And this year, so much has changed in my life.
Some for better/some for worse.
In many ways, 2012 was an annus horribilis – right up there with 1983, 1992 and 2005.
Is there a discernible pattern there?
Not really, except that the years 1992 and 2005 are actually the worst years in cycles of bad years (2004-2008, being particularly awful).
So what was it about 2012 that made it so damned wrong?
I guess most of it stems from a deep dissatisfaction with my work. I had been promoted to director of research in 2010 – a job where I was expected to be largely office-bound, concerned mainly with strategic management and the Quest For Ever More Efficiency in The System.
For someone who thrives on being in the field, with quality thinking time spent on those long drives to field locations, this was a form of slow death. I was told by a management consultant (who, incidentally, has decided that the tiny little organisation for which I used to work should be structured like a lumbering, top-heavy, big government bureaucracy), that a lot of my time as a director should be spent thinking.
How was I supposed to do this when I was not doing one, but two jobs?
I was also the operational manager of the Darwin office for most of this time. I’d been doing this role since September 2010, in addition to my former manager position. So I was Director/Manager -Darwin. Which means, of course, that the daily operations -the brushfires and emergencies- take precedence over the lumbering cogs of strategic planning and management.
One can only perform two full time jobs for so long – and then something has to give.
Which it did.
Long service leave* did the rest (*you get 3 months off in Australia, paid full time leave, if you’ve worked for the same organisation for over 10 years).
You know something is very, very wrong when you flip out – and I mean completely descend into a state of panicked depression and massive anxiety- after you’ve had six weeks off.
So much happened all at once. The issues look something like this:
- I didn’t like the job I’m doing
- I worked with an office bully. Three staff members had asked me how to deal with this bully, and began steps to report this person, only to ‘wait and see’ when they realised who serious these allegations are. I did not wish to work with this person anymore. I simply did not have the energy any longer to manage their insecurity.
- I disagreed with direction in which the agency was going
- Google’s Penguin update
- Having two lots of abdominal surgery
- Coming home to my parents having rearranged my kitchen (minor, I know, but sooo stresful at the time)
- Going back to work and feeling like I really wasn’t needed
- Having a 3 monthly performance appraisal slapped in my face in the second week back (this was the straw that broke MY back)
Descent into Darkness
Stephen Fry’s clip (below) explains exactly what happened to me.
Eerily, so freakin close to what I did.
The morning I walked out, I had an email about the routine, 3 monthly performance review which all managers (apparently) had to undergo.
I disagreed with the content of the previous 3 monthly review, which I had not seen, nor had it been discussed with me. It had been filled in (I assume) by the HR Director and the CEO.
That was it.
I told the office manager I was going home.
I then took as many sleeping pills as I could find.
I wanted to die.
Somewhere in before I passed out completely, the office manager texted me, concerned (the HR Director was really concerned, too). I replied that I wouldn’t be texting anyone anymore, or something to that effect.
My next memory is of the office manager in my bedroom, trying to wake me up, asking me if I knew where I was, my phone number, how many pills I’d taken.
(Note to self: apparently, you can take an entire bottle of 10mg Temazapam tablets and NOT die).
Obviously, I didn’t die.
But I was very, very sick.
My workplace, bless their little hearts, sent me off on ‘sick leave’, and to one of those government-contract psychologists that you get 6 free consultations from. Until he deemed me fit, I would be unable to return to work.
Seriously, the guy was a complete douche. Let’s just say that he and I had a personality clash from the first day. Whenever I think of him now, that song I Whip My Hair (you know that REALLY inane, annoying song), comes into my head.
He had a classic mid-length bob haircut.
And he was balding.
Ok. Time to be serious.
His abrupt, confrontational style WAS NOT what someone as highly sensitive and in such a black pit of depression as myself needed. He would challenge me to try and not feel as I was feeling, AND MOCK ME by sarcastically repeating turns of phrase that I commonly used.
At the first appointment, he told me straight out that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work for a long time. This freaked me out.
Why did it freak me out?
Because some part of me just wanted to be normal and get back on with life and my job, as much as I hated it. I was ashamed that I had burnt out, cracked and just walked out of the office and then tried to kill myself (3rd time, actually).
The only good thing to come out of the four appointments I dragged myself to with this douche was that he picked up on the cyclic nature of my depression and the failure of antidepressants to have any effect.
He took a complete life history and asked did I ever getting feelings of invincibility or huge highs.
Yes, I replied, I did.
All my life, I’d had what I would dismiss as fads -where I was obsessed with a particular thing- and high achievement portals, where I seemed to have super-human focus and was able to achieve anything I set my mind to.
I thought this was normal.
I thought everyone was like that… they found something which gave them meaning and direction in their life, took it by the horns and ran with it until they’d brought it to fruition or they’d grown tired of it.
Once these phases of hyper-drive passed, I was usually left with a sad little hole -a loss of meaning- in my life and frequently, a few weeks or months of mild level depression.
Again, I thought this was normal. I thought EVERYONE was like this and that I was just really bad at dealing with life when I had no ‘passion’ driving me.
I WAS WRONG. WRONG–> WRONG–>
“When you’re galloping along at a great speed, it is better than any drug you can ever take…” – Carrie Fisher on having a bipolar high.
None of this was ‘normal’ – it was classic bipolar symptoms. And the failure of antidepressants to ease my pain was further evidence.
I *might* be bipolar II was the message that I came away with.
Believe me when I say that I wasn’t just settling for one, douchy diagnosis.
Chapter 3, in Which I Get A Real Psychiatric Diagnosis
Things were moving fast.
The weeks were passing and the CEO and HR Manager wanted to have a meeting with me about my role. This made me very uneasy – even though, deep down, these were both very nice people and wouldn’t be doing anything awful to me.
I am telling you this because everything seemed to happen at once.
I was having two lots of abdominal surgery and having to recover from that.
I was freaking out everytime I had to see douche-psych.
So I called up our local government mental health department. They put me on suicide watch and got me in to see a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist was a cool, sensitive guy.
Fairly young, but with a gentle-wise demeanor. Although the first meeting was awkward and long, I felt that I could work with him.
He confirmed the bipolar II dignosis, and on my second visit, recommended that I try Quetiapine on a low dosage.
As usual, I Googled this drug and there’s every side effect known to humanity appearing before my eyes. The most common being WEIGHT GAIN and intense drowsiness.
In between my first and second visits with the psych, I had the dreaded meeting by phone with the CEO & HR.
It was not nice.
The message they sent me was a hard, cold slap in the face: there was no room for me to be ill or faff about getting used to a medication that would make me sleep half the day.
They wanted to remove me from the director’s position and wanted me back at work ASAP.
They were ‘in crisis’.
I was devastated and totally non-functional.
Worst thing of all, during the phone call, I couldn’t speak. I just could not make myself speak or say anything.
I felt like a stroke victim, robbed of muscular and neural control.
This meeting took place on a Wednesday afternoon, via phone.
I thought about suicide for the next 3 days.
If I’d had pills, I would have taken them.
Finally, on the Monday, I woke up ANGRY.
If they (my bosses) wished to be such arseholes after the two years in which I’d worked two jobs for them (incidentally, they saved around $90K per year by NOT employing a manager in the Darwin office and getting their pound of flesh and sanity from me), then I wasn’t going to be pushed around.
By the end of the day, I would either have a contract and start my own business OR I would find another job.
God Finds My Car Parking Spaces or The Power of A Correct Diagnosis
“…God is saving you parking spots, every song on the radio is playing for you, you’re enthusiastic about everyone and you want everyone to be enthusiastic about you.” – Carie Fisher (again) on the bipolar high.
I started to read books by bipolar sufferers. Some of them were full bipolar I, but many were bipolar II.
In so many of these accounts, I found myself.
The quote from Carrie Fisher is EXACTLY what it’s like to be in the middle of a superb bipolar high. I have my own terms for this, synchronicities, connections, creative links. It’s an amazing period when you can really do anything, you have so much energy, you can get by on 4 hours sleep, things magically organize around you and fall into place.
Yet, I always thought this was normal.
I truly, really thought that everyone experienced life like this.
It was, I’ll admit, disappointing to find out that others don’t have this experience. It’s the nice side of being bipolar in my opinion.
The downside is … well, the much longer, more insidious downs. The depressions that can go on for months, or in my case, years.
And it is these downs which often mask the diagnosis of bipolar, causing it to be treated as one of the suite of depressions in the DSM-IV.
This means that many people suffering from bipolar are never correctly diagnosed, and they carry on with failed anti-depressant treatment after treatment. Suffering miserably.
The problem is that no one ever presents for psychiatric treatment when they’re on a high – (unless they’re on a full-blown hypermania, doing drugs, pretending to be superman or convinced they can read people’s minds).
Most people are like me – convinced that the pleasant euphoric highs and ability to focus and achieve are just gifts we’ve been born with.
All of this adds up to either a mis-diagnosis or the usual 10 years of failed depression-based treatments, to arrive at a correct diagnosis of bipolar.
And correct diagnosis means correct treatment.
I am happy to say that I’ve been on the Quetiapine (100mg per day) for 7 months and it is the best medication I’ve ever had.
For me, correct diagnosis equated with correct treatment.
Part of the insidious nature of bipolar II is insomnia. I’ve suffered from insomnia for my entire adult life.
If I had ANY superpower, it would be the power to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.
That just doesn’t happen for me.
However, what I didn’t know was all of the links between insomnia and bipolar highs and lows. Yes, Carrie Fisher said she went 6 days without sleeping. Well, I wasn’t like that, but let’s just say that I functioned on 3 or 4 hours sleep for weeks at a time, due to racing thoughts, creativity, worry, anxiety or a mixture of all.
With the Quetiapine, the insomnia has been tamed.
It took about two weeks for me to get used to it – and even now, there’s times when I take it and I am knocked out within half an hour.
The highs and lows…
I still feel highs and lows. Mostly the lows, which the Quetiapine doesn’t seem to work on very well.
However the highs… I still get them but they’re at a level where they’re sustainable. If anything, whereas before I was like a sprinter with these highs and they consumed EVERYTHING, now I’m like a marathon runner – I’ve been able to enjoy the highs and harness them.
As for weight gain…
I’m convinced that people in internet depression forums blame their obesity on their drugs most of the time. If you’re eating a healthy diet and exercising, you’re just not going to stack on the weight.
Whilst I can understand that you might be made drowsy by your medication, this usually passes after a few weeks.
Someone will disagree with me on this point, I know. Before you do – I am a fitness freak and no bloody pill is going to make me fat.
But There’s This…
Unlike depression, which is widely accepted and now much more discussed in society, bipolar has the ‘crazy’ stigma attached to it.
I cannot tell people that I am bipolar.
Not unless I know and trust them. About 6 people outside of my partner and children know of my illness.
Even my parents do not know.
Which is part of the reason I wrote this blog post.
I am getting on with my life (more on that next post), but I have this huge freakin crazy-woman illness that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life.
My life isn’t perfect and it’s stupid to think that it will be, but then it doesn’t majorly suck, either.
However, having bipolar is like having an affair.
It’s a dirty little secret, best not spoken of. It’s shameful, immoral and nice, ordinary people don’t do it.
And I guess that’s how I’m going to end this post.
It’s not something I can yet speak publicly about – but write and blog about it…
I guess I can.