I have been familiar with depression since the time I was a teenager. I learned the term from a therapist I began seeing when I just couldn't stop crying. Nothing was wrong, but I cried and cried. That's one of the tip-offs for most people with depression and one of the most misunderstood hallmarks of the illness. People always want to know what is wrong or what has happened to that person to cause their depression. Certainly there is "situational" depression, where a situation or set of circumstances sends someone into a prolonged period of sadness, but that's not the depression I experience. For me, one day I can be fine and the next, without any change in my external life whatsoever, I fall apart.
So with all of this experience, history, and, since I've become an adult, education, how is it that I miss the onslaught until I'm so deep in that I'm convinced I must be losing my mind? How can it go so far that I've lost weeks before I recognize that I'm buried in uncontrolled anguish? And why, oh why, can't I simply manage it?
To that end, I've started seeing a psychiatrist again. As part of my treatment, I will be seeing a therapist regularly again as well. I will begin a new medication. I will try again to wrangle the beast that hides in the dark places in my mind. I have fallen hard back into a place that sucks the breath, the life, out of me. I have a new diagnosis.
In the hospital, as I have been before, I was diagnosed with depression. The anxiety that went along with it this time was new. Depression has become a rather recurrent nightmare in my life, particularly since I have had children. The pressure of keeping up with their needs, coupled with my desire to be a whole person for them has been a struggle. I'm not sure if it has truly exacerbated my depression or if it has simply made me more aware, but I vow over and over to get better for them. So, as I slip deeper into a place of alternating pain and numbness, I went back for help.
My present working diagnosis is bipolar II. It is not a DMS-defined illness. My psychiatrist referred to it as "baby bipolar." Tell that to the two sides of my emotional train wreck of a brain as they shriek at each other. As suspected, he recognized symptoms of both depression and mania, with depression being the far stronger of the two. With that said, because I don't report at least a week of mania (ever), I don't qualify as bipolar. Fine with me, except it still leaves me in this place in my head. Hence, the "softer" diagnosis. It's on the "spectrum." I didn't know bipolar had one.
In fact, I learned all sorts of new words relating to the bipolar spectrum, many of which may or may not define the madness that is my life at the moment: dysphoria, hypomania, manic depression (something I thought had been re-termed bipolar, but which is actually its own thing). I thought my head would be spinning with all of the new information, but mostly I'm just tired. I'm tired of being yanked from one version of crazy to the next. I'm tired of feeling anything and so mostly I am numb. Numb and tired.
For those of you not familiar with bipolar, you may assume that it is simply "being moody" or "up and down." It's more complicated than that, of course. For me, depression has always been the obvious, more dominant mood. My depression is fairly classical, low mood, withdrawal from activities that I used to enjoy, lack of appetite, requiring too much sleep, sometimes alternately not being able to sleep, crying without reason or control, thoughts of hopelessness, suicidal ideation. My mania has been more elusive.
I started to notice patterns, starting with drastic differences in my energy. I'd be scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees while jam was setting after having reorganized the hall closet, when just four days before I'd dropped the kids off at the babysitter and gone back to sleep for four hours, skipping lunch so I could sleep 15 minutes longer. Then I started to notice the more subtle shifts. I'd go from cuddling on the couch with the kids for hours so I didn't have to pretend to get up and do something to being able to sit still with them for 3 minutes before their intermittent movements made me so agitated that I would jump off the couch ready to claw my own skin off. I'd go from calling landlords to check on studio spaces for my someday yoga studio, creating color palates and picking out decor, and ordering business cards to being nervous to teach my weekend class.
Taken individually, these things did not seem significant. Even now, they seem insignificant until I line them up in a row and then add the chatter that's constantly in my head, a non-stop list of hyperbolic "to dos" or a barrage of self-deprecating commentary. Rarely do I just feel okay. I feel tightly-wound, anxious and irritable or I feel horribly empty and broken. Some people's mania is euphoric. They feel awesome, invincible, like the world is at their fingertips! That comes with it's own dangers because often their judgment is horribly skewed. For me, mania presents as severe irritation. I am so agitated that I feel like I'm on fire with it.
I also learned that as you get older, episodes of depression and/or mania tend to get more intense and more frequent. So it made sense that I had sought help for depression first at 17, then at 25, then at 29 and 32 and 34. It had all been happening and right under my nose. So, why have I struggled so much recently? And why didn't I see it for what it was? I suspect that it's so many things. I suspect I wasn't aware enough. It isn't something we talk about and that has to change.
Although I am afraid of the idea of a "mood stabilizer," I do hope to even out. I'm terrified of side effects. I have had some pretty terrible ones in the past. I'm terrified of being "altered," of being recognizably different to my children. Then again, I don't particularly want them to remember this version of me someday. So what's the difference? I know I need to do something different. Everything has lost color again and I miss it.