October 17, 2013

It's a war on bipolar now, too

By Jack Smith

If someone had just told me about Starburst jellybeans, this whole thing might've been avoided.

At some point during my stay at The Menninger Clinic in Houston, my wife bought a sack of the colorful confections. That really isn't a good idea—not when an addict's around. I've eaten about 327 since lunch.

Other than too many Starbursts and a few sporadic squirelly moments, things have gone swimmingly since I got home Wednesday.

That was the day of my so-called "Diagnostic Conference" at Menninger. It's sort of like that moment in a trial when the jury foreman stands up and reads out the verdict.

The verdict for me?

Bipolar Disorder (Type I), Generalized Anxiety Disorder and alcohol dependency. None of it was a big s
urprise,as my Menninger team and I worked through most of the issues before the big reveal. The only item the jury was still deliberating the last week was whether the diagnosis was Type I (one percent of the population suffers from it) or Type II.


I will leave it up to real experts like Natasha Tracy to explain the details of my disorder, but the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is really just the severity of the "manic" phase of the disease. Bipolar I means those who suffer from it reach full-blown mania, while those with Bipolar II may only reach a less intense "hypomania."

There is good news and bad news with my diagnosis. The bad news, as my doctor said at the conference, is you don't outgrow Bipolar Disorder.

The good news I finally know what I'm dealing with after two-plus decades of pain (I tend to live at the depression pole, not the manic one).

My doctor said the bipolar diagnosis and the genetic testing that turned up 5 mutations meant almost all of the pills I've taken over the past decade had little to no chance to help me.

Now I can at least find comfort knowing I'm on some meds that might actually help. I know this because they already are. I'm now on lithium (1,500 mg), Effexor (tapering and dropped from 300 to 100 mg so far), Lamictil, Zyprexa and Remeron.

The plan is to eventually take me off the Remeron also, as the testing showed I'm an ultra-rapid metabolizer of those type drugs. The doc was hesitant to pull me off Effexor and Remeron too quickly because it might "rock the boat." I told him it's already rockin', baby, pull the trigger whenever you like.

About those jellybeans....

I called my mother to catch up this morning, and she had her own jellybean story. Hers is a lot more interesting.

She was attending a discipleship meeting at church at precisely the time I was leaving Houston for home, and a bowl full of jellybeans was passed around.

Each person pulled one jellybean from the bowl, and each color represented something different. My mother drew a pink one. Its message was for "a new tomorrow."

That's what I'm hoping for.