Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Enter at your own risk.

If anyone has come to my site via my wife's, then they may have a little insight into me and my illness. My mental illness. Ooooh, the cliche already stirs images, doesn't it? I have bipolar disorder (more images) and by now being managed through more numerous medications than I care to go into, it is for the most part beaten into submission. I am not sure submission is the correct word here, for it is always lying just below the surface, and if you ever let up on it for a moment--just a moment--your life will change. Maybe in just a small way like not saying "Hi" to everyone at work, to having a complete out of order yelling exchange with your spouse for......well, anything.

Bipolar disorder is a hideous Beast. That is the term by which I shall now refer to it in this post. It is a low-down insidious Beast with no care for the lives it touches and the destruction it leaves in its wake. It has many faces and is arguably one of the toughest mental illnesses to diagnose. The statistic, I believe, is that it takes nearly 8 to 10 years from first symptom to 'achieve a definitive' diagnosis. If there is such a thing. My diagnosis took approximately 25 years. Why? Incompetent doctors? Uncaring doctors? I believe it was mostly the old cliche of only going to see the doctor when I was at the bottom end of a cycle, the depressive mode. You get massive scripts for anti-depressants, which anyone in the know can tell you only worsens the condition by eliminating the lows and bringing you back to the (oh-so-glorious??) mania. But, oh, I have seen my share of quacks. I mean pure, pill-pushing, not-giving-a-shit-but-to-collect-their -insurance quacks. Some, more than one in my opinion, were in worse shape than I when I walked in their tiny litte exam rooms and listened to their hurried hushed tones, barely audible above the ambient noise machine used in a lot of offices to "make your conversations more private."

Now, depending upon the severity of the Beast, there are at least irrational behaviors that may and sometimes do appear as the disease progresses, and there are disgusting and sometimes unforgivable behaviors, let's say scars, which the Beast leaves upon our lives and upon the people in our lives. I have plenty of these. Some great, some small. Some which people will never know about. Some which I am greatly proud to have overcome, and some I wish and pray to God that never happened, because their scars are so deep in my soul as to never be erased. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Then, thank you Beast. Thank you Beast? Never.

I wasn't the complete "as seen on 'Cops'" bipolar patient. Oh, I did have my run-ins with local law enforcement. I did as the vast majority of bipolar patients do in their manic phases: try to self-medicate. Oh, at the time these were considered the 'good times.' The good times. How utterly ironic. And you know what? A lot of them were. At those times the Beast had me believing they really were. Looking back, that was so sad, but true. I had been hospitalized a few times, and I did get a couple of DWI's. Then the good times got worse at an alarmingly fast rate. I drank even more, my spending was out of control, I was unkind to the opposite sex, and used a variety drugs to help extend these periods of mania. I mean, who wouldn't want to feel on top of the world? At least for fifteen minutes?

God watched over me at these times. I know he did. Many times I could have been arrested. But, with "luck," I wasn't.

I finally found a program that helped me with the drug and alcohol problems that had decided to hitch a ride on this adventure that was my life with the Beast. This last time has been the the one that really opened my eyes, and I have been clean and sober for 28 months. Truthfully, I think my proper diagnosis and treatment of the Beast has been what has kept me sober. It was my desire for maintaining mania that led to my drug use. I really believe that, but will never test that theory. I occasionally think I could handle a drink. But, I won't have one. I've been through too much.

Nutshell, to today...bipolar disorder sucks! It STOLE 25 years of my life! I served a prison term of unrealized goals, failed relationships, lost friends, and there are things I can never, ever get back. I have an IQ of 141, yet I will never finish my college degree because of this damn BEAST. I have accumulated nearly 160 hours of credits that add up to nothing. Nothing. That is one thing that haunts me till this day. I know there are programs that might help me with this goal. But, it will probably never happen.

I have the most intelligent, beautiful woman I have ever met for a wife. I have the most beautiful daughter in the whole world. I am sorry all you other readers, but I do. I was an adopted child so she is the only blood relative I have on this Earth and I ADORE her. No father could love his child more. Sorry again all you parent readers. Good Lord, she looks just like me.Daddy'sGirl3I have to believe that is God in his infinite wisdom showing me that I do get a second chance. with her, and with MY life.

There are things that still hurt me and hurt every struggling person with this Beast. One of the worst is dealing with your family, friends, and just generally people who are ignorant of the Beast. Properly medicated we are just as normal and healthy as anyone else on this Earth. These innocently ignorant people see the properly medicated bipolar, and think "See, they can do it if they would only just try!" They say the most hurtful things imaginable:. "You are only doing this because you can get away with it." God, that hurts. Or, "It's only a matter of will-power." It is very true that some allowances will have to be made for a bipolar person. Sometimes, we just can't cope. This will create strife and we can't help it, even in a healthy bipolar. There are times of year that are just "bad."

Would you blame a severe diabetic for needing insulin or an epileptic for requiring anti-convulsants for seizures? Would you get just too tired of helping your brother out of the house if he had a heart disease and became too bothersome?

Give those of us who deal with the Beast the credit we deserve. We fight battles that many of you will never know. The rest of you will never know the pain it causes us when we do something that hurts you. And please never, ever discount us because of a disease.

That's all I have.


Blogger Caffeinated Librarian said...

Well done, dude.

I know you don't know me (or me you), but I've got to say...don't give up on your college degree. You've already fought three of the most terrible demons a person can face (in drugs, alcohol and mental illness) and none of them have beaten you yet. And that, sir, is saying something.

I hope this new round of meds does the trick and that you, Belinda, and Bella get some well-deserved peace and happiness

8:06 PM  
Blogger CeCe said...

Thank you.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Shash said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing your insight, Alex. You are truly amazing, and keep up the fight against the Beast!


10:35 PM  
Blogger jenB said...

thank you indeed. i am crying. weeping. wishing we could all be together and hug. i care for you guys so much. understanding from far away. you have fought a huge battle and the warriors are always on the brink waiting to get you. i remember when i first realized i was sick and would be sick forever. i would be medicated FOREVER. i felt so weak, so stupid. like you, i am neither weak no stupid. i wish there was one pill or one treatment we could take and it never had to change. but i know wishing doesn't make it so. i am always getting my meeds tweaked or changed. i have been in the ER for med interaction because of an incompetant doctor.

if i could thank the internet for one thing and one thing only, it would be the ability to read and share experiences about mental illness. i think it has saved my life for the nth time so far.

many hugs.


10:39 PM  
Blogger deannie said...

I wept.

And yes, that girl of yours does look like you. She is beautiful.


11:06 PM  
Blogger SongBird said...

Thank you for this post. And your daughter is beautiful.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous jane said...

It's so moving when I read something like this from someone else who has this disease. It's a brain disease, just like epilepsy & alzheimers, yet society looks at those of us with mental illness as though we were lepers.
Like you, I have many regrets from behavior when I was mania. But unlike you, my children are grown, I can't redo big mistakes I made while raising them. But your angel is the apple of her eye & despite regrets you may have in other areas, trust me, if you get fatherhood right everything else will seem insignificant.
I've been reading Belinda's blog probably for a year now & know what good parents both of you are. I see how Bella is the apple of your eye & that's all a little girl wants in this world.
Your words resonate of the truth I've come to know. It's a constant battle. Medicines work for so long & then stop. Doctors aren't necessarily looking out for our best interests, so we have to be our own advocate. Fortunately for you & I, we have the mental capacity to do that.
There are 3 things I'd like to suggest, if you don't mind.
1) A great book...The Bipolar Advantage. It's the first and ONLY positive book I've ever read on bipolar disorder. You can also go to thebipolaradvantage.com.
2) Check out: orthomolecular.org. It's a website for alternative means to deal with medicating. It's based on nutrition & vitamins.
3) If you go to http://bipolarplanet.blogspot.com, ther are over 60 blogs listed. ALL of them are written by bipolar people and/or their loved ones. I find reading these extremely helpful & motivating.

I'm trying to get off of Lexapro right now & am getting this weird electric jolt feeling. Your words have given me encouragement tonight. Thanks for sharing, for being so honest & I hope you'll do so again.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous jane said...

Crud, I just re-read it & saw a bunch of typos. No, I don't talk backwards!! LOL
Sorry about that.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

First visit here, and this is the first post I have read. Deep. I appreciated it. Having been married to someone "with the Beast" for 18 years I can certainly identify with this post.

And I agree with the others - your daugher is wonderful, and you *should* go back to college. I never did, and it's one of my biggest regrets in life.

Going to read more of you blog now (and your wife's).


12:17 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Thank you for the post.

1:59 AM  
Anonymous Neil said...

Thanks for helping me better understand wha bipolar is all about and how terrible it must be to have it.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Mocha said...

If the posts keep up at this rate, Alex? Well, I'll have to quit my job just to read them all. You and Belinda are truly important to me and have raised my own awareness. That is a blessing: to be able to have compassion for something long misunderstood. You have done a phenomenal job of explaining it (as does your eloquent wife) and giving new insight

Can we just agree to have mutual admiration for our families from afar? Maybe not. Maybe we really DO need that dual-family vacation. I'd love to spend time with y'all (and watch how many "y'all's" I'd end up saying).

Be blessed. Even more so.

Proud to call you my friend.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

That was a very moving post. I have read Belinda's descriptions, but yours puts a whole new light on it. I am not familiar with bi-polar and don't totally understand it. My uncle was on and of drugs for mental illness for years, before his untimely death last year. I have watched families deal with it and congratulate you and Belinda for sticking with it and not letting it beat you. I admire both of you very much.

7:26 AM  
Anonymous Ariana said...

Thank you for sharing this eloquently-written and touching piece on your life. Tears came to my eyes when I read the description and saw the picture of your daughter. She IS an angel.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Short Fat Mama said...

Thank you for talking about this, Alex. If my Cowboy could tell his story, it would be similair to yours. He generally keeps silent on the matter; mostly because I never shut up.

Blessings to you and yours in all things, especially in your fight against the Beast.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Karl said...

Excellent post. Bipolar disorder sucks rocks. I don't talk about it very often because I still know so little about this disease. You said it better than I ever could.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Mominator said...

It's about time someone truly talked about it and you did it beautifully if not masterfully! People just cannot understand if you don't witness it or live with it. My oldest daughter has been a crack addict for over 10 years and on several rehab/detox visits she has been diagnosed bipolar. I'm not sure yet since she doesn't stay clean long enough to get a definitive diagnosis or stay on meds long enough to know.

DON'T give up college. You owe that to yourself if you can do it. I truly hope the meds work for ya. The beast is nasty nasty and you do have a wonderful wife and daughter. You're a lucky guy dude!
: ) Sue

4:14 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Everyone - I really wouldn't know where to start to thank you all for your kind comments. But, I do want to truly thank you all. I am new to blogging though you may not think it because of Belinda's extensive involvement and not too infrequent mentioning of me. I am usually just in the background as she expresses her own ups and downs and creates her own touching and meaningful blogs. But, I have seen how they have helped her. I have felt, through her, the true community of the blogging world. AND, I now I would like to join.

So, if any of you care to stop by every so often, I will be sharing little pieces of my life with you. Sometimes deep, mostly trivial, but who knows, there may be something you can relate to in my world or words.


P.S. I am 'not' just the potato gun husband of Ninjapoodle. :)

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

That picture of you and Bella makes me BAWL every single time I see it!! Because I know what a miracle that child is and you're right, she IS the most beautiful little girl (and I can say that since I don't have any of my own!).

I'm on Prozac and have been on some sort of anti-depressant for 10+ years. I know that I'll always have to be on it and am usually ashamed/embarrassed about it and don't usually go around advertising that aspect of myself. Pretty much b/c of all the Prozac jokes (similar to the bipolar ones). Not funny to those of us who HAVE to depend on medication in order to have a normal, happy, healthy life. Anyway, my point is...and I do have one, I promise...is that maybe if we all talked openly and honestly the way you have here, then people would see that it's not something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. It's an illness just like any other illness and shouldn't be belittled.

<3 The (self-proclaimed/demanded) Miller Household Pet-sitter :)

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Wow. Now ^ that was slick. She told you so without telling you so.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Belinda said...

(Re-posted due to my posting under YOUR I.D., DUH)

Well, I just couldn't stand not to push your comment-count to 20. ;-)

Actually, I just wanted to say I'm proud of you, and I'm sitting on my hands trying NOT to say "I TOLD YOU SO" about the wonderful community benefits of blogging and the feedback it provides, not to mention the emotional therapy of the simple act of journaling your feelings.

I love you, you ol' 'tater-flinger.

10:00 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

ALex, not only did I read your eloquent post, but I had my son, who also suffers from the Beast, read it too. Even though he's just a teenager, he knows the pain that bipolar disease has caused him. I wanted him to read your post to show him why it's so important to stick to his medications, and that the Beast does affect social relationships so it's important to be careful to make sure to try and manage the Beast before it manages you. I need him to meet adults that have gone through the hell so that he can understand why it's so important to keep to the program and not self-medicate.

As the daughter, grandaughter, sister, and now mother of bipolar people, I have lived with this Beast every day of my life and I applaud you for being such a good, caring father to Bella and a loving and supportive husband to Belinda. You guys mean the world to me, even though you're still just virtual friends, but I really want your lives to be better.

You did good, Alex.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

Okay, everyone. This really is Alex's mother-in-law.

I am so proud of you, Alex. Unlike most BP's, you DO want the medication that allows you to overcome the mania. You DO submit to medical treatment and therapy. You DO agree to let your family tell you when we notice things getting a little "out of sync" which indicates the need for a med change. You take your medicine faithfully. And today, I am most proud because you have told the world about the Beast and have perhaps helped someone else who is suffering--either directly or indirectly through a loved one--at the claws of the Beast.

I, too, agree that if we all talked more about mental illnesses, they wouldn't carry a stigma-- anymore than any other disease.

I've always admired your ability to express yourself in writing. I think you are eloquent and you write with emotion.

And, dare I say, I am so proud that you gave me the most amazing granddaughter God ever gifted to a grandmother.

Line me up just behind Belinda and Bella, because I LOVE YOU, TOO!


10:11 PM  
Blogger Belinda said...

And in case anyone isn't familiar with the statistics, or might be bristling at my mom's use of the phrase "most BPs", let me explain that she is referring to a strictly statistical phenomenon that is more or less accepted a "common knowledge" in bipolar treatment circles: And that is the statistic that "less than 20% of bipolar patients are capable of the insight required to be compliant with medication and treatment."

For the majority (somewhere in the neighborhood of 80%, apparently), Bipolar Disorder is a self-denying disease, much like schizophrenia. If you are incapable of accepting that there's anything wrong, you're very unlikely to seek out, much less accept, treatment for an illness that you "don't have."

Alex and I are very "lucky" (as I have written before) that he falls within the <20% of those who CAN and DO get help, of their own volition.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Sue said...

I love you, Alex. I hope you know that.

And now I love you more.

11:37 PM  
Blogger Jeankfl said...

WOW! What a post..as a first time visitor, all I can say is WOW.. Thank you for explaining it the best I've ever read. It helps to understand what it's like, a little, being in the grip of the "beast". Hope you don't mind if I check in sometimes to read you.. already like to lurk on Belinda's..and Mocha's, (of course). It's hard, if you've never had the problem, to understand how powerless we are to "fight" it...just like major depression, it's not just a matter of "just do it".. so, thanks for opening yourself up and giving us a glimpse...

2:49 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I found this in the local paper and thought of you not finishing college.
Winner: Betty West says she doesn't like to start something and not finish. But the 85-year-old Holladay resident's decision to return to BYU to finish the degree she started before World War II took more than just a strong will. It took a lot of study and good deal of smarts. She will be getting that degree soon. More importantly, she has convincingly shown everyone else it's never too late to learn.
I know you all are too busy at the moment for this to be something you can do in the immediate future. Just don't give up on it completely. It can happen. Of course as most good advice (I hope it's good), I need to take it myself. There are a million things I should do but put off because I feel it's too late.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous jane said...

I came by to read your blog but you haven't updated. Wha??? C'mon now...you can tell us something.

Hope all is well :)

8:25 PM  
Blogger KansasSunflower said...

I know this is an older post, but I found your site from your wife's site, who found my site from blogher (ok, long story), but you reminded me of just how hard this disease really is, and how much I take for granted every day. I get so mad at myself when I'm not "perfect" and I make mistakes because of this illness, like miss a day of work, but I'm going to, right? And you're right - things like stress or times of the year...well, they just affect us differently.

Thanks for that post. Maybe I can take it a little easier on myself now.

And good for you for being so strong.:-)

6:29 PM  
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