I want to preface this blog post with a few statements. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I may have multiple health issues, but they don’t even compare to the multiple problems that plague my loved ones, and I don’t want to, in any way, give the impression that the things wrong with me trump the things wrong with anyone else. However, pain is relative, and I may not be suffering as badly as the next person, but I am still fighting a battle… a battle of hidden/disguised diseases, of undiagnosed disorders, of endless attempts at medicinal concoctions to stop the pain and the hurt. Here’s a little bit of my story, in case you’re interested.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy. Well, rephrase. I know I’m crazy. I was diagnosed with rapid cyclic bipolar II disorder about 3 years ago, and that is something I will never escape. But, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I’m just a hypochondriac that can’t overcome a little fatigue and joint ache. I’m starting to wonder if I dramatize the things that my body throws at me. If I’m just not strong enough, mentally, physically, emotionally, to overcome the things that normal people traipse through like they’re nothing. I’ve been to multiple doctors who never seem to have any answers. I’ve done blood work after blood work after blood work, to find that (mostly) things are normal. Am I just weak, internally and externally? Too weak to fight it? Too dramatic to keep on swimming? I am running out of the energy to even get out of bed most mornings, and I don’t know why.
I’ve experienced (and I won’t put suffered from here, because I wouldn’t call it suffering. I’m plagued by my bipolar, but I have also not been completely debilitated by it, so I don’t think of it as suffering) three trying years of rapid cycling between hypomania and depression. I’m lucky enough to not be type I, where hypomania intensifies into full-blown mania, but rapid cycling is very difficult, mainly because it is unpredictable. Sometimes, I remain middle-of-the-road. Unimpacted by my emotions. Other times, I am depressed, but remain in mild state of depression. Severe depression is rare for me, and I am blessed to have never been truly suicidal. The hypomania, well… those are the fun times, but also unpredictable and dangerous, both physically and materialistically (financially, healthily, etc.). Hypomania is dangerous as it not only presents physical/health problems and unstable moods, but also as it encourages and normalizes abnormal and often risky behavior, including risky sexual behavior, risky financial moves, and the inability to make stable decisions from unstable circumstances.
My bipolar is maintenanced by a mood stabilizer paired with an anti-depressant. I was told that forgoing the mood stabilizer would be dangerous as the anti-depressant alone would disrupt that necessary balance of highs and lows, and would encourage more episodes of hypomania. Instead, I am on a mood stabilizer, which minimizes the highs, and an ineffective anti-depressant which does nothing for the lows. Even without my medication, my hypomanic episodes were much less frequent than my depressive episodes. Now with the mood stabilizer in the mix, which is designed to level the hypomania and depressive episodes and leave me middle-of-the-road, my hypomania episodes are extremely rare and my depressive episodes, while they are less severe and are moderately controlled, are still dominant. Hypomania can be dangerous, but it makes those with cyclic bipolar II feel much more “normal” and happy than experiencing recurrent depression.
As if my bipolar wasn’t overwhelming enough, I recently
stumbled crashed into the debilitating world of anxiety. Panic attacks took control of my lungs, my mental state, my semblance of normalcy that I was able to maintain with my bipolar under control. Panic attacks knocked me backwards on my ass, and it was excruciatingly hard to breathe through the pain, both figuratively and literally, when it felt like I had a five ton weight on my chest. Too many benzodiazepines later, before I researched them and found out how dangerous they were, my anxiety was back under control. It is still something I battle, but I try to keep it under control to avoid ingesting more dangerous benzo cocktails. Panic attacks are terrifying, heart-attack-like spasms that shut down your fight or flight responses, smother your lungs with the dark, thick smog of confusion, depression, and hopelessness, and cripple your equilibrium until you crumble to the floor—a position in which you, of course, cannot breathe. Panic attacks are terrifying. Luckily, I am learning to let go of many things that used to upset me, slowly but surely, and this does help me control my anxiety.
Last but certainly not least is my indescribable, undiagnosed, unexplainable bout with fatigue, joint and muscle pain and weakness, tingling, numbness, uncharacteristic hot “flashes” that last thirty minutes or more, crippling migraines and frequent headaches, and the desperate and ever-depressing cross from “I will” to “I can’t.” Let me tell you how much it sucks to tell your four year old daughter that you can’t get on the living room floor with her and do a puzzle. That you can’t carry her down the stairs to her preschool classroom. That you can’t stand up with her while she picks out her clothes; you have to sit down on her bedroom floor and patiently wait for the energy to return.
Those that know me have probably noticed some of this. If I go to a coworker’s office for help, I’m leaning against their desk or kneeling by it, too weak to support my own weight. I recently bought a Bluetooth because I can’t hold my hand to my ear long enough for a productive conversation. And I just chopped all my hair off because blow drying/straightening my hair requires me to support my arms above my head…something which is becoming harder and harder to do.
I have been to multiple doctors with no answers. I don’t sleep? Well, that’s because I am busy and stressed. I don’t have any energy? Hello, four year old. I’m in pain? I don’t exercise enough. Except for attempting to chase said four year old. I am sick of not having any answers. They’ve tested my thyroid—normal. They’ve tested my hormones—normal. Blood cells—normal. I just want a diagnosis, so I can get a treatment plan. I am sick of sitting back and watching my daughter grow up. I am sick of leaving all the housework and intimacy to my husband because I just don’t have the energy to help out. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. My PCP finally preliminarily diagnosed lupus due to the presence of ANA antibodies in my blood, only to have that shut down by the rheumatologist yesterday. Now, we have possibilities including but not limited to RA, chronic mono (which I can’t even find on google), chronic fatigue syndrome (which I’m only gathering because that’s what I get when I google chronic mono), vitamin D or B deficiencies, or fibromyalgia. I just want a diagnosis. I am not going to say this is unfair, because I am more than lucky to have all of my limbs in functioning order and a body that works, even if it doesn’t work as well as I’d like. I am just so ridiculously desperate for answers… for a diagnosis. For treatment. To get back to my daughter and my husband and my life.
So, in case you are wondering, when I post those ominous facebook statuses about three hour naps and being sick and tired of being sick and tired… here it is. I am not going to hide behind the stigma of my mental health problems, and I am not going to disguise the physical pain and ailments I am facing. I am, and have always been, a relatively open book, so here it is. If anyone has any advice for regaining physical energy and motivation, or any low-energy workout plans or nutritional recommendations, I would love to hear them. I have to get back to myself.