It took me a month to find the words to write the latest chapter in the story of my life. I was on a flight back home to Istanbul after driving cross-country back to the east coast.
My close friends and my therapist knew as soon as I did. Leading up to the assessment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I honestly thought that there was nothing wrong with me and depression or GAD could answer everything I was struggling with. Once I passed the age that schizophrenia could present itself, I expected to be in the clear.
Following the days of receiving a diagnosis like bipolar 2 is odd. I had to move forward with my day-to-day life while adjusting to this piece of the puzzle that had been unlocked. The day of my diagnosis wasn’t the day I began living with bipolar 2. It had been a part of me for the good part of two decades, a constant presence painting my entire existence.
I wrote about being bipolar strong a few months following my diagnosis. The most difficult aspect of having bipolar 2 and not bipolar disorder is the lack of community. Search social media for #bipolar2 and what you find is conversations and memes mostly around bipolar and borderline personality disorder.
Being fully open about my diagnosis and living with bipolar 2 serves two purposes:
- Owning my narrative and presenting myself fully, as I’ve always tried to do
- Become a beacon for people like myself who have felt the same loneliness around our diagnosis
Turns out, there are a few people in my life who are living with bipolar 2 disorder, some of them having received their diagnosis in the past 5 years.
That gives me hope.
But what does my life look like a year after beginning treatment?
This was the part that scared me the most. What if the medication didn’t work? What if I couldn’t actually tell the difference? What if I’m not self-aware enough to answer my doctor’s questions during our check-ins?
What if I forget to take my medication?
Listen, remembering to do things like taking medication at the same time every day is not my strong suit.
After explaining my diagnosis to me, the first thing the doctor asked me is whether I want treatment, because not everyone is ready for actual treatment when they receive their diagnosis.
I was ready. I wanted to take control of my life. I wanted to be armed going into battle every day.
She prescribed me 2 weeks’ worth of a small dose of lamotrigine, which is a mood stabilizer and anticonvulsant approved to treat bipolar and seizure disorders. Because side effects are common with introducing medication like this, I was feeling extra cautious. I also didn’t want to muddle the effects of the medication, so I stopped drinking alcohol for those two weeks.
Two weeks later, during our check-in, we decided I would continue with that medication. I didn’t actually suffer from side effects. I was getting ready to go to Istanbul for 2 months, so my doctor prescribed me enough medicine to last during my trip – but with the caveat that 2 weeks later I would double my dose, and then a month later, triple it to the dosage that would become my daily treatment.
The purpose of my trip to Istanbul was taking a literal mental health sabbatical that I had already planned prior to my diagnosis, so the timing turned out to be serendipitous.
When I came back from Turkey, I had a new job. I was continuing the medication, went back to therapy, and had regular check-ins with my prescribing doctor.
Adjusting to the new normal took time, but I recognized my triggers easier than I had before, especially when I could feel myself spiraling toward a hypomania episode.
Depression, however, was a different story. I found that while it evened out my hypomanic highs, my lows became lower. They were deeper and harder to get out of. I literally felt like I was suffocating.
We increased my lamotrigine dosage, but I felt like something was missing.
So, a few months later, during a regular check-in for renewing my prescription, I asked my doctor about antidepressants.
The fun thing about SSRIs when you have bipolar 2 disorder is that they can actually trigger anger and mania.
My doctor sent me literature on the two antidepressants she would recommend for me and I talked them through with my therapist. We decided on Wellbutrin because it’s an NDRI.
Unlike my good luck with lamotrigine, Wellbutrin’s side effects hit me hard, specifically nausea. I was working one morning and the next thing I knew, a wave of nausea washed over me. All I could do was lie down. The first few days were rough, but by the time I had my two-week check-in with my doctor, everything had stabilized. We moved forward with the lamotrigine and Wellbutrin combination.
The 4-day nightmare
Around the time my next prescription renewal came up, the pharmacy fucked up, saying that they didn’t receive the call from my doctor, even though she had proof that it had been processed. But because it was a weekend, by the time everything was squared away, I ended up without medication for 4 days.
Turns out that my treatment is actually effective because those 4 days were like before times.
The highs and lows were intense. I felt like I was constantly losing control and just didn’t feel like myself. I couldn’t focus. There was nothing productive about my life during those 4 days.
And then I realized this is how my life had been for years. When I was in school, starting my freelance career, dealing with relationship problems, dealing with anger issues.
How did I ever actually get anything done living in a constant state of turmoil? How had I made it to my mid-30s as a functional adult?
When I could finally get back on my medication, it took a couple of days for my brain to remember how to process the meds and I felt armed for battle again.
My medication is my armor, but it’s not impenetrable.
One year down, the rest of my life to go.