It just occurred to me that today is the fourth anniversary of my first bipolar diagnosis, when life as I’d known it was forever changed. But not to sound too melodramatic about it all, it was also the day the healing began.
I remember the ninety-minute intake appointment with Dr. Awesomesauce as clearly as if it took place this afternoon. He’d spent most of the session giving me all kinds of reasons why what I had might be simple depression, so it was surprising when he issued his proclamation. “I’m diagnosing you with bipolar disorder not otherwise specified,” he said. My initial reaction: “OK.” My second reaction: “What does that mean, exactly?”
He described it as a catch-all category, meaning it was pretty likely I had BP, but it didn’t fit any of the neat little boxes psychiatrists like to put things in. Well, THAT was as clear as mud, but not knowing much of anything about the disorder at that time, I figured I had a pretty steep learning curve anyway. So I started to research my condition, both online and by reading countless books and magazine articles, and what I discovered was both disturbing and yet wildly interesting.
Now, four years later, there’s not much I don’t know about this illness. I can tell you all about the different kinds of bipolar, the names of the medications used to treat it, the types of therapies, even the physiological damage it wreaks on the brain. But I’m still learning about my own version of it, which is different from that of every other bipolar patient in the universe, and I’m sure it’s got more tricks up its sleeve.
That’s the only consistent thing about this disease…its inconsistency. I never know when it’s going to spin out of control, with the exception being my little spring flings (one of which I’m coming out of as we speak) and my fall/winter lows. Then again, I haven’t had a severe manic episode in two years. And this winter’s depression was mild in comparison to past spells, probably because of December’s trip to the beautiful Caribbean. I’m on a lot of meds though, some of which are hardcore, and they better keep the more serious stuff away or what the hell am I taking them for?
Speaking of meds…I had to go over my list with my new primary care provider’s office today, and it must have sounded like I’m crazier than a loon. Nothing like making a good first impression, you know? Trouble is, this doctor is going to be prescribing those, even if he’s technically not responsible for managing them, and we’ve got to be able to talk about them without my illness being in the way. But I’m not going to have the chance to do that until July…that’s the soonest they can get me in. I SOOOO miss the old days when I could just go in to my PCP or Dr. A when I needed to, even with piss-poor insurance; here in the city, you’re just another number and if you don’t know how the system works, you’re shit out of luck. If I weren’t able to advocate for myself, I wouldn’t have gotten the help I need even this quickly.
That’s why I say that the healing began the day I was diagnosed bipolar. I’m a lot stronger than I was four years ago, even though I still go through periods of uneven moods and deal with the less-than-pleasant consequences of taking psychiatric medication. I can’t see into the future, but I suppose there will be more manic and depressive episodes, and maybe even another hospitalization or two…who knows. You have to be prepared for anything when you have bipolar disorder.
Maybe that’s the take-home lesson on this anniversary of my diagnosis: don’t get complacent. Constant vigilance is the price of staying well. And even if it means doing gut-checks every single morning to see which way the wind is blowing, and taking a handful of sanity twice a day forever, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.