“Inside myself, I dwell alone and in hell. A prison not of my choosing, locked in a battle that I am losing. So tired I’ve become of the fight, as I struggle to see the light. There is a monster I cannot see, which dwells inside of me. And never alone shall it leave me, until I lay dying and bleeding. Forever I shall be sleeping, as the darkness puts out the light. And my soul gives up its fight.”
My name is Nichole, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 1996 at the age of 24. I am now 44. I wish I could say that I sought help as soon as I started showing symptoms of any kind but that just wasn’t the case. All through my teens, I went through bouts of mania followed by deep depressive episodes. When manic, I was super happy, nothing could bring me down, my mind was always racing, I was full of ideas of things I was going to do, I did not seem to need much sleep, sometimes going 24 hours or more without sleep. I found that I talked nonstop to anyone who would listen and if no one was around I wrote nonstop because I felt like I had to get it out of my head or it was going to explode. I also found myself thinking I was better than others, I would constantly have bitter angry things to say to people about things. I would be agitated to the point that I would have to physically be doing something which meant pacing the floor or bouncing my knee when sitting even rocking back and forth trying to expel what I called nervous energy. I partied a lot and was sexually promiscuous something I am ashamed of to this day. And then in the blink of an eye, something would happen that sent me spiraling into depression.
At those times, I found I still drank often, and I constantly felt tired but was unable to sleep, I cried a lot sometimes for no apparent reason, I felt like I was a failure and that I was incapable of being loved, I either rarely ate or at other times I ate just because I was depressed. I couldn’t bring myself to do things that I loved like reading books and writing and other things. It would get so bad that sometimes I could not even be bothered with taking care of my basic needs such as showering or combing my hair, changing my clothes, brushing my teeth. and all the while those around me just chalked it up to that’s just Nichole. That’s who she is!
Then, in 1991 I met my husband and things changed a bit. I no longer partied and was in a stable relationship but I still struggled with mania and depression. It was around this time that my future mother in law from time to time would try and talk to me about seeking help. But I didn’t want to believe that I was mentally ill. Because that meant you were crazy and a psycho and they would lock you up in a hospital some place in a padded room. So, I adopted the idea that I am fine and it’s the rest of the world who is messed up. Until, as I stated earlier, my world came crashing down around me in 1996 and I finally sought help. After my diagnosis, I was put on the antidepressant Effexor XR for depression 100mg once daily and was given Depakote 500 mg twice daily for mood swings. Though I eventually, after a short while, ask the Dr. to lower it to 500 mg once daily because I could not function otherwise. I sat around like I was catatonic or something. I was also given Ambien 10 mg for sleep. Even when I was not manic I had trouble sleeping. And I continued these meds and with that Dr. for 11 years. I saw him once a week for the first 6 months and then every two weeks for several years. Then, once a month after that unless things were particularly bad then I would go more often.
As for the medication, I was on the Effexor XR which worked well for my depression, so well in fact that I am still on it to this day. As for the Depakote, it worked to help control the mood swings but it caused me to gain massive weight, and it also caused my hair to start falling out. The Ambien also worked well with helping me fall asleep and stay asleep.
In 2007, I had to wean myself off the meds because I no longer had the means to keep seeing the Dr. I told myself that I was going to be fine and that I could handle whatever chaos life threw my way. What I did not consider at the time, was that it was because of the medication that I was thinking that way. I reasoned that I could use all the self-help techniques that I had been taught and I would be fine without the meds. Such techniques were learning to assess me on a regular basis. Noticing the signs and symptoms of a manic phase or a depressive phase. It took me a long time to master that. But I did manage to notice the changes as they began to occur which helped me to do things to minimize the episodes to a certain degree. For instance, If I realized I was becoming manic I would give my money or debit card to a trusted person to hold for me so I did not go out and spend money I didn’t have to spend. If I found myself being grandiose and insulting towards people I would keep to myself more and the same went for the depression, I would give myself pep talks, to remind myself that I was going to be ok. That this was not going to last forever. That I was a strong person and I would get through it, as well as reminding myself of my good qualities even while my mind was telling me what my bad ones were. This skill I learned in those 11 years has been priceless to me throughout my entire life.
Unfortunately, that alone could not save me once I was off my meds, and my symptoms were far worse than they had ever been. I somehow managed to make it a year unmedicated. But my life was in turmoil and I sank into one of the worst depressions I have ever experienced, and one of the longest. Since having Bipolar I have had thoughts of suicide many times in my life. I even for a short time resorted to self-cutting to ease my pain. But every time I thought I was really going to go through with ending my life some little voice inside me said just hold on a little bit longer. And somehow, I took comfort in that. But in November 2008 death was all I thought about, it wasn’t just a passing thought. It was on my mind every single day sometimes it was all I could think about. It’s not that I really wanted to die, quite the contrary I wanted to live and be happy. But I wanted the pain to stop, and so I started doing something I had never done before which was getting rid of things, donating my books to the local library, throwing things away. I had sat down and written letters to my family members and friends. The only thing I had not done was figure out how exactly I was going to die. And then out of my pain came a poem that I wrote about suicide called Despair. Which you would have read at the beginning of my story. I awoke the next day and saw what I had written and knew that I needed to call for help. I called a suicide hotline and was connected to a crisis care unit in my area where I voluntarily went for 72 hours.
At that time, I got back on meds and I have never gone off them again. I still take Effexor XR and Ambien for sleep but now I take Seroquel for my mood swings, I see a therapist once a month, more often if things are a bit chaotic in my life. But I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot be without medication. It doesn’t mean I am any less of a person it just means my brain is wired differently and it needs a little help from science. I also continue to monitor myself, it’s second nature to me now to evaluate how I am feeling so I can see when I am being manic or going into a depression. It was a long hard road to get to where I am with myself today. I stumbled a lot along the way but I am lucky to be alive and I consider myself to be very blessed. Having Bipolar does not mean life is over. You just must remind yourself that you have Bipolar, but it doesn’t have you.
I have chosen to share my story in hopes that it will inspire others to never give up on themselves and to fight with everything they have to win their own personal battles with Bipolar.
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