Bipolar disorder brings in depressive episodes interspersed with ‘highs’ (hypomania in bipolar II and mania in bipolar I). However, depressions tend to occur more frequently. It’s during a depressive episode that bipolar patients seek help, and many times they tend to be misdiagnosed. They seldom start their treatment during a high, unless it’s a case of psychotic mania, in which it’s generally others who notice, not the patients themselves.
I’d lived with bipolar II for many years without any proper diagnosis, until a top-notch psychiatrist hit the nail in the head.
Since then I’ve been on Tegretol (carbamazepine, a mood stabiliser which works for other diseases, such as epilepsy and trigeminal neuralgia). Needless to say, my moods became stable and far more predictable, but that doesn’t mean to say that I won’t slip into depression under stress.
This is my basic maintenance plan:
- Good, wholesome eating (including all food groups).
- Physical exercise (CXWORKS, Rip60, Aqua Aerobics, RPM, among others) mixed with a tailored personal training routine. Besides, I’m an aikido first dan, and used to train consistently for many years.
- Meditation using meditation apps such as Simply Being, Mindfulness and others. I also learned Siddha Yoga meditation and use a mantra that I repeat while I’m doing the housework. This sort of practice is known as japa.
- Psychotherapy. When I was living in Argentina, I was psychoanalysed for yonks. Psychoanalysis doesn’t work for bipolar disorder, but in my case it brought in a measure of self-knowledge. When I moved to Australia, I did CBT, hypnotherapy and life coaching. I recently decided to take a break from psychotherapy though, because I feel that talking about the so-called ‘negatives’ seems to perpetuate them. However, if I consider that I need to go back to my psychologist, I surely will.
Last year I suffered a depressive episode, courtesy of the stresses I experienced in the workplace. Towards the end of July, I noticed that my moods were spiralling down, in spite of my healthy habits. I’d start the day feeling the overload of ‘mental fog’, which would later become a flat mood.
On some days it turned into a generalised sense of never ending pessimism.
I wasn’t conventionally suicidal; I only wished to be wiped out of the planet by some external destructive force. I felt like a phenomenal failure, helpless and depleted. I was ignored and disrespected at work.
My creative flair had gone out of the window, and I found it impossible to produce a single line of writing. Writer’s block, anyone? Not in my case. It was atypical depression, pure and simple.
Still, I stayed the course, working, doing household chores, even going to the gym and meditating. I forced myself to smile whenever the occasion so required, and even laughed at other people’s jokes. My depressions don’t manifest themselves as melancholia. The first half of 2014 was wonderful: I published my first novel and finished the first semester of a postgraduate course at Sydney University. Even acknowledging my achievements would bring in no sense of joy at all. After weeks on end of that unrelenting grind, I knew I had to act.
I consulted my psychiatrist and let him know that I was prepared to give antidepressants another try. My past experiences on that kind of medication were problematic: Prozac (fluoxetine) made me go hypomanic, and Lexapro (escitalopram) made me put on weight. My psychiatrist suggested Zoloft (sertraline) and I’ve been on a ‘moderate’ dose since September last year.
Keeping a mood diary works for me, but my entries become less frequent the more stable I feel. I’m blessed to have incredibly supportive friends who will mainly listen. They’re also very self-aware, which I believe is the reason why they’re so understanding.
Writing about my personal experiences with bipolar depression doesn’t come easily to me, though if I had to write about my ‘highs’, I would surely make you laugh! In any case, those experiences—coupled with extensive research—did come in handy for my first work of fiction. I’m now a published author and I intend to turn writing into a career path.
FF Jensen is an Argentinian-born Australian writer, designer, teacher and translator. Last year she published her first work of fiction, Bittersweet Symphony, a novel that features a highly eventful year in the life of a psychologist who suffers from bipolar disorder.