My painful struggles with bipolar disorder

- By Nicole Bogdas Nicole Bogdas is a page designer for The Des Moines Register.

On New Year’s Eve 2007, I arranged the pill bottles in a neat row and considered my options. I could take one brand at a time, or I could swallow them all at once. With wine or beer.

The names of my prescripti­on drugs for bipolar disorder stared back. Cymbalta. Lamictal. Xanax. I marveled at the power we place in the hands of our most at-risk patients. I took a deep breath and called a suicide hotline.

I can’t remember what the woman on the other end said, but she listened as I talked. And talked. About how I didn’t like my job, about my recent breakup, about the depths of my loneliness, and about my desire to die.

The official term for what I was experienci­ng is “mixed state” — a combinatio­n of mania and depression — which explained my non-stop rambling and thoughts of suicide in one fell swoop. It was the most scared I had ever been in my life.

Each year, about one in four adults — 62 million Americans — will experience a mental health disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. I’m among the almost 3% of American adults diagnosed as bipolar.

First episode in high school

I was in high school the first time I got depressed. I was an honors student, captain of the cheerleadi­ng squad and editor at the newspaper with a caring boyfriend of almost two years. Life was (supposed to be) good. Yet there I was crying every night.

My brand of bipolar is classified as Type II: Deep depression­s punctuated with bouts of what’s called hypomania. In between, I’m theoretica­lly normal. People with bipolar II do not experience full-blown manic episodes, but we have the elevated mood or irritabili­ty that comes before it.

Regular manic depressive­s, those classified as bipolar I, will say hypomania is the best part of the disease. You’re confident, interestin­g, entertaini­ng and witty. I’ve experience­d this, but my hypomania usually manifests as rampant irritabili­ty.

It’s only after these episodes are gone that I’ve been able to identify these moods. As things come back into focus, I’m overwhelme­d with shame. I can’t even begin to think of all the co-workers, friends and family to whom I owe an apology for something I barely remember doing.

Uncontroll­able paranoia

Have you ever believed someone was out to get you? Someone suggesting I try something different at work means they want to ruin my career. My boyfriend forgetting to tell me he loves me means he’s going to dump me. A perceived wrong tone in my mom’s voice is a sign she’s disappoint­ed in me. I feel constantly judged and can never measure up.

Some stories of mania are riveting, filled with wild spending sprees or drug-fueled sexual binges. I don’t have those stories. I have tales of being repeatedly paranoid, angry and irritable — and I’ve lost at least two jobs because of it.

I didn’t take the pills in 2007. I talked to the suicide prevention counselor until I felt confident I could make it through the night. I took the prescribed doses of my medication and fell asleep. So where am I now? Better. One part of the answer was finding the right drugs for me. The other part was gaining a true understand­ing of my diagnosis.

I hope I’m helping. It was an article about depression that prompted me to seek help 10 years ago, though years passed before I found the right mix of medication and treatment to get my life in order. I want to dispel the myth that all people with mental illness are unproducti­ve or threatenin­g members of society. Maybe someone will see this and find hope, rather than fear, in their lives.

 ??  ?? Bogdas: Among the estimated 3% diagnosed as bipolar.
Bogdas: Among the estimated 3% diagnosed as bipolar.

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