Lately, I’ve felt an increased breadth of emotionality, and I’ve been wanting to embrace that and document it. At this point, I’ve been on injections for about 2 months. I’d say I could first recognize this about a month ago – I saw the film, Moonlight, and I felt choked up / on the verge of tears a couple of times. This was no small event: I haven’t cried or even come close for a very very long time.
About two years ago, I was seriously depressed for a year. It’s definitely different for everyone, but whenever I’ve been depressed in that way, I do not cry. I don’t have any emotional experiences, really, other than fear and panic and deadened mental capabilities. And physical pain, but not in the way where I want to cry. Then, after about a year of trying different meds, I got on one that I actually like, for the first time ever. It helps me sleep. It helps me not think in obsessive ways. It helps me absorb new information and changes and take those things in stride. I’ve had some serious high notes, in this past year. This drug has actually helped with that, perplexingly. I’ve also had a couple of anxiety attacks, but they were extremely few and far between, and related to stressful times.
But I had not felt sad, or any of those nuanced pallets / ranges within the emotion called “sadness.” Until I started (again) on testosterone – which is kinda interesting because the more likely narrative is “once I started T, I couldn’t cry anymore.” I have yet to actually cry, but the sensation is there, and I welcome it.
Today, I was listening to a podcast, and I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Like I said, this has been so rare, that I embraced it. It was “This American Life,” the episode called, “Ask the Grown Ups.” Tig Notaro was giving some advice to a teenage girl who’s mom had recently passed away. It was so moving that the world around me changed, temporarily.
Also, I’ve recently been seeking out music that I listened to while I was depressed, 2 years ago. (There’s not much at all to uncover because I listened to so little music. It’s basically 2 albums by Royksopp, something by The Notwist, and, probably a couple more I could track down if I really wanted to dig…) It’s been… interesting. There have also been big changes in my life lately, mostly at work, that has triggered some images of violence to flash before my eyes. I’m all too familiar with this, and in the scheme of things, it’s been super mild. But, yeah, haven’t experienced that in a very long time. Instead of acting on it or obsessing on it though, I just came home, took my pills, and went to bed early. I feel sooooo grateful that that’s all I have to do. And then the next day it is not too bad. What???!!! It’s true!
So, essentially what I’m saying is that I have felt some intense emotions over the past couple of years, but very rarely did that involve any form of sadness. Which, is pretty bizarre if I think about it. And that’s been due to depression and medication. And then, this higher dose of T opens back up a world I have not been able to access. It includes nostalgia and emotional connectedness and feelings associated with the weather and isolation and the season and the environment, etc. etc.
As long as I’m not continuously bawling my eyes out, it’s all good.
Game changing significance was loaded on top of more and more significance, this past week. On Monday the 7th, Leonard Cohen passed away. Then, of course, the upsetting election results. My spouse woke me up to tell me the news. I was in a hazy half-sleep, largely induced by my medications (I think), and I just replied, “Ohhhhhhh,” and immediately fell back asleep. It was a surreal half-consciousness, and, in a way, I continued on in that space for a long time after, even now, as I try to wrap my head around it.
She also texted me later that morning saying “Happy anniversary of our ‘legal’ marriage today.” I had completely forgotten about that. We have much more meaningful anniversaries between us; this one is not a big deal. But, interesting that it happens to fall on this same date. Plus! It was the one year mark of the launch date for the radio station I am a DJ at. Also on this day, a friend’s father passed away. The next day, my spouse’s sister proposed to her boyfriend!
The following day, I heard word that two pride flags had been burned in our neighborhood. Talk about being hit close to home! More on that in an upcoming post. We attended a rally on Saturday morning with some friends, and the spirit of that event was totally incredible.
Also, around this time, 17 years ago, I was hospitalized for 19 days, and was traumatized by the process, for a very very long time. I take a moment every year to think about this and reflect. (In the past, it’d been much more than “a moment” to reflect. For too long, it had felt like constant rumination.)
Three years ago, I wrote about how I finally gained access to the medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist: Continuing to work through a specific trauma.
Then two years ago, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time: That specific trauma is still there.
Last year, I wrote about how much time has changed things, and it no longer felt like a big deal. The fact that I had been hospitalized again, that year, surprisingly helped me find ways to heal, rather than adding more baggage onto the feeling of it: That specific trauma is no longer a big deal.
This year, this personal matter has simply been buried underneath all this other stuff going on. I don’t have the capacity to think about it and write about it right now. I don’t see that as a problem. It’s not like I am grieving the loss of space and emotional energy to be with this thing. It was a thing. And it gradually became not as much of a thing. It is OK.
I also experienced an upswing this week. Probably galvanized by the shitty stuff going on. I cancelled a doctor’s appointment that I didn’t want to go to. I called my grandpa and talked to him about different ways to save for retirement. I solidified plans for my spouse and I to take a trip to Washington D.C. for her birthday – right around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and just in time to get the fuck out of there before the presidential inauguration. We are going to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian, which just opened a few months ago.
I also submitted my stuff to legally change my name! Finally! I did this yesterday. (This might also be a separate upcoming post.) I also emailed a lawyer to see if he would be willing to work with me toward gaining legal non-binary status. I haven’t heard back yet, and I realized that the timing is shit. This is such a low priority right now, as transgender people scramble to get their Social Security card, passport, etc. in order before the Trump take-over. And I know this lawyer in particular is probably swamped with going above and beyond to help people with this. So, I’m going to wait on it.
But a time will come. I know it.
I never before realized that these days are consecutive! Oh hey, these are the two most frequent topics of this blog!
In the past, I haven’t observed either through writing here, but I currently have a lot to say about both; this’ll probably end up being one of my more personal posts, at least as of lately.
First just real quick – a little bit of background / information about both:
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th) was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. This year’s theme is “psychological first aid.” My first thought was that it refers to how to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis, but it actually refers to being a support to someone who just witnessed or experienced a terrible tragedy. There is a world of difference between the two, even though there’s also overlap; of course, learning about both types of situations is going to be important.
Nat’l Coming Out Day (Oct. 11th) was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. Oct. 11th was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the 1987 Nat’l March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It is observed in the spirit of the personal being political and the idea that homophobia cannot thrive once people know someone personally who is LGBT+.
(Information is coming from the World Health Organization website and wikipedia.)
Last night, I saw an amazing documentary called Strike A Pose, which just came out last year. It’s about the seven young male dancers from the NYC underground (the origins of voguing) who were personally selected by Madonna for her tour. They also ended up starring in a behind-the-scenes documentary at the time, called Truth or Dare. Madonna was very outspoken about AIDS, gay rights, safe sex, and of course, Expressing Yourself! [Spoiler Alert:] What was most interesting though, was that at the same time these young men were embodying those messages on her behalf, they were not all on board or comfortable with it. Three of the men had been diagnosed with HIV prior to the start of the tour, and they all were silent about it to the extreme, not even telling friends or loved ones. Also, one of the men sued Madonna after the tour, for forced outing, partially spurred by a coerced kiss with one of the other dancers in the Truth or Dare doc. He was not ready or willing to be that person, to be making that statement.
So, I guess what I’m saying with all that is that Nat’l Coming Out Day is great and celebratory and everything, but in order to actually be empowering, it has to be on each individuals’ own terms. Once I outed a friend (about something totally unrelated to being LGBT) as part of a joke, and then I felt really crummy about it. I just let time wash over that one, but it’s still a prominent memory.
So where am I at? I still have a fair share of coming out to do. I’m not doing any of it today. It does feel imminent though – I’d say within the next 6 months. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing! As of now, I have 5 different names going on in different places, and none of them are the full name I actually want to go by!
Here’s something I wrote that really captures this feeling (I wrote it almost exactly 2 years ago. Dang, that is a long time!): Fractured identity and fragmented feelings
Moving on to mental health:
My mental health has improved by leaps and bounds within the past 9 months, and I have not written about it. Actually, the most recent thing I did write was 9 months ago, here: A full year later / Making major changes. I was hopeful but tentative. I had had 23 good days in a row (an anomaly), due to starting yet another drug. I am still on that drug, and I am still having good day after good day after good day (other than not so great days due to a cold, a handful of really bad days during the stress of surgery).
Overall, I am more stable and happy than I ever have been before, BY FAR. And I feel certain that I can attribute that to a drug, something I never would have thought possible before (I’ve been on lots of drugs over a span of many years, and did not have a good experience with any of them. I had gone off medications completely for 10 years because I thought it was hopeless. I always downplayed the usefulness of psychotropic drugs. When I was younger, I thought I was the only one who had this reaction; now I know it’s fairly common to have to go through a trial and error period, searching for something that will actually be a good match.
During those 10 years I was not taking medications, I focused on other things to improve my well-being. Most of that was social in nature – focusing on not isolating, focusing on positive connections with people, focusing on emotional intimacy. It worked. To an extent. I started to think that getting back into therapy would probably help. That worked too. It felt miraculous for a while at first, actually. But as the years went by, kinda only to an extent. I found myself in a situation where I HAD to get back on medications, and I was not happy about that at all. In fact, I recall thinking a lot about when I’d be able to get off of them (maybe 6 months? I was thinking…)
In the end, it has worked out better than I ever could have imagined. I am neither pro-med nor anti-med. It’s way too personal, and different for each individual, to have a general feeling about it. But I can say that I used to be anti-med, and now I feel that, for some people, it can be that one game changer that makes all the difference.
Right around this time of day one year ago, I was just getting out of the hospital. I remember the out-take process was long / we had to wait on meeting with certain people first. I was so antsy to go, that once we finished something at the front console, I went to open the door to leave. I didn’t think about the fact that you had to be buzzed out! Oh yeah, no coming and going as we please – I forgot…
I got coffee at a snack bar on the way out, and we went home. I was super up and psyched to be out of there. It wasn’t till later that I got depressed. For a full year, more or less.
Within the past month, I’ve made some major changes that are impacting my mental health. I currently feel better than my baseline. We’ll see if this lasts.
I changed medications: I had been on Geodon, Wellbutrin, and Klonopin (for sleeping). I didn’t think the drugs were doing anything; I still felt shitty, and in December, it was getting worse again. I was having vague suicidal thoughts and was having trouble making it through my daily routine. I talked about this in therapy, and my therapist asked if I would talk to my new psychiatrist about it. I said, “Yeah, but what can she do? What else is there to try?” It seemed hopeless – I’ve been on so many drugs, and overall nothing had ever worked out long-term. My therapist just said that she might have some ideas. So at my next appointment, I did talk to her, and she suggested switching off of the Geodon onto something else. She listed a few, told me about what they work best for and what side effects accompany them, and left it up to me to pick one, basically. I said Seroquel, but I couldn’t really tell you why. I didn’t have much faith. I did the tapering off /ramping up thing, and surprisingly, right when I hit a certain dose of the Seroquel, my day got way way better. And then the next day. And the next. And now it’s been 23 straight days where I have felt free of crippling anxiety and vague suicidal thoughts. I feel present in my body, and I am looking forward to simple things that make my day more interesting / better. Like listening to a radio show, or going to get a bagel, or just, anything that previously would not have brought me any extra joy. I’m kind of floored by this. I’ve never had this experience with a drug before. We’ll see if it lasts…
I went off testosterone: I had been increasing my dose for a while, but it was a fine line between looking for more masculinizing changes and worrying about my hairline receding. (It had started to.) I found myself obsessing about my hairline and feeling negatively about testosterone. I felt stuck and stressed. Eventually, I decided, why don’t I just go off it for now and stop all the worrying. I have my whole life to figure out if I want to look more masculine or not – it doesn’t have to happen right now. So I stopped, and I felt better. I worried I might hate feeling colder or having less energy or having more aches and pains or experiencing a drop in mood. But none of those things happened. I haven’t been looking for anything to be different, and as a result (partly) nothing feels different. (I’ve been reading this book about expectations and beliefs and how much our judgement gets clouded – maybe testosterone hadn’t been doing much for me if I hadn’t been looking at what I thought it was doing. This is convoluted, and of course there’s more to it – it’s a powerful hormone! – but so far, so good.)
I stopped going to therapy: I have been going to therapy consistently for 4 years. Much of that time was weekly, sometimes we scaled back to every 2 or 3 weeks. The past few times recently, I didn’t know what we were doing / didn’t know what to talk about / we were going in circles. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to go. And instead of that thought freaking me out, it settled in and felt right. So on Tuesday, I talked to my therapist about it, and she said it sounded like a great idea. We wrapped some things up for now, with little fanfare, and she made sure the door was open if I ever want to go back. I imagine I probably will, but for now, I had just been spinning my wheels, and it feels good to put an end to that. Maybe I can focus more on other areas of my life…
Considering how unstable I’ve been for a long time, these are some pretty huge changes. And I am finally starting to look forward to what’s ahead!
Around this time, 16 years ago, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, but then I got stuck there for 19 days without knowing what was going on. The lack of communication was horrendous. I suffered a psychotic break and left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I accepted this for years, and I internalized that I have a mental illness in some pretty detrimental ways. This has always stayed with me, always felt like something I needed to work through and get past.
Two years ago, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma
Last year, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is still there
This year, although I’m acknowledging the anniversary, it feels like just the slightest emotional blip on my radar. I talked about it in therapy yesterday. I finally got my hospital records back from my therapist (she had been holding onto them for me for a whole year!) I looked through them again last night – there was always one page I skipped over. It was handwritten by me, explaining what had been going on in my social life that led me to feel like I needed to be hospitalized. I read it and felt OK about it.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, I think it helps that I was hospitalized in January. Where everything went wrong the first time around, everything went right(?) (maybe not right, but it went smoothly) this time around. I can overlay this experience on top of my shitty traumatic experience, and things make more sense.
I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time, I’d been off all meds for 9 years; I felt relatively stable. When it was re-affirmed that I have bipolar disorder by the psychiatrist I was assigned, (“Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.”) I bristled at that. Actually, I bristled at him in general every step of the way. Appointments with him lasted a mere 2 minutes. He was inflexible and adamant I stay on meds forever. He forgot pertinent information about me. (At one point he told me I needed to stay on meds because I had been hearing voices.) After 6 months, I just stopped making appointments with him. With all his intensity toward me staying on meds, it was surprising how easily he let me just get away. Maybe he didn’t even notice I left.
My therapist helped me find a new psychiatrist; she’s awesome! She’s willing to follow my lead on what I want to do about drugs, and she’s willing to dialogue with me instead of ordering me what to do. I still don’t know what to do about drugs, but at least I have the space to feel supported with whatever I do choose to do. For now, I’m staying on them, but I can’t pinpoint why.
I respect this new psychiatrist. When she (also) told me I fit the criteria for bipolar type I, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could accept that. I don’t need to incorporate that in any particular way into my identity; it doesn’t need to mean I view myself differently. Personally, it’s not a core part of who I am. It just is an aspect of me that can just be, and I can leave it at that.
And I can finally integrate the difficult journey toward mental health as parts of myself, rather than things that happened to me.
I drew this picture to illustrate the jumble I feel is going on. Just to recap, 6 months ago, had a manic episode and was hospitalized. I previously was not on any medications, but suddenly I was thrown back into all of that – psychiatric visits, side effects, adjusting dosages, trying different drugs. I’d definitely say the hardest part of the past 6 months was being depressed for a good chunk of that time. But almost equally hard, just in a different way, is the long term.
Early on, I was cavalier. I was sure that I’d get off of all these medications within 6 months – just go back to the way things had been. I was even reluctant to add an antidepressant – things had to get really bad for me to go there. Now that it’s been 6 months, I can easily say that time frame was way too short. And I’m also not so sure anymore: Which drugs are helping? Which side effects can I tolerate? How long will I be seeing this psychiatrist? Do I potentially want to stay on any of these long term? (That last question scares me – it’s almost as if being med-free has been a part of my identity…)
Some of this journey has felt crazy. I was having hot flashes and cold sweats, my mouth tasted metallic, I threw up a few times (and I have a stomach of steel). At one point, I went on a drug called Cogentin. Its purpose was not to help with symptoms, but rather to help with side effects. One of the other drugs, Geodon, typically causes hand tremors and a stiffening of facial muscles. When a nurse practitioner asked if I was experiencing these things, I said, “I guess so.” So she prescribed yet another thing to add to the mix. After 3 days of taking it, my nearsighted vision became blurry. Overnight. One day was fine, the next day, I couldn’t read the computer screen. I wasn’t reading books at the time, so that wasn’t an issue, but I remember eating food and not being able to see it and just feeling enormous sadness on top of depression. I didn’t put the pieces together, but luckily I had an appointment with my psychiatrist 2 days later, and when I mentioned the blurry vision, he said, “Oh, that’s common with Cogentin.” What?
I also cycled through 4 different antidepressants within a short amount of time. Celexa, Zoloft, and Lexapro were making me feel famished all the time, which was just making me feel anxious. I got on Wellbutrin, and luckily that’s been side effect – free as far as I can tell.
Ideally, I don’t want to be medicated. And it was so easy when it felt like that wasn’t on my radar. But now I am faced with all these decisions and timelines. And although there is strong input from other people (mostly my psychiatrist, who thinks I need to be on at least something for forever), it’s all ultimately up to me.
For now, I just advocated for myself to lower the amount of Geodon (mood stabilizer / antipsychotic) that I’m taking. I feel really happy about that. I have plans to tackle Klonopin (anti-anxiety medication that I’m using as a sleep aid) next. As for Wellbutrin (antidepressant), I’m not quite decided. I’m just going to take these things one step at a time.
I could easily write a 5,000 word essay on this topic; maybe one day I will. This is an abbreviated version:
Over night, my brain became a frenzied jumble of free associations. Every system I could imagine (friendships, technology, routines) opened up, and I was in the center of all of it, connecting all the dots.
I thought that Leelah Alcorn, the trans-teen from Ohio who committed suicide, was an elaborately staged message created by a group of people on Tumblr. Meaning, I thought she was not a real person – more of a call to action, one more thing to add to “The Transgender Tipping Point,” and finally really make some changes happen.
But I thought a lot of things right around this time period, for a couple of days. I believed I’d been chosen for amazing things, I was choosing my own adventure, and the further I could get before running into a dead-end setback, the more rewards I would gain. If I made it to my therapist’s office, she was going to give me this new phone I’ve had my eye on. If I made it through the entire day, I’d be going to a party thrown by everyone I know. I briefly had the thought, “My partner wouldn’t like that; that’s too much.” So my logic led me to believe I shouldn’t make it through the day at this rate. I should definitely get the new phone, but I should see what my therapist thought after that. Maybe.
Some things were already in motion, and there was no stopping me! My social media outlets were blowing up! My blog was going to get huge at this rate, and I was going to get a book deal out of it. Should I quit my job? I kinda like working there, as a janitor, so I’ll keep my job. I better write a note so that everyone will know I wanna go back to work. I pulled out one of those Mr. Sketch scented markers – it was Blue Raspberry – and scrawled out really big and doodle-y on a piece of artist’s paper, “I will want to go back to work.” It was barely legible. When I showed my therapist a few hours later, in fact, she couldn’t read it, so I just had to tell her I want to go back to work. I wouldn’t want to be someone who sits around all day, writing their book. I would get bored!
I called my therapist at 2AM and asked her, “Can you just come over?” I called her again at 7AM, just to see if she’d drop by instead of me meeting her at her office at 9. I was making some really cool displays in the house, and I wanted her to come check them out. I was playing a record – The Days of Wine and Roses by The Dream Syndicate, and everything was clicking into place. (Actually, the record is still on my turntable, untouched 4 months later – I’m playing it right now.) The lyrics were making perfect sense and informing me of things I should write down. “You say it’s a waste / not to learn from mistakes.” “Textbook case.” “It’s Halloween.” “She remembers what she said.” These messages were of utmost importance. This record was THE record to end all records.
By 8AM I was so bored and fidgety from doing stuff all night long, that I decided to take off for my therapy appointment early. I had everything I needed packed – My toothbrush and toothpaste, notes from work, and 6 bottles of hoarded Androgel (my prescription allows me to get more than I need, so I just collect them). I had no clue what would be happening next or how long I’d be gone after therapy (I might be put up in a hotel!), but I could figure out clothes and other stuff later.
Driving was a bit tricky. I was relying on intuitive cues, more than the rules of the road. Fortunately, my gut was telling me to slow way down and put my hazard lights on, rather than try to drive at the speed my mind was racing. I still got there early; when I arrived, I slammed my backpack into the corner of the waiting room, above the door. To alert the security cameras that I knew all about it. A man briskly walked past me and out the door. He was planted there to exit when I arrived. I proceeded to be loud and messy. I dumped out a bin of toys. I knocked over a chair. I said, “I’m borrrred!” I talked loudly about a Mazda advertisement on the back cover of a magazine. I finally understood how advertising worked – they weren’t fooling me! In fact, this whole magazine was rigged. I should just take it with me – I’ll need it later. I stuffed it into my backpack. One other therapist was there (this was a Saturday) and she tried to gently corral me until my therapist got there. She picked up the toys. She said she’d call my therapist for me. She talked to me in a steady and soothing voice. She wasn’t patronizing me.
Finally, my therapist arrived. We engaged in a delicate dance around each other. I knew on some level that I was going to the hospital. But I also knew that wasn’t necessary, and she was totally going to come over and check out my displays and then I’d be reunited with my partner to proceed with the most fun day ever! In reality, my partner was on her way to North Carolina with family (I’d successfully convinced her everything was fine / I believed she was just out with friends and I’d see her in a couple hours.) My therapist started calling hospitals for availability, and I conveniently went to the bathroom to shield myself from that stuff. I came back and dumped out all the contents of my backpack. This would be more fun. She immediately sorted things into piles to make sense of it. She called my partner and left a message. She asked me what my best friend’s phone number was and I told her. I left the room again while she talked on the phone. Before I knew it, my best friend was there! Magic! Everything was going my way.
I talked to my friend about the displays and we played Rubix cube. Suddenly we were all leaving. They led the way, and I went into the bathroom again. I wasn’t so sure anymore. I yelled out, “I set some things in motion, and I don’t know if I want it to go this far.” We were still just going to my house, right? My therapist replied, with forced enthusiasm, “Come on!”
I got in the car with her; my best friend went separately. I curled up into a ball and shielded my eyes from the world. I started to feel sad; I verbalized what I thought about Leelah Alcorn. I said, “I don’t know much about it. I know her name, where she’s from, and that’s about it.” She had been on the news. That was big. What I was trying to convey was that no one knew much about it. If everyone just saw her picture, her name, and her suicide note, maybe she wasn’t real. And maybe this kind of stuff happens all the time. What is real in the media? Scattered thoughts breaking down. My therapist said, “I don’t actually know where you live.” I replied, desperately, “Yeah, but you can find out.” She had a smart phone. People with smart phones seamlessly glean information all the time.
We weren’t going to my house. When we stopped and I uncurled myself, we were at the hospital. But it still wasn’t too late. If I just told her this is where it ends, and we go to my house from here, everything could still be OK. I looked her straight in the eye; I put my face two inches from her face. I said, “This is where it ends.” This had worked with my partner a few hours earlier. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I gave her the green light to go on her trip. This time was different. My therapist probably interpreted that as, “The journey ends here, at the hospital.” I meant here in the car. Still though, I complied and followed her. After all, my best friend showed up here too, so it probably was all OK.
Five hours later, I was on the psych ward. I’d been in the emergency department. My mom had shown up. I had talked to my partner on the phone – it finally sunk in she was 6 hours away, and she and her family were turning straight around. My best friend had been with me. My therapist had left at some point. I’d peed in a cup. I’d gotten blood drawn. I’d signed some papers by drawing big loops over the entire page, not knowing what I was signing, exactly. But now, it was just me, and suddenly my choose your own adventure had come to a dead halt. There was no more choosing. I started yelling, panicking. “I NEED MY VITAMIN D PILL AND ELDERBERRY SUPPLEMENT!” I needed to maintain my body’s delicate homeostatic state. I was given a pill and took it; it was Haldol. It knocked me out for 18 hours. Before I faded out, the nurse was talking to me really sternly. She was really butch. “Do not start shouting on my unit – we don’t do that.” “I know I know it’s not like me at all…” “Also, you smell really strongly bad so I’m going to shut your door.” Then she started yelling. “He gets whatever he wants!” And I was out.
Today is the 2nd annual World Bipolar Day, an event that strives to educate the public about bipolar disorder and encourages an open discussion to end the stigma associated with brain illness. There’s a facebook page where people can share stories, and there’s lots of links to different organizations. It was chosen to fall on this day because it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday. He is said to have suffered from bipolar disorder, and he committed suicide at age 37. Bipolar disorder is fairly rare – roughly 1% – 2% of the population are bipolar. Some estimates say up to 5%, but there is this sense that it’s over-diagnosed. When I have questioned in therapy whether I am bipolar, she has replied something to the effect of, “That was a very popular diagnosis then. A lot of teens were being diagnosed.” Sometimes people think they have it because their moods are extreme; really something else might be going on.
I thought I’d take a minute to reflect today about whether I am bipolar or not. I mean, I did just go through a delusional manic episode 2.5 months ago, no doubt about it. And I am currently sinking through a rebound depression – definitely a clinical level depression. But I strongly do not think I am bipolar. It’s been 15 years in between episodes, and I’ve only ever had 2 episodes. Much of that time I’ve been off all medications. I can accept that I have bipolar-like tendencies (and I’m hyper-sensitive to stress levels), but I don’t think I fit the criteria, nor do I think I need to be medicated long term. In fact, I plan to go off my medications in a couple of months once this passes and I feel like myself again.
My new psychiatrist told my partner, “Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.” Meaning, I’d been (mis?)diagnosed already (at age 17), and there’s no taking that back. ??? He thinks I need to be medicated forever. He doesn’t get that I’ve been stable and have managed issues in my life in other ways for a long time. I’m pretty sure someone who is really bipolar doesn’t get to do that.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually be bipolar. To have to balance a medication cocktail indefinitely or suffer the consequences. Because when you’re actually bipolar, you can have an upswing or downturn without much prompting, if you’re un-medicated or if the medications are not right for you. If I was pretty sure I would be going through more mania and more depression in the near future, I would be living in fear of that. I honestly do believe I am prone to going through mania and depression again, but to a much lesser extent than someone who actually has bipolar disorder. And that’s scary enough.
One other factor that makes me think I have bipolar-like tendencies has been my reaction to SSRIs. I took Paxil for a few weeks about 13 years ago, and it caused me to feel super agitated and become hypomanic. Apparently this will happen if people with bipolar disorder take SSRIs. I do take this seriously, but ultimately I’d have to say I do not have bipolar disorder. Today I’m thinking about everyone who actually does.
Around this time (middle of the night), fifteen years ago, I started a game changing series of events by getting my mom to bring me to the hospital, from which I was admitted (voluntarily) to an adolescent psychiatric unit. Once I was actually there, I didn’t want to be there anymore, but a lot of things were changing, and I ended up having to stay for 19 days. I left with a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder and prescriptions for Depakote (mood stabilizer), Risperdol (antipsychotic), and Wellbutrin (antidepressant). The medications changed a lot over the years… I’m happy to report I’ve been med-free for about 9 years at this point.
Last year, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma
This year, I finally brought this massive document in to therapy with me, despite the fact that I was pretty unsure, er maybe more like totally ambivalent, about what I wanted to get out of talking about it (yet again) exactly.
My therapist started reading through the pages out loud, and simultaneously made comments and processed it in her own way. At first this felt tedious (the thing is 210 pages long!) But I also felt intrigued. It was much more helpful for her to tell me about the content than for me to try to go through it myself (which I hadn’t done since first receiving it, last year). I also started to feel yucky and shut-downy. I finally verbalized, “Let’s take a break.” I was worried this therapy session was really going to have a negative lasting impact on me, but, in fact, I felt fine afterward. Maybe I’m more resilient these days than I think.
I used to always think that if I do this one thing, or if I find out these missing pieces, or if I reflect back in a different way, the pain of that experience will be lifted. If I just keep grinding into it and picking away at it, I’ll one day be free. Now I know that this can’t really happen. And I can accept that it was a shitty thing that probably didn’t actually need to happen. It was traumatic. It was so long ago. I can look at it with a completely different perspective by now, but not because of anything I did – that perspective shift happened naturally, over time and with personal growth.
There is so much I could write about. But I actually really only want to write about one thing right now, as it relates to my hospital experience: while I was there, I wore this one particular hoodie constantly. And once I was released, I never wore it again. But there seems to be no way I can get rid of it. I brought the hoodie in to therapy, along with the document, and told her all about it. When the document felt too overwhelming to keep delving into, I told her she should just hold onto it and go through it on her own time. She asked if she could hold on to the hoodie too. I said, “yeah sure.”
The reason I loved the hoodie so much was because the LA Rams were not a team. (I just looked it up, and they were a team from 1946-1994). I worked at a thrift store and picked up this gem at some point. I liked the incongruousness of it. I do not like football.
I’ve been on testosterone (very low-dose) for a little over 6 months now, and in some ways, that was the best 6 month streak I’ve ever had. Now, I find myself crashing, in some very familiar ways… Did I think I was now immune to these lows? I’m not sure – I’ve felt more “normal” than ever before lately, so yeah I think I figured maybe my “highs and lows” would not vary as much as they have my whole adult life. But I think they’re still a pretty big part of me.
At age 17, I was diagnosed as bipolar. By 23, I was seriously questioning that, and slowly getting off all my meds, and deciding that I had been misdiagnosed. I’m certain of that by now. But, I’m pretty sure I do have some ups and downs that are outside “normal range.” I also have a tendency to just emotionally shut down to avoid the whole feeling things in the first place (not fun!) . Being in therapy recently has helped me avoid shut-down mode. So has testosterone. I think. Maybe.
I’ve been pretty down for the past few weeks. But, relatively, it’s not that bad. In the past, I’ve experienced bouts of depression that have lasted roughly 4-6 months at a time and have left me basically non-functional. Currently, I’m pretty much normally functioning. I’m just not getting much enjoyment out of things, and I’m dreading anything upcoming in the near future. Like, really dreading. Also, interestingly as per my unfaltering optimism, I believe this fog is going to lift any day now, and I’ll get right back into things. We’ll see about that.
It’s just… kind of a bummer. The first few months on testosterone were a really fun mix of elation, warm and fuzzy, cozy, euphoria, sexual energy, confidence burst, and anxiety-be-gone! Now it’s feeling like… party’s over! But, again with the optimism, I think that as soon as I navigate out of this gloom, the party will still be there, waiting for me.