nasty word for some people.”
She now has a suicide hotline number with her at all times for her to use in the event of another emotional crisis.