I know, the title is very dramatic. But that’s okay, so am I. It might be my mood, but I’ve been in the mood to explore the dark for a very long time. Today, we’re going to talk about mental health and my journey to find a good place for myself. We’ve talked about sex, so you’d think I’d be firm in my willingness to share anything, but there’s something even more personal about delving into the area of mental health.
So, as a teen I suffered in silence. I never talked about my mental health, never explained to my mother what was going on, and never told my friends. I was never popular, but I was also never really bullied (except by one person in middle school). I was more often ignored by the majority of my classmates. It was alright with me. I had a small circle of friends, mostly older, and that was okay. We were all outcasts of some sort or another, and we did our own thing. I put aside my mental health and just focused on graduating and moving on.
I then, after graduation and starting school in college, got manipulated by my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) and his mother into moving between states. I see now the manipulation, but in the end, I agreed, though with the thought in my head I’d move back home. Then, while I was away, my mother grew very ill and died from stomach cancer. Talk about guilt for not being there. Again, though, I didn’t tell anyone. I thought I was strong enough to deal with it.
I had a kid, and afterward, things just did not improve. I was depressed. I couldn’t shake it, and it cycled. Sometimes, it was worse than others, and it just didn’t go away. I finally talked to my doctor about it, and she suggested PMDD (Pre-Menstrual Dyphoric Disorder). So, I started taking Prozac. It seemed to work, but for a while it killed my already non-present sex drive, which led to strains on my relationship with my then husband.
For a while, this seemed to work. I quit noticing the cycling of the depression, but the doctor then, nor I had recognized it for what it was.
Later, my now ex husband called things off. This threw me into a tailspin of a severe depression. We’d been together for seventeen years, and I didn’t have an identity without him, or so I thought. So, I was referred to a psychiatrist after my primary tried adding Wellbutrin to my medications. It seemed to help, but not enough. I was still in a dark place and having trouble pulling myself out. To the psychiatrist I went, meeting him and discussing things about my kids, and my career. I’d gone to school to be a psychology person and a counselor. I knew about mental health concerns. But, in talking about this stuff, it came up that my one kid had been diagnosed at one point with DMDD (Disruptive Mood Disregulation Disorder). The psych looked at me when I said they thought that he could be bipolar. He said, have you ever thought you might be bipolar?
And I swear to you, it was like a dozen lights went off. Was this it? Was this the answer to my mental health puzzle? He explained it sounded like I was suffering bouts of hypomania in addition to the depression that I was cycling through. This explained the mad rushes I made to write nearly 10,000 words in a day sometimes, and also explained the strange reaction I had to a steroid shot. (Let’s just say I was wired to the max for almost 24 hours, and then some). So, he wanted to try me on Abilify. Wow! Bad reaction there, heart racing, sweating, you get it. That was off the table. We tried one called Rexulti, a new one, an atypical antipsychotic. It is often prescribed to boost antidepressants as well as to regulate moods in bipolar disorder.
I noticed a change soon after I started. My mood was elevated, but not to the manic point. I wasn’t as depressed, and I could function. It was working. And that was the answer.
As far as side effects, I didn’t have many. Still a reduction in sex drive (which my most recent psychiatrist of course wanted to know if me being asexual was that or actually being asexual), but most concerning, and what I’m dealing with still: creative block.
See, there’s things that happen when you’re bipolar and manic. For me, it was creative bends. I would go through periods of painting, of writing, of doing things like this. Then I would phase out of them and go to something else (also an effect of being autistic, but I’ll get to that part). So, since I’ve been medicated, I’m better able to function on a daily basis, I can hold down my day job, and I can have meaningful relationships with others, but I struggle with creative things more than I used to. I have less of a groove where I hyperfocus on a story. It can be infuriating, but the opposite idea, of bringing back my mania and depression, it just isn’t worth it. I have to push thorough.
Now, I touched on the autism thing. My two kids are autistic, so I’ve been through diagnostics and know what the signs and traits are. I brought up to the psych at diagnosed me with bipolar disorder that I thought I fit the profile of “autistic girls” that were missed as children (and as an AFAB person, I fit that profile perfectly). He said that was likely but at my age, it wouldn’t do any good to pursue an official diagnosis. And besides, insurance wasn’t going to cover it.
So, I’m self-diagnosed, but confident in that diagnosis. I may not have an official one, but my psychs have all agreed with me that I fit the profile and have autistic traits. And, if you know anything about the majority of the autistic community, they welcome people like me who have discovered their diagnosis through other means.
Today, I’m stable. I return to the psychiatrist every six months or so and talk to them. I take my meds regularly (though some days I do forget, but I think that’s everyone). I advocate for myself and others who have these diagnoses.