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Riding the Roller Coaster: My Life with Bipolar

I was 17 years old when I gave birth to my first son. He was 6 weeks early, jaundiced, and was rushed to the NICU where he spent 8 days under bilirubin lights. I was unable to hold him for more than 10 minutes at a time before a nurse would reclaim him for his incubator. When he came home, I found that the bond between he and I had not fully been developed as strong as I had wished it had at that point. I suffered from Post-Partum Depression until he was a year old.  

I was 23 years old when I was pregnant with my second son. At the doctor’s office, I saw an advertisement for a paid study aimed at pregnant moms who previously had experienced PPD. I asked my doctor if it was worth the time and compensation to apply, and he advised me that it was a credible study and would help more mothers with PPD in the future. I felt this was a humanitarian type thing to do, so I signed up. I didn’t realize the impact this would make on me a decade later.

I went to three years’ worth of monthly meetings to follow my pregnancy, delivery and postpartum (until my son was 2 years old). We did all kinds of psychological tests, nothing physical, invasive or that required taking medicines. In fact, it was almost fun. I liked the surveys which gave me introspective time to answer questions about my feelings and emotions, physical abilities and patterns. I was always asking them how I did, and they would tell me I was doing just fine and to act naturally. They sensed that I wanted to “do a good job” and they kept reminding me that being honest was the best way to give them what they needed for other moms. That was motivation to open to some dialogue as the months progressed.

On my last appointment, the lead doctor called me into her office before I departed with my final payment. She knew that she could not release my records due to the confidentiality of the study, but she couldn’t let me leave without her advice. She said that she was concerned that I was undiagnosed.

“Undiagnosed? As what?”, I asked.

She replied. “Bipolar.”

“You think I have Bipolar? That’s impossible. I don’t cause fights or act out of line. I’m not a risky person!”

She showed me a flow chart based on my self-reporting of my mood and energy levels over the course of months, seasons, years. I felt my eyes move up and down the slopes marking the times where I clearly self-reported behaving like two different people. I had one side that was outgoing, happy, who loved all the things and all the people. Everyone is a friend. And I had another side that was introverted, shy, sleepy, stressed out, who was angry and distrustful of everything I was told. I was baffled at my own results. I did not know that this was not considered normal behavior. I thought all of my actions were situational and natural. 

As a child, I grew up with the perception that a “mood swing” was something “Mom did for attention”. They were regarded as verbally provoking, argumentative and often violent. For me to be diagnosed with a Mood Disorder was heartbreaking. I felt as though I was broken. All my parents ever told me to do was to “follow the program, stay in line, behave.” I didn’t know that my inability to do these things was something I was unable to control, or a chemical imbalance even. Because, God helped me, I tried. I always tucked my emotions deep inside because I was constantly told that expressing anger and sadness is a bad and shameful way to act. Other people don’t need to see my problems.

I sought out a doctor and a therapist and started to receive treatment for Bipolar disorder. I didn’t want to roller coaster anymore. I was introduced to pharmaceuticals, natural alternatives, therapies and resources. But I still had so many questions that I didn’t know how to ask. The internet was still new and it was difficult finding credible answers.

How do we begin? Do we start the medications when I am feeling down and need brought back up? …Or feeling up and I need brought back down? Why would I want to bring myself down? Isn’t that the goal, to be high functioning, happy and productive? Why would I want to push myself back up? Isn’t that the goal, to be calm, cool and well rested?

Yes. Both.

Both, how?

Doesn’t everyone get sad sometimes? Doesn’t everyone spend a few days in bed every now and again when they ‘aren’t really sick’? Sleep and self-preservation is the best thing ever.

Doesn’t everyone feel great sometimes? Like the whole world was made just for you? Music sounds better, air is cleaner, and your mind is full of hope and love? To sleep perchance to dream and then wake with the full intention on seizing the day? Meditation and living in the moment is the best thing ever.

Well – yes. But “normal” people can handle the stress to balance these two extremes.

I don’t?

No, but, with meds and therapy, you will too.

Here we are again at the bipolar crossroads; the peak of the mountain where you pray to God you plateau. It is that midpoint of the mood where you are cognitive enough to know which way you are heading on the slope. This is the normalcy everyone keeps telling me about, where I can shower, work a full day, take care of my family and still have enough energy for prime-time TV before bed without a worry. As a person with bipolar, I could go up the hill and do all of this and tons more, or I could go down the hill and barely shower. Or eat.

The end result is not always based on the flip of the mood-coin either. Triggers can flip a switch that will drop the transmission into the ground faster than you can clutch and cause a huge, massive wreck. (aka – the crash).

I wish I could have a guaranteed, stable routine of what to do and when to do it.

Riding the roller coaster, trying to stay positive. Photo credit to Carri F.

Do the meds help? Yes, but it takes many trials of different combinations of meds to figure the correct formula for an individual based on a ridiculous number of variables. But, you cannot give up trying if you feel that meds are a necessary tool to combat the effects of your condition.

Technology has been a lifesaver. Just having a smartphone with data relieves me of ever fearing I don’t have a lifeline to a solution at the drop of a dime. For mental health, there is a world of apps for mood tracking, meditation, affirmations, medication information, therapists on demand, mind teasers and brain distractions, social interaction and sleep. 

Therapy helps. In fact, writing this post, for me, is a form of therapy. Self-identity is something everyone in this world will come to face; my choice to speak about my identifying with my diagnosis may encourage another person who is like me to find comfort in knowing they are not alone. Answers exist. 

Does that make sense? I’m sure it doesn’t. Unless you know someone like me. Someone who marches to the beat of their own drummer. My agenda is the same as everyone else’s, just often on another circadian rhythm.

Bipolar has no cure.

Disclaimer: if you need help, call 911 or have a friend assist you. Don’t be alone. Get help. There is absolutely no reason to be ashamed or intimidated. You matter.

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2 Responses to Riding the Roller Coaster: My Life with Bipolar

  1. u.charley May 1, 2018 at 9:47 am #

    Carri, most importantly,
    besides your being a mother of three, ‘auntie’ to several, and wife to one,
    many folks, or, if you would rather, a lot of folks,
    okay, then, some folks,
    well, fine, i do know of at least, and there could be more, but at the very minimum, there is one person knows you as EARTH ANGEL #1.
    [must be a code or something, huh? is this your code name? you a spy? maybe, it’s the ‘other’ you? you think?… or, ‘another’ you?… huh? ]
    oops, sorry, i digressed!
    anywhoo, i just thought i’d let you know this… ’cause i loves me my one and only EA1.
    now and forever, amen!

    • Carri Finkbeiner
      Carri Finkbeiner May 1, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

      I love you too Uncle Chuckles!! – EA1