My bipolar symptoms started at about 11 or 12 years old. I had significant mood swings as I grew into high school. One time a best friend helped me through a particularly nasty depression, and without knowing it, she probably saved me from hurting myself or worse. I remember that kid, and I wish I could tell him what I know now about bipolar, and I wish he could have received some form of treatment at the time.
I had significant anger and self-esteem issues from an abusive childhood which were made worse by the bipolar. My anger issues almost made me lose a job on more than one occasion, but I was able to smooth things over. During these angry-manic phases, I would do stupid things and say hurtful things to people around me, and I had little self-control over my words and actions. Then I would slide into the inevitable depression and beat myself up over the things I had said or done.
When I started dating my wife, it was fairly easy to hide the mood swings and the anger from her. When we moved in together and got married, it became more difficult; when I had the stress of college and work and a newborn child and financial difficulty, my bipolar started becoming a strain on our relationship. Still, she stuck with me during all those years of instability. She didn’t know it would get worse as time went on.
The college years were an up and down time. My first year I had a deep depression for a couple of months that caused failing grades and loss of a scholarship. I moved back home, bitter and angry, but rebooted my college career anyway. I was pretty successful this time, and I was able to hide my symptoms during classes and time with my friends. In my last two years of school, and in the year afterward, I was more manic than depressive, and I remember that time as the best of my life.
Between about age 26 to 34 I got steadily worse, so I finally sought treatment. I was diagnosed with unipolar depression and started trying different antidepressants in the hope I would find something that worked. I believe the medication made my bipolar worse, because my instability increased and the mood swings became more severe. When I was 36, I became suicidal and was admitted to the hospital. There I was diagnosed as bipolar, and placed on a cocktail of medication.
The mood swings were less severe, but I was still unstable. I had been placed on multiple medication combinations during that time, and because of insurance problems I had to switch doctors three times. My current p-doc eliminated all the pills and started over again with only Lamictal, which seemed to work well for a while after increasing the dosage. Soon the symptoms started up again, with deep depressive periods exacerbated by unemployment, then a new job I didn’t like, and worsening relationships at home. Finally the p-doc added Abilify to the Lamictal, and I became more stable again.
Since that time I have been doing just okay. My mood swings are less severe and further apart, but I am still not entirely stable. The doctor has steadily increased the dosage of both medicines to their therapeutic limits. If the bipolar is getting worse over time, we will have to see if a different medication mixture will work better. If the bipolar stays the same, I will probably just deal with what I have at the moment. I am pretty pessimistic that I will ever be entirely without mood swings, and that being well will always be a moving, unreachable target.