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.


bipolar

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.

16 comments:

  1. Liking the new site.

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  2. Love this post....Feeling hopeful for you.

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  3. Like the new site and hoping for a "pink jelly bean" for you

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  4. A friend of mine shared your blog on her Facebook page and I plan to read all of your blog posts because we have so much in common.

    Just a quick question for you --- do you know of any bipolar support groups in West Georgia or East Alabama?

    God Bless, Jack.

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  5. Try this for starters:

    NAMI EAST ALABAMA
    (334) 745-5611
    (334) 745-5611
    200 Ballard Avenue
    Opelika, AL 36801More Info for: MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

    Services:

    Community Mental Health Agencies
    Mental Health Related Support Groups

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  6. I have been living with this for quite awhile as well. Got diagnosed about a year ago. Bipolar, can't recall which one., racy mind at the moment. Excited about your blog, God bless.

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  7. Thanks for the great blog Jack. It's been very helpful to me as the father of a :): son. We are currently going through one of his "I'm a failure, I'm going to kill myself" phases. He has no health insurance since BCBS won't insure his pre-existing condition now that he too old to stay on my family plan. It is tough to cope everyday not knowing what drama will pop up at any given moment. We have him on Lamictil currently. He seems to tolerate it better than the others but still complains of it sapping his ambition and making him feel spacey. Good luck on your journey through this life. It is my prayer that your journey is one of happiness and fulfillment.

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  8. Our daughter is in Warrior Al. at a Bradford Health Center ...she suffers from depression and a prescription addition...She has only been there one day and she is scared and crying and wanting to come home. We want her to stay and get help...we do not know how to handle this...Do you have any advice for us. ?? Thanks and God bless you.....

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  9. Diane,
    First, know that I have and will continue to pray for you and your daughter. My heart aches to know of her suffering. I am not an expert, but I would say the best thing you can do for her is to encourage her but let her stay there and get better. If she gives it a little time, she will probably begin to identify and develop a bond with the other patients there. If you were to go and get her, it would only delay the inevitable, I'm afraid. Treatment is hard. Real hard. But the two times I've done it, I've come away realizing others have the same struggles I have. It is comforting to know you aren't alone. I would tell her same thing I told myself. With every morning I wake up, that is one morning closer to going home and, more importantly, one morning closer to health. My 10-year-old was really upset when I left for 3 weeks recently. I told him to think every night as he went to sleep that we were one day closer to seeing each other. It helped both of us. Just tell her you love her and we have to let the professionals do their thing. I am not sure that I helped but I will pray for her and for you. You are welcome to email me at onemanswarblog@gmail.com if I can help in any other way. God bless her and God bless you.

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  10. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and somewhat comforted that others go through similar situations. My son, age 10, is bipolar and it is struggle for him as well as the entire family. He has a very tough situation to deal with being: bipolar, sever ADHD, LD, ODD, auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, Tourette’s, and a hearing loss. He can be a very sweet, caring, loving, and funny child; however when he hits a low or rapid manic cycling his behavior and actions can become a living nightmare (that is NEVER understood by anyone who is not familiar with mental illness). Unfortunately due to misunderstandings by others he is quickly judged as a trouble-maker, bad kid, or is in need of discipline. I wish I had the answer to his problems and pray daily they will go away. As far as a mother, I feel tremendous guilt he has to go through never ending difficulties at such a young age. He showed signs of ADHD when he was five but his behavior became more erratic and severe at age six to seven years of age. He is currently on a first grade level and in the fourth grade. I wish I could wake up and have my son back and he could enjoy childhood.

    When we finally get medications correct for a month or two, problems begin to become worse again. He has had difficulties with medication causing severe depression, anger, sleepiness, weight gain, etc. By the end of May he had lost 20 pounds, lost half his hair, and could barely walk unable to enjoy any activities he typically enjoyed. We have seen numerous doctors and even had a bone marrow biopsy because of all of his illness. He has had strep 6 times so far this school year and it always affects his behavior. I was and still am convinced he has P.A.N.D.A.S which makes his behavior worse as well as academics. School is a nightmare for both of us because of his struggles. He is painfully aware of his delay in learning which makes him easily agitated at the slightest remark made by anyone around him or helping him. He wants to learn but is very embarrassed to make a mistake or not know something so instead of asking for help he gets angry. It is a vicious cycle that I would not wish on anyone.

    He now feels like his tongue is swelling and panics. We have seen several doctors for this as well without a definitive answer. I think it is due to anxiety because it can happen at any time of the day, with or without food, with or without medication. He of course panics because he is sure it is swelling and he begins to drool. He finally calms down with Benadryl but that does not work all of the time.

    Do you have any suggestions or recommendations as far as behavior therapist, doctors, specialists, or anything that could help us through this difficult stage in his life? I will never give up on the idea he will grow up to do something remarkable and have a successful future. I just wish people would be more understanding of mental illness and not so judgmental. When he has his good days I could not ask for a better child and I would love for others to see those moments and realize he is a good person and does not want to behave the way he does. This is a challenge but one I will not surrender to. Do you have any information about bipolar children and the difficulties that face daily especially in school? I am desperately searching for answers to his issues and want to find him the best help possible. No child should ever have to go through these difficulties and wonder what is wrong with them.

    Thank you for your stories and I wish everyone could become more aware of mental illness.

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  11. I wish I had better answers. I no very little about Bipolar in children. The best advice I can give is to research out and find out the best place in the country with the most specialists who deal with cases like your child's every day. Internists are clueless about mental illness, and I would guess most psychiatrists see few cases as complicated as your son's. find out who the best is and go to them. In the meantime, just love on him and find a compassionate friend for him and invite him over to play, etc. some children, like my 10 year old, have a gift of discernment. He knows when I am "off" and will often just say "you okay dad?" Makes my heart melt. The point is there has to be a child out there like that in your circles or on the peripheral that you could encourage. I might also suggest finding something he loves to do and encouraging it. I bet he is really talented at some things. Usually people with mental illness have some special gift. Find it and nurture it! The best thing I can do for you is pray for you and your son. I will also do some research and see what I can find out. God bless you both.

    Jack

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  12. Diane please forgive me for being a "Butinski", but as the father of a son who has been down the road you are about to travel, I would like to share a couple of tips that may save you some grief and wasted time:
    1. Always remember you are ultimately responsible for the quality of care your child gets. Don't assume anything and insist on knowing what is being done and who is doing it daily. Talk to your daughter and confirm the treatment and counseling received. If you are not satisfied with the level of care received discuss it with her counselor and get the answers you need and deserve.
    2. Your daughter may be administered very powerful drugs to level off her mood swings. Her taking prescription drugs was a desperate attempt to self-medicate the symptoms she was suffering from. Get familiar with any drug(s) she is taking and ask questions if necessary. Ask your daughter how she feels regularly and make sure she is not having any overwhelming thoughts of self harm. Prescriptions will need to be monitored closely and adjusted by Drs. to find that "sweet spot" where she feels as near normal as possible.
    3. Do a thorough check on the facility and it's staff. Not all treatment centers are as effective as others. We had the misfortune of having a psychiatrist that was eventually released from the facility for his poor level of care. A terrible waste of recovery time and resources for us.
    4. When your daughter is released back to your care don't let her stop taking her medications because she feels better and thinks she no longer needs them or doesn't like the way she feels. If it is the latter, talk to your Dr. and see about adjusting dosage or changing to a different medication she can better tolerate. Everyone is different and react differently to certain medications. Be patient and diligent. She will eventually settle in and feel better. Remember she may have been sick for a long time and might not remember what "normal" feels like! Work with her and reassure her throughout the process.
    It's late and I must be getting to bed for work tomorrow. I'm sure I will regret forgetting something latter. These few tips stand out in my mind and I wish someone would have advised us as we started our son's journey towards a more normal life. Your daughter is very fragile right now and may resist any effort to help her. This is normal and she will get better as she starts to understand her mental health issue. Please remember she is not alone and many people deal with bipolar disorder and live very productive lives. Surround her with love and support and she will be just fine. Educate yourself and everyone your daughter interfaces with regularly about this disorder so everyone can know what to expect and what to watch for if her moods change.
    May God Bless you all and I pray for your daughter's speedy recovery to a normal life.

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  13. I'm curious to know if you had any manic episodes before you were diagnosed. I had one before my diagnosis and one after. I never really did anything crazy but both times I was very hyper along with an inflated ego. I'm so embarrassed when I see those who were in my path during the two episodes.

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  14. Yes,
    I did have several (at least) manic episodes, or at least hypomanic. They decided I'd had mania to justify a type 1 diagnosis. My most recent episode pre-diagnosis was depression, which as I'm sure you know is how the technical diagnosis reads: Bipolar Type I, most recent episode depression.
    I am trying to get the courage to write about mania but am still trying to figure out how to tell the story of mania and what it felt like to me.

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