Living with mental illness, part 2: bipolar 2 disorder, 30s and 40s

I forgot to mention in my previous post that I actually went to two therapists in my late 20s. They weren’t much help, so I guess I just forgot about them.
I can’t remember if they were psychologists or psychiatrists, but it doesn’t really matter. They had both the same form of therapy, where I was supposed to sit and talk about something, while they just made notes in my journal. That kind of one-sided monologue didn’t really do anything for me. I had no problem talking about my problems, but I had problems engaging my emotions, so it just became an intellectual thing which didn’t help me deal with what I was feeling.

After I hit 30, in 1996, my periods of depression came on faster, with less time between them. There wasn’t a pattern any more.

I began to get depressed in autumn 1995, and I had a major depressive episode in January 1996, when I was 29. I went to my doctor and got anti-depressants again. What I didn’t know was that when you are bipolar, you need a moodstabiliser in addition to an anti-depressant. This time the anti-depressant caused rapid cycling in my moodswings. My mood could change from hypomanic to depressed during the same day. If I was at work when I was hyper, I couldn’t get any work done, because my attention span was too short. I would sit and spin on my office chair and sing along to the songs on the radio. I realised that the anti-depressants were making things worse, so I stopped taking them.
My boss at the time didn’t believe me when I said I struggled with depression, and that was why I took the occasional day off on sick leave. I had to have my therapist call her and tell her that I was in therapy and that I was depressed.

In 1997, when I was 30, I had the worst depressive episode so far. One day in January I woke up and I just couldn’t get out of bed, because life seemed so utterly meaningless. It went on for days, then weeks, then months.
The only reason why I managed to get up in the evening, was to crawl out of bed to check that my cat had food and water and a clean litterbox, then I would crawl back into bed.
I had to give my mother written authority to pay my bills for me. I still used to go to the bank to pay bills back then. She also had to do my shopping, because I could hardly get out of bed, much less get outside of my flat. I ate very little and lost weight.

My doctor sent me for an evaluation at Oslo hospital, but I knew from my own inquiries into therapy that they treated people with anxiety, not depression. I went anyway, and they quickly came to the same conclusion as I did, that I was very depressed.
I didn’t ask for anti-depressants this time, because I didn’t know what might happen if I tried them again.
My doctor gave up on me; she was useless. So I had to look around and see if I could find any place to get treatment, on my own.

I was able to find out about therapy offered at Ullevål Sykehus (Ullevål hospital); it was five months (I think) as a day patient at a psychiatric section there. I went and got the application form and filled it out and sent it in.
While I was at Ullevål Sykehus, I answered a lot of questions and filled out a lot of forms. Here they were finally able to diagnose me correctly, with a bipolar 2 affective disorder. They gave me a combination of an anti-depressant (Cipramil) and a moodstabiliser (Orfiril), and that began to work. I haven’t had a hypomanic epsiode since I began to take a moodstabiliser.
So I didn’t get the help I needed until I was 31.

I was very unhappy and a lot of my thoughts were about how I had originally wanted to be an artist, and not a librarian/archivist. I had dreamed about going to art college, but my mother advised me to take an education where I could be sure to get a job afterwards. I could do arts and crafts in my spare time, she said. I thought at the time that this was sound advice, but I mourned the loss of not having gone to art college. When I was depressed, all my creativity died. I had no energy after work to do anything, and that depressed me even more.

I went in group therapy afterwards, but that didn’t really work for me. The people in the group had too different issues. I worried about what kind of meaning there was to life, what the point was of continuing, while others worried about what kind of curtains to put up…

I went back to work for some months in 1997 and 1998, but then I got ill again, and had to go on another sick leave for months. When I came back, we had a new boss, and he was even less understanding about my problems than our previous boss. I had problems with him and was very unhappy at work, so I got ill again in August 1998, and was on sick leave until spring 1999.
Then we had a meeting with my case worker from the pensions office, my doctor, my mother and my boss. We were supposed to discuss how I could be reinstated at work, because my work tasks had been taken away from me by my boss and assigned to a higher position, which he claimed I wasn’t qualified for. I was a konsulent (consultant??) and my work tasks had been assigned to a førstekonsulent‘s (first consultant??) position. The only thing my boss said was “I don’t want to see you back at the workplace ever again!”, and then he left.
I was in shock. It made me fall apart and become ill again. If I had been well, I would have gone to my union representative and taken up the fight against my boss. What he did was illegal; you can’t just shut an employee out of the workplace without firing them, and you have to have a really good reason to fire someone when you work for a government institution like an university. But I let myself be shut out, and in spring 2000, I got a letter from the university where they fired me because I had been on a sick leave for over a year.
It was actually a huge relief. Now I didn’t have to think about that workplace from hell ever again!

I was away from the work scene most of the time from 2000 until 2006.
I first tried to work for a computer firm, but that didn’t work out; I wasn’t well enough.
Then I tried to get a new education in computers and data. I did really well during the first of two terms – I was the next oldest in my class and got the next best grade on my exam! – but I became ill again and dropped out during the second term.
Then I tried to work in a school library in 2005, but I lost my beloved granny in March 2005 and I was crushed. I tried to get back to work in autumn 2005, but then I tore something in my knee and couldn’t walk for a few months.

In 2005 I found a new therapist, a psychiatrist who could also help me with administering my medication. He did cognitive behavioural therapy, and we had a dialogue! I would talk and he would come with advise and input. This was a kind of therapy that worked for me.

In 2006 I decided to try and work again. My therapist had been working with me on issues regarding work. I started work training at a library, and started part time. I was able to reach full time during the year I worked there.
After that I worked as a temp for six month here and there. In the third temp job I had I got a position as a førstekonsulent, and I could mentally say “Hah!” to my old boss from hell.

After my fourth temp job I applied for a permanent job, and got it. It went well for a couple of years, but then my anti-depressants stopped working. I got ill again, while we tried to find a new one, so I had to go on a sick leave. The first anti-depressant we tried didn’t work, so then we had to try another one. It takes time to change anti-depressants. It takes at least two months before you can see if they have any effect, and then you have to stick with them for a couple of more months to see if they work. The second one seemed to work; it was Effexor.
I was on a sick leave in 2009. Then in 2010 I went back to work part time. Then I had a surgery in February 2011, and got a couple of complications after the surgery which triggered another period of depression, and that was when I gave up on getting back to work.
They had to let me go in March 2012.

I thought I had fought my way back to work, to stay, but I was wrong. It was terribly disappointing.
Things would take a turn for the much worse in November 2012, but that is for the next post.

One of the worst things about having a depressive disorder, is that the depressions can come without being triggered by anything in particular. It’s like a knob gets slowly turned in my mind and when it has reached a certain point, I can’t prevent myself from having a depressive episode. It starts slowly at first, with a loss of energy. I don’t have the energy to do anything after work, not even meet up with friends. Then I start to loose interest in my hobbies. And then, one day, I’m too depressed to get out of bed and go to work.
When I get depressed I feel guilty, because I’m depressed for no reason at all. It’s like “What have I got to be depressed for?! People in the world are suffering and have good reason to be depressed, and here am I, depressed for no reason at all!”
The emotional pain of being depressed is almost unbearable. And all the negative thoughts: “I’m useless. I’m worthless. Nobody really cares about me, they just hang out with me when I ask because they are too polite to say no. No one calls me, I always have to call them. I’m sure I could have been gone for three months and no-one would have thought to call me. I fail at everything. I can’t manage to go to work. I can’t manage to do any arts or crafts. I’m a shitty artist anyway, so what’s the point of even trying.” And so on…
It’s a relief when I get to the point where I’m just too exhausted to even feel anything.
I’m just sitting in a dull, grey hole.
And then I find that I want to watch a movie or a tv show, because I’m actually bored. And I realise, “Hey, I actually managed to get out of bed today!”
And slowly the knob is turned the other way, and it seems like sounds and colours are coming back again. And I begin to regain an interest in my hobbies. And then, when I worked, I find that I have the energy to go back to work again.

I’ve come to realise that I have to remind myself, that no matter how depressed I am and how painful it is, eventually things will start to go upward again. I haven’t found any clever way to fight myself out of depressive periods. The only thing I know how to do is to hold on and wait until things get better again, and they always do.


About Amber Drake

AKA Darkamber.
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8 Responses to Living with mental illness, part 2: bipolar 2 disorder, 30s and 40s

  1. zophael says:

    Hi Amber,

    I too live with bipolar disorder and just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. It took me two decades to get diagnosed and a slew of mismanaged medications to finally find the right dosage, with a heavy side dish of side effects. I can only imagine how hard it was in earlier decades to get proper treatment. I also struggle with being spiritually headblind, but my faith has probably saved me more times than I can count. I hope you can find strength in your faith, family, and friends. Best of luck.

    • Amber Drake says:

      Thanks for telling me this. It’s comforting knowing I’m not alone.
      I struggle with being spiritually headblind, too. One of the things that kept me going through a very hard time was my faith, my family and my friends. I trusted that Loki was with me, even though I couldn’t sense Him.

  2. Poppy says:

    I guess you could say I’m at the ppint where I just watch the knob turn back and forth with an eyetwitch. I stopped trying to engage in anything meaningful and lasting because I end up falling down again, usually after losing interest in the project and feeling humiliated when people tell me that you have to keep going even after you lose interest because that’s the difference between a quitter and a person with integrity.

    Yeah, fuck you very much, right?

    I’ve basically lost almost all interest and nearly all desire. In everything. I think Odin and Loki take turns kicking my ass and dragging my ass where I need to go.

    • Amber Drake says:

      feeling humiliated when people tell me that you have to keep going even after you lose interest because that’s the difference between a quitter and a person with integrity.

      That is a very mean and stupid thing to say to someone with a mental illness! It’s the illness that sometimes forces us to drop out of things, not because we are “quitters” or “lack integrity”!
      I have tried many projects with evening classes, but I became ill and had to quit most of them. I certainly don’t look upon myself as a quitter, and I certainly don’t lack integrity.

      I’ve basically lost almost all interest and nearly all desire.

      I know exactly what that feels like. It’s the way I feel when I’m not well.

  3. Poppy says:

    My schizophrenic mother in law said it best: Just do what you can do, it’s all you can do.

  4. moonfire2012 says:

    Your depressive episodes sound like my panic attacks. They come for no reason and without warning till they’re out of control and I need treatment. I wonder if both depression and anxiety come from the same parts of the brain.

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