If you are looking for bipolar stories, mine is a doozie.
So where do I start? It is hard to improve on the traditional 12 Step introduction: Hi. My name is Sarah and I am bipolar.
How did I come to know this? The way most bipolar people do!
In 2004, when I was 43, I finally did something so outrageous, so crazy, so totally destructive and inexplicable, that even a medical profession that routinely takes up to 10 years to come up with an accurate diagnosis couldn’t miss it.
(Read any bipolar stories – the tragic failure to obtain an accurate diagnosis appears again and again!)
I knew I had taken a wrecking ball to my own life. (In my mind I think that this will always be the metaphor I will use.)
As soon as I started winding down from my worst ever, show-stopping, record-breaking manic binge, a bleak depression set in. The aftermath of full blown mania is a little like an alcoholic getting sober – the flashbacks begin – along with a slowly dawning recognition of all that has been squandered or destroyed.
Bipolar stories are invariably gut-wrenching litanies of loss and regret.
The difference (assuming the alcoholic isn’t also bipolar) is that mania isn’t just followed by a hangover – it is inevitably followed by serious depression, and if the bipolar person is undiagnosed or untreated, their thinking may still be irrational and their perceptions still distorted. It is not just a matter of waiting for the last of the mojitos to wear off.
(BTW: Please don’t think I am minimizing the struggles, sufferings or triumphs involved in alcoholism. Substance abuse will be a recurring theme in the story that follows.)
In less than a year I:
– destroyed a happy 12 year marriage with the perfect partner
– spent hundreds of hours in compulsive cybersex
– liquidated our retirement real estate portfolio of 6 houses
– lost my own home which I had owned free and clear
– blew thousands of dollars on international travel including 2 round the world trips
– threw away my career and a prestigious PhD scholarship
– moved to a foreign country.
There was plenty of other carnage along the way – those are just some of the highlights that are sadly typical of the spending sprees, hypersexuality, and reckless impulsiveness of bipolar mania.
Bipolar stories are commonplace today.
There are many bipolar stories available as books, e-books, and on sites such as this.
For me, reading bipolar stories was a crucial part of getting well. I hope telling my own story will likewise prove helpful to others.
I was born in 1961 and raised in Sydney, Australia. My father was a compulsive gambler and womanizer. He was textbook bipolar man, with a terrible temper, alternating with expansive grandiosity. He rarely slept, and he made his living through illegal gambling, drug dealing, theft, fencing, forgery and whatever other opportunities presented themselves. He was handsome and brilliant and charming and affectionate and violent and crazy.
When I was 15 both of my parents went to prison, leaving me and my two sisters to fend for ourselves.
As a teenager I used a lot of drugs and drank heavily. My father died in prison when he was 47, leaving my mother to face the world destitute and with the stigma of a prison record. She never remarried and her life has been a constant struggle.
I gave up the drinking and drugging in my 20s, got a college education and tried to settle down. However, I always felt like the eternal addict who was just constantly bouncing from one addiction to another – from drugs to liquor to compulsive spending to gambling to obsessive relationships.
My explanation for this to myself was that I had inherited an addictive personality and had been raised by poor role models. I knew I was more irritable than most people and more inclined to fixate and to be negative and critical. My basic nature however was easy going so I usually dismissed my dark periods as PMS or just pushed them out of my mind completely.
It certainly never occurred to me that my story was just one of many bipolar stories.
Anxiety – or bipolar?
In my 30s I started to experience crippling panic attacks so bad I wanted to die. I also had recurrent depressions but couldn’t figure out exactly what I was so upset about.
My work life was all over the place – sometimes I was highly productive and could be a very genial and supportive colleague. Other times my concentration was hopeless, I would day dream the hours away and chronically procrastinate. Sometimes I would take a strong dislike to a co-worker and could never understand why nobody else noticed how terrible this person was.
I started taking Prozac and later Zoloft and eventually Paxil. I used various SSRIs for nearly 10 years and believe that they ultimately made my bipolar disorder much worse. (I have since found out that panic attacks and use of SSRIs feature regularly in other bipolar stories.)
By this time I knew my behavior was often self-destructive and was puzzling to other people, but my explanation was that I had an anxiety disorder, could not handle much stress, and that anything weird I did was an over-reaction because I had to blow off steam somehow to keep the panic at bay.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
My 40s started very well with a job I loved at a dot.com, surrounded by a group of incredibly smart and nice people. By this time I had also acquired a law degree and had had the same wonderful partner for about 10 years.
Neither of us was familiar with any personal bipolar stories. We thought I had an anxiety disorder and my partner was very caring and supportive towards me. We were deeply in love and had achieved a lot together.
However, I just couldn’t settle down. Soon after building a beautiful home at the beach (that we were making great capital gains on), I just had to move. My restlessness continued although I was happy in my marriage and I was getting lots of stimulation through aggressive (and very successful!) real estate and other investing. I just went on developing more anger and concentration problems.
Due to the fact that I thought all my problems were about stress and anxiety I convinced my partner we should sell some assets and buy a home for cash in the quiet island state of Tasmania. There neither of us had to work full time and our investments continued to prosper.
The weird thing was, instead of relaxing I started losing my mind! I figured my problem was a lack of structure and activity and decided to get yet another college degree. I had a great academic record and was fortunate enough to win a prestigious and lucrative PhD scholarship.
(In personal bipolar stories the need for structure is a recurring theme – bipolar people need sleep and a healthy, regular routine. But in the grip of a manic episode, medication is usually needed along with lifestyle changes.)
We had it all – a beautifully renovated home on the water with no mortgage, plenty of cash in the bank, plenty of income, light workloads and a dream investment portfolio.
None of it mattered a damn!
Bipolar train wreck
If you have been reading bipolar stories you are probably getting used to some common elements like spending sprees and hypersexuality.
I sure hope so because this is still very hard for me to tell people about.
As soon as I started my PhD I discovered online adult chat.
This was far more compelling to me than any PhD research. I was suddenly obsessed with sex yet completely uninterested in my partner. In fact, I was almost always angry about the stupidest things. I fantasized about living alone so that I would have total control over the contents of the fridge and kitchen cupboards.
Any little thing enraged me and my sexual needs were off the chart. Using the need to be online for my PhD research (which conveniently centered on cyberspace) as an excuse, I spent hours having virtual sex with men and women all over the world.
I even traveled internationally to hook up with some of these people, betraying the best partner in the world and squandering thousands of dollars that by rights belonged to both of us.
Out of shame, respect for my ex, and the constraints of good taste I won’t go into details, but my sex, spending and travel spree cost me not just a fortune in cash – it cost me my marriage, home and self respect.
Just another train wreck in the many – too many – bipolar stories you can find.
Drama – and diagnosis!
I wound up living in northern Florida and meeting someone new and wonderful. By now though I was in a true mixed state – suicidally depressed but also more irritable than ever.
Being manic and crazy, I had abandoned my PhD and scholarship and instead of getting an income from studying, had enrolled in an overseas graduate program where I had no income and huge fees!
Graduate school was a nightmare. I maintained a 4.0 GPA but couldn’t connect with any of my professors, the subject matter or my fellow students.
I was totally obsessed with a new romantic relationship but my mood swings and Jekyll and Hyde routine completely freaked out my new partner. When the relationship floundered I became desperate – and my suicidal ideations were scaring me. I visited a psychiatrist and had the great good fortune to finally share my story with a skilled, experienced and sensitive clinician.
She was used to hearing personal bipolar stories!
When my shrink told me I had bipolar disorder she framed it as good news – this is one of the most treatable of all mental health disorders.
Admittedly I cried a lot for the first few days, but eventually I felt pretty relieved. I had been so full of shame and regret – it was easier now to understand my behavior and I actually preferred the idea that I was mad and not bad!
Taking lithium, getting psychotherapy and counseling, and learning everything I could about bipolar disorder saved my life. (These are the same success strategies that usually appear in any bipolar stories.)
My relationship was salvaged and I am lucky enough to once again know great love with someone wonderful. We moved in together in 2006 and are going from strength to strength. Thank you M for your love, patience, forgiveness and support!
Like all personal bipolar stories, mine has a lot of other details but it is too long and turgid a story for a single web page.
Please explore the rest of my site and visit again soon. I am constantly working on ways to include more personal stories bipolar stories and more resources.
We can all lead great bipolar lives!
The great psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin suggested farming and gardening as powerful therapy for mood disorders. For me, I ride my mountain bike, hike, read Goodwin and Jamison, and work on this website.
By the way, if you are wondering who Goodwin and Jamison are, the new edition of Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression by Frederick K. Goodwin, M.D & Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD came out in May 2007. It is my favorite book ever. It is a textbook and is not aimed at lay readers but it is written with great compassion and insight. Studying this book has taught me a lot more than months of Internet surfing – this is the authoritative text by THE experts – not hucksters trying to make a quick buck. I highly recommend it.
Thank you for looking up bipolar stories and may you and yours be at peace.
One thing I hated about medication was gaining over 40 lbs – with every indication the weight was just going to keep piling on. I looked and felt terrible. And yes, I know this is part of many bipolar stories.
Many people who take medication gain weight, leading to serious health and self-esteem issues. I have struggled with this nightmare myself, and I know what a big problem it is. Like many, I have even been non-compliant with my medication for fear of getting fatter – with disastrous results!
I understand this problem and have felt the pain first hand. It is an incredibly important issue.
In February 2009, the medical journal Psychiatric Services published findings showing that bipolar disorder can DOUBLE your risk of early death from a range of medical conditions – including those that can be controlled through diet and exercise. The risk of diabetes is THREE TIMES HIGHER if you have bipolar disorder.
Through much research, experience, and sheer trial and error, I developed my effective Bipolar Diet. I am happy to say it successfully controls my weight AND my moods!