It's been a lot of fun. I had the weirdest conversation tonight. A few years ago one of my cousin's signficant other was diagnosed with bipolar. I gave them a lot of information at the time, particularly about how to get a good doctor and about different meds and why certain meds were bad choices for a lot of bipolar patients. So I talked to this person on the phone several times back then, but had never met him. Tonight he was asking me about my illness. I gave the usual comment about being so thankful that my 7 years of hell were over and explained a little about the last year.
I dread this kind of conversation. I'm happy to share my story, and I'm obviously a success story in this whole bipolar thing. However, what I have been through in the last 7 years is not common. I think all bipolar patients have a rough time and I am no way trying to deny that. But what I have been through is not common. I went through over 40 meds before finding the right combination. I went through 7 years (including the time when the bipolar was out of control and I wasn't diagnosed) of pure torture. I went through every medication that was available to me but 2. I had terrible reactions, both allergic and just bad. Things made me worse instead of better. I had to be treated for tremors, hypothyroidism, kidney problems, massive hair loss, and hypertension, all from my meds. I fought tooth and nail to be able to work. I lost nearly all my friends, and at least 1 job.
Yet this person, and he's not the first, insisted that he'd been through the same thing. He has no clue. He's been through a couple of years of treatment and is doing well. He's been on a few meds, not 40-45. He's not had any severe allergies. Sure, he went through a bit of trial and error to get a combo that worked. Most of us do. But that does not mean you have any idea what I survived. Everyone's story is their own, and I respect that he has undoubtedly experienced things I haven't. But it is so very hard for me to be patient when someone thinks they can possibly have any idea what I have experienced. 7 years of some rather serious paranoia. 7 years of hurting people I care about, just because things were out of control and I couldn't make myself think appropriately. Three years ago I was told by vocational rehab that I should stop working. Neither of my doctors nor I agreed. I did cut back my hours and am only now returning to full time, but I just couldn't give up at 30 years old. I was talking of that, and he asked another dreaded question, essentially why do I bother? I could just do disability and work part-time. That question, especially coming from someone who I know is not as sick as I am (but is on disability in large part related to something else), also just frustrates me to death. I am 33 years old. If I quit working I would be 33, unable to make my mortgage payments and therefore living with my mother, and I would have nothing structured to do. Not to mention, I did not fight as hard as I could to have a relatively normal life to give that up. Will I need disability eventually? Quite likely. I don't know that I'd go back if I have another major, months of disability, episode. But as long as I can work it is so important to me that I do it. There is nothing wrong with disability, but it is not what I am choosing. I fought so hard for years and I missed most of my 20s and early 30s. I'm going to enjoy every drop of life I can now that this is possible. And I think that nobody who hasn't been as ill as I was can ever understand.
Yet I hate dividing the already messed-up world of bipolar life into 2 camps, the ones who have been really sick and the rest. I still feel bad about the fact that to me there is depression and there is BIPOLAR DISORDER, and that I find there is a huge divide between bipolar I and bipolar II. You can find lots of writing about BPII being just as painful, but having been mixed and/or psychotic I'm here to tell you that it is much better to never experience those things, no matter how crappy you feel.
Nonetheless, I guess the lesson here is always to let other people have their own experiences. I've been sicker that many/most people with bipolar. I've also had some really horrendous med experiences, experiences that go far beyond "this drug didn't work and this made me manic". I've had severe lithium toxicity. There is nothing that will ever change that, and while I respect that others had unpleasant times, I deserve the same respect in allowing that 7 years and 40some meds (plus a clinical trial and taking huge doses of meds in combinations nobody else had been on) before I started to be well puts me in an unusual category.