Chantelle shares how, with the crucial support of her husband, she tackles managing Bipolar without the full medication regime. A powerful account follows around how she copes, to what extent, and the highs and lows associated with her Bipolar condition.
My name is Chantelle – and I have Bipolar.
I was diagnosed at age 29, but suspected it for years due to a long family history of BPD. I’m married with two wonderful teenage daughters and a husband who helps me more than he can ever know. From age 29 to 38 I was pretty heavily medicated to control the BPD.
Challenging the Regimen
Four years ago, I woke up one morning, and didn’t like the way I felt with conventional drugs, and I decided there had to be a better way for me. I probably should have consulted a doctor, but instead I sat down with my husband and we came up with a plan to slowly step me off all medications.
I had realized I was too dependent on medicine for waking up in the morning (b12 boosters), going to bed at night (Benadryl), and mood stabilizers during the day (lithium, celexa, ambien, Xanax, among others.) I tried to do what the doctors told me, because they felt it was the right thing to do, but I felt disconnected from myself, my life, my family. I felt like when I was on all the dope that I “checked out”, and that wasn’t fair to my husband, my children, or me.
We stepped down off the medicine cleanly, but that’s when the root causes came back. From that day on, I routinely go through the cycles of bipolar, both the mania and the depression.
Flying the Dragon
When you’re bipolar, the highs are like riding a dragon. You’re flying high, with your head in the clouds, enjoying the rush and euphoria that it brings. When the dragon lands, no matter what anyone says or does, you know you’re grounded, and you pray that it doesn’t last long. But sometimes it needs to. Sometimes the mania can be enormous, and hard to control, not just for me but for those around me.
When on the mania, I feel more creative, more spontaneous, happier, more on my game. I like to go SHOPPING! I like to spend money, and it has gotten me into trouble a few times. At the time, its clearly for a good reason. We need toilet paper, so it’s ok to buy three cases… we’ll go through it. If I’m getting three cases of toilet paper, we also need paper towels, dish soap, oh, and we also need…. you get the idea.
When the depression hits, I feel worthless and upset. That’s when all the negative pieces of self-loathing come out; loneliness, fear, and overwhelming anxiety. During this phase, I look at all the things I bought during the mania, and feel an overwhelming anxiety that my husband won’t see me as worthwhile and will up and leave. No matter how much he promises me that he understands my illness and isn’t going anywhere… I simply *can’t* believe it.
To quote Bill & Ted, “I’m not worthy”.
I’m cyclothymic, which basically means it’s a roller coaster ride for everyone involved. There are a few pieces of the track that are level and life seems normal (whatever that means) for an hour, a day, a month. There’s no pattern to when the phases hit, but there is usually some kind of external trigger – which could be anything from a dropped glass to a random comment from a stranger.
The biggest challenge for me by choosing to stay off medication, is to establish patterns for each of the cycles. For example, I’ve gotten into the habit of always asking my husband before I spend money, so he can be my double-check and not let me overspend. I may find five knitting books I want, and he’s learned that the mania has to let itself out somehow, so he’ll allow two of the books.
Controlling the depression is… impossible. When it hits, there are a lot of tears, dark rooms, and fretting over the future. At that point, all anyone can do is wait it out and make sure I don’t do anything stupid.
Strategies for Living with Bipolar
The best thing I can do that works for both cycles is to keep my brain focused on a project. For me, that’s knitting. During depression, I can while away the hours and lose myself waiting for my husband to get home from work. During the mania, I start 100 new projects and learn a few new stitches which get me through both cycles. Last holiday break, I knitted a hat a day for a week straight. Talk about self-therapy!
I can’t say that being off medication is right for everyone. Some people need it, they truly do. But for me and my family, they are my support system and this was the right decision for us.