25 years or less

10 years on average is how long it takes someone to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I started showing signs of mental illness late in highschool, and for much of the next eleven years I was misdiagnosed and undertreated.  I went through long stretches of unemployment when I would quit and leave jobs after I couldn't handle the pressure or stress any longer.  I lived off my mother until I was in my late twenties but I am still not fully independent.

For eleven years, I thought I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression.  That was the diagnosis I received from a psychiatrist I seen for only four months because I couldn't afford to keep paying 60 dollars a month, especially when I only came in to get a refill of my lexapro.  He never investigated my issues further.  I would sit down and he would write out fresh scripts.  He'd ask me how I was doing that day, but not in a diagnostic way.  More in a way you would ask someone you pass in the hall.

So after four months, I stopped going, and I went to my primary care physician and asked him to take over the scripts.  He did, but I continued for the next several years that my primary problem was anxiety, and that it was the driving force behind all my problems.

I went off my antidepressents in early 2008 because I no longer had a primary care physician to maintain my script and I was convinced that I could manage it on my own.  It was only anxiety and panic.  And I hadn't felt major depression in months.  I was happy.  I had started dating someone I truly loved.  We were moving in together.  Everything was working out.

But with happiness, comes added stress.

In August, I became ill.  A bad case of broncitis and everything changed.  Suddenly my world crashed around me.  I was miserably depressed, convinced that I had varying degrees of terrible, awful diseases, worried that at any moment I could just stop breathing because my lungs couldn't take the pain anymore.  There were times where the pain was so bad I wanted to die.  I started missing more and more days at work.  Paychecks wittled down to nothing.  Five visits to the emergency room finally lead me to getting a new primary care physician.

He has been much better than my old pcp.  He seems to genuinely care about my health.  After trying several medications to treat what I thought was a major lung disease, he was convinced that my problem was more mental than physical.  He put me on lexapro (a drug I was familiar with, and also preferred) as well as Ativan.

For a while it helped.  The anxiety and panic went away.  The depression went away.  There was a month or so where I felt like my old self again.

Then it came crashing back down.

First, it began with a little chest discomfort.  Then the depression hit.  The sadness.  The hopelessness.  I would never get better.  I could never be normal again.  I went back to the doctor and he decided I needed more help than what he could provide, and so he sent me to a mental health facility.

I procrastinated, but finally after three months I began seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist.  My first meeting was with the therapist.  She was very nice and although I was very nervous and shaking the entire time, I did enjoy talking to her.  We went through a little survey that was designed to help her proceed with my care, during which time I told her about my problems with anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, and depression.  I told her that I believed that my anxiety was the cause of everything, and that it has always been my biggest problem.  She talked to me about breathing excercises and about using them to "reset" my body's fight or flight system every day.  She also set up an appointment to meet with the psychiatrist to change the medication I was on.

When I met the pharmacist, I new right away I would like him.  He asked a lot of questions, but not in a way that I found irritating (which is a problem I have).  I don't like questions that require a lot of explanation.  His were very yes or no, and only asking for further input when necessary.

Then he asked about bipolar disorder, if I knew what it was, and if I had ever been asked about it.

I told him I knew what it was, and that I did not have it.  I had problems with depression, but bipolar was a no.  People with bipolar disorder are crazy, out of their minds, and do insane things, or at least that's how I perceived it.  I didn't see any of my past actions as "crazy" or "insane".  I ignore about how I begged a friend who started dating my ex in highschool to stab me with his knife or jumped in front of their car as they sped away.  How I walked out of countless jobs after I became so frusted and worked up and couldn't take it anymore.  How I thought about killing myself even though I didn't think it would ever happen because nothing scares me more than actually dying.

He asked me a few questions, the answers to which he found very interesting, then had me fill out a little yes/no survey that helps determine if someone could be bipolar.  I circled yes on nearly all of them.  He showed it to me and said "do you see why I could think you might be bipolar?"

It was black and white, in my face.  I couldn't deny the possibility.  And worst of all, it made sense more than any other explanation.

That was three months ago.  Since then, I have had my medication adjusted.  I am now on Depakote 1000mg a day, Lexapro 20 mg a day, Xanax .5 three times a day, as well as prilosec 40mg a day for indegestion caused by stress.

People with bipolar disorder statistically live 25 to 30 years less than the average person.  1 in 5 succeed in committing suicide.  Others die of cardiovascular problems due to the stress living with a lifetime disease can bring.  Nothing can fix me.  There is no cure.  To stay stable, I will have to take medication for the rest of my life.  Welcome to bipolar.

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