Bipolar disorder: "In my case, my life is completely normal"
Published 18 Aug 2021 • By Andrea Barcia
Aliceniceworld, a member of Carenity Spain, is affected by bipolar disorder. Diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, it was not until a year later that a doctor from the Spanish National Health System diagnosed her with unspecified bipolar disorder. She talks to Carenity about her experience leading up to the final diagnosis and her current condition.
Read her story below!
Hello Aliceniceworld, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us here on Carenity.
First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a 50-year-old single woman with a 25-year-old son from a 10-year relationship. After the birth of our son, this relationship ended, precisely because of my first depressive episode which lasted two years. And even though I have the help of my parents, a maternal aunt and his father, it was mainly me who raised him. They help him sometimes, less financially, and more often by taking him to extracurricular activities as a child, for example. He has three younger siblings on his father's side and has a great relationship with them.
I have an older brother of three years and two nephews. My family relationships are good but not very affectionate or close.
I like music, cinema, theatre, hiking, visiting museums, socialising, travelling, studying and new things in general.
How many years have you been living with bipolar disorder? How did your diagnosis play out? Were you expecting it?
My first depressive episode was in 1993 and lasted two years. Since I didn't talk because I felt so guilty, it was difficult to diagnose and treat me, but I managed to stabilise in January 1995 and in May I got pregnant.
I was a law student at the time, but I finished my degree after giving birth and started working. Then there were three more major depressive episodes. A year and a half with another psychiatrist who diagnosed me with schizoid personality disorder (SPD is characterised by a consistent pattern of detachment and general disinterest in social relationships and a limited range of emotions in interpersonal relationships), but in the end said I should not take any more medication. But I had another year of depression, and the third psychiatrist was totally disastrous.
I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia ('Paranoid' schizophrenia, the most common form of the illness, is characterised by the presence of delusions accompanied by auditory and/or visual hallucinations, which are persecutory or grandiose in nature) and the medication was brutal, so my family met with another psychiatrist, and he has been treating me since November 2016.
I was diagnosed with unspecified bipolar disorder by a doctor from the Spanish National Health inspection because I had been off work for over a year.
My current psychiatrist, as soon as he arrived in his practice, started testing me and changing my treatment until he managed to ensure that, as early as November, when I arrived in a rather pitiful state, I was able to start working again in April 2017.
How did he manage to do this? With the right antidepressant treatment, regular check-ups and the use of a serum that he says speeds up the treatment.
I had never heard of bipolar disorder, but I had heard of schizophrenia, and I came to believe that I was schizophrenic. When I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and told it was for life, I felt very weak and powerless. I always had to be on alert, I had to have tests every 4 months, go to check-ups and any state of sadness was an alarm.
What type of bipolar disorder do you have? Can you tell us about it?
My bipolar is unspecified, so it must be mild. I haven't delved into the other types of bipolar disorder but if there are more severe ones, I'm really sorry for the personal suffering it causes, especially if you can't accept it.
How does your bipolar disorder affect your daily life? What do you do to cope?
In the day-to-day, it just consists in taking Lithium. But I am always self-monitoring, mainly checking my sleep, appetite, mood and feelings, stress, and having tests and checks at least two or three times a year.
In my case, my life is quite normal, in fact very few people know about my situation. It's frowned upon and I don't want anyone to know except the people I trust.
If I have managed to have a normal life, it is first of all thanks to the help of my parents, who never gave up until I went to the right specialist, accompanying me to consultations, taking care of my son when necessary... And especially to my mother, for living with me in the most difficult moments because, since 2003, I have my own house, but I had to go back to live with my parents because of the depression. During the last depressive episode, which only lasted 6 months in 2016, I didn't want to go to my parents' house. At first, I managed to get by on my own while my son was living with my parents. But then my mother had to come and live with me for a month and a half to help me. I didn't want to go back to my parents because I would have felt weaker and more uncomfortable, and I considered it worse for my improvement.
The good relationship between my son's father and his new family is also a means of support, and having a good job related to my university degree has been a great satisfaction for me, despite the stress it causes me sometimes.
Has your life changed much from what it was like before your diagnosis?
The main change was my break-up with my ex-husband and the fact that I haven't been able to start again with another person. And then the hardest part was finally accepting the bipolar disorder.
I always kept it a secret, but now I tell a few understanding friends because it is liberating for me.
I guess also for me having to always be on constant alert in case I relapse is also hard. But after so many years I know myself and if I acknowledge that I'm having an episode, which I usually do a bit late, I get specific treatment for depression or euphoria and I know it will pass. I found that in the early menopause I had more periods of euphoria.
Have you had any major ups and downs because of the disorder? If so, how did you overcome them?
The worst I've experienced was ending my relationship but being able to look after my son in a principled way, managing the relationship with his father and his new family quite well, has helped me a lot. Although not having a stable relationship again, now, at my age, causes me a lot of frustration.
The double loss of jobs in the companies I worked in was also disappointing. But fortunately, I am now working as a civil servant, so my working conditions are very good and my responsibilities within my job are very rewarding.
Do you feel supported by your friends and family? Do you think they understand your bipolar disorder? How do you explain it to them?
I have already spoken about the great support I have received, and I explain to my friends that I go through periods of depression where I withdraw from the world, take care of myself, but I come back stronger.
Sometimes even my family doesn't understand my situation because they don't understand that even though I have everything, it's a frustrating and unexplainable emotional state that can't be cured by meditation or relaxation, but by medication that evens out my mood.
You've mentioned on the forums that you have decided to "self-encourage" yourself. How do you do this? Do you have any tips or tools that could help other members?
With bipolar disorder, sometimes you can feel like you are losing your life after so much sadness and you have to do something about it. I always try to cheer myself up, but it's difficult. There are times when I find it hard to get up for work and maintain a stable state of mind, but I have managed, following medical guidelines, to self-medicate and I manage to get through the slump.
Other times, I find that after work I have the whole afternoon free, and I feel too lazy to do things. That's why for me, self-motivation means looking for cultural events to go to and meeting up with friends, even though, because of the pandemic, many events have been reduced and friendships are more with family. For me it also means taking daily walks or exercising, hiking, photography, taking training courses that are useful for my work. And in my case, preparing for a competition.
(At the moment I try to motivate myself every day, but in reality, apart from going to work, I spend my evenings watching films and series or chatting, so I can tell you that it's hard. In the evening you feel bad, but you tell yourself that tomorrow will be better and in reality, that day never comes. Sometimes I don't even go to the supermarket. My state of laziness and lack of energy sometimes gets the better of me).
Are you currently taking any medications for your bipolar disorder? Have they worked for you? What do you think about them?
I only take Lithium as a treatment for my bipolar disorder, and I guess it works because it keeps my blood levels up. I take clorazepate when I feel stressed or overwhelmed. And to sleep, I take zolpidem.
Of course, when things get worse, I take a specific medication at each time.
You also talked about your professional life - how do you manage it? Would you say it's hard to manage both your career and your bipolar disorder?
I'm a civil servant and I only work in the morning, although the work is quite stressful, but I manage quite well because I like to feel useful and see that I can work like everybody else.
Sometimes it's hard for me to manage my work well, but I work on medication, take holidays or sick leave. Fortunately, my job has certain benefits that do not exist in the private sector, as two different companies have terminated my employment after learning about my condition and sensing that the process could be long.
You also suffer from migraines and insomnia. Are they related to your bipolar disorder or your medications? How do you manage them in the day-to-day?
I have always slept poorly but the excessive insomnia is due to the euphoria. I manage them with a specific treatment.
The migraines started after I had my son; I don't know if it was due to stress or hormonal change. They are quite debilitating. I have specific medication for them but sometimes I have to lie down for hours to get them to pass. I don't think it's related to my condition. Migraines are common nowadays.
How did you experience and cope with the COVID-19 pandemic? Has it affected your physical or mental health?
Surprisingly, I'm doing well! I don't think it has affected me, in fact if anything it has taught me more about my emotions.
What do you think about online patient communities like Carenity? Has it helped to be able to share with others living with bipolar disorder?
I appreciate Carenity for the information I find here. It has helped me because I used to think I was the only bipolar person in the world, and when I read about similar and sometimes worse situations, I identify with them.
What are your plans for the future?
I think it's up to me to control my situation, take medication if necessary, be alert and take care of myself, but I need to motivate myself more, because sometimes I feel empty and I need to LIVE better. To have more social relationships and more satisfaction.
Finally, what advice would you share to other Carenity members living with bipolar disorder?
After my years of experience, my advice would be:
- Put yourself into the hands of specialists and follow your treatments to the letter.
- Let the people around you help you.
- ACCEPT your condition, as hard as it may be.
- And look for a reason or inspiration to motivate yourself, because the fatigue of bipolar disorder can push us to be sedentary, which doesn't help us at all.
Many thanks to Aliceniceworld for sharing her story with us on Carenity!
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