Back in the day, bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. This all changed in 1980 when the DSM-III (the manual used by behavioral health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders) was revised from the DSM-II. This change was adopted by the psychiatric community in order to destigmatize the condition and get away from the term “manic” which was tied to the word “maniac.”
I had my first bipolar psychotic episode in 1981, shortly after the time that this change took place. But, in many ways, the descriptors, “manic” and “depression” still apply. In the words of the 1967 song of the same name by Jimi Hendrix:
“Well, I think I’ll turn myself off and go on down
All the way down
Really ain’t no use in me hanging around
In your kind of scene
Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, and kiss, kiss
Manic depression is a frustrating mess”
Yes, manic depression is a frustrating mess. And while I’ve been able to stabilize my condition over the last 27 years, that doesn’t mean that I still don’t have my moments of distress. In fact, it’s an ebb and flow kind of thing.
For one, there’s my emotional state. I can definitely be moody at times. Just ask my wife, Suzy. I honestly don’t know how she manages to put up with me sometimes. And that is the first source of my frustration with this condition. While I can be well composed much of the time there are others, like now, when I feel out of sorts. Part of this is stress, I’m sure. I’m working a full-time job and juggling other projects outside of work, such as this blog and my YouTube podcast, Mental Health Verses, as well as those for my part-time business. So, ultimately, I guess you could say it’s of my own doing. But I’ve conditioned myself to work at this level so I find it difficult to just wind down. And when I do, I get emotionally unmanageable.
And then there’s sleep, one of the most critical aspects of life with bipolar. It never fails, whenever I go to see my psychiatrist, one of the first things out of his mouth is, “How’s your sleep?”
I went through a rough patch a couple of weeks ago. I had a couple of difficult nights where I struggled to fall asleep so I resorted to taking Zolpidem (the generic version of Ambien). But the third night was the worst. I just couldn’t wind down. My brain was just going and going and going. Usually, by the time it gets to about 12:30 a.m. I’ll take one, so I did. But this didn’t even help. Eventually, by the time it got to about 2 a.m. I knew that going to work the next day was out of the question. So, I went into the living room, put on my “Chill” Spotify playlist on my stereo and laid on the couch. I eventually did fall asleep.
I hardly even remember hearing Suzy leave for work. I was able to text my supervisor, the Executive Director where I work, that I needed the day off. I’m very open and honest with her about my mental health. I guess that’s one significant advantage of working for a mental health organization. I don’t have to hide my challenges.
I eventually called my psychiatrist’s office and informed the service about my predicament.. They relayed the information to him and they called me back with his instructions to up my dosage of Chlorpromazine from 1 50 mg tablet to 2-3. I managed to get through the day and that night I decided to take 2 of the tablets. The increased amount of the medication definitely helped me to sleep. But when I woke up the next morning I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The sedative effect of the upped dose of Chlorpromazine was long lasting. I did not like it one bit. Fortunately, the feeling wore off but I decided not to take the double dose the next night.
When all was said and done, I did some self-analysis and asked myself, “What is different now and why could this be happening?” One of the primary conclusions I came to was that I wasn’t exercising. In the past, exercise was a regular part of my routine. This produced multiple positive effects: better sleep, few, if any, depressive episodes, weight management, and simply a brighter outlook on life.
So, after meeting with my NA sponsee, we decided to join the local Jewish Community Center, which has a full gym with aerobic and weight machines. I went a week ago and signed up. When I was there the first day, I had this quote from Sir Isaac Newton come to mind, “A body at rest stays at rest. A body in motion stays in motion.” And this is what I need to do, stay in motion.
I’m still feeling a bit of a downswing, but this too shall pass, all feelings do. I’ve been through many of these kinds of experiences over the last 41 years. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that what goes up must come down. And so it is with manic depression. But as long as I keep things within a manageable state, I can handle this rollercoaster I’m on called life.