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Rose Warner: Surviving Rock Bottom

I'm a 32 year old female with Bipolar Disorder I who was 27 when initially diagnosed. Because I am rapid cycling ninety percent of the time, sleep only once or twice a week and have battled in the past with drinking habits that bordered on those of an alcoholic, you would think that my story is that of defeat. But I've overcome my Bipolar and am successfully managing my illness today.

The symptoms of Bipolar Disorder that first showed up in me were varied. When manic, I needed constant attention. I had to have constant noise around me (which I found in bars), went days without sleep, had no appetite for food, was massively irritable and had severe problems with anger and aggression. I constantly heard from my family about how mean and unjust I was to those around me, especially my husband. I put it down to having a high stress life and continued to ignore the signs, drinking away my problems and distancing myself from my friends and family.

I have always been a very independent and capable woman. When I was first diagnosed, I didn't want to admit to myself or anyone else that I "needed" medication to live a healthy and happy life. The fact that someone was labeling me "mentally ill" was more than I could take. I left the doctors office after the initial diagnosis, went to the store for a 12-pack of beer and went crying on the nearest shoulder.

Not Me.

In the following months I went through every stage of denial and depression. To admit to myself and others that I was mentally ill would ruin my life - the world that I live in is filled with million dollar lawyers driving expensive cars and living in billion dollar homes. What would they say? Or think? Who in this world of fast-talking lawyers would want anybody to know that their best paralegal in mentally ill? Needless to say, I continued to live like Jekyll and Hyde in order to support my family.

In order to try and prove that I didn't really have Bipolar Disorder, I headed to the library to do some research. At the library, every book I read felt like the author was someone that knew me personally and had written about me. I could no longer deny it. When I left, I headed for another 12-pack of beer. I really did have Bipolar Disorder. What was I going to do now?

Well, I did nothing, except drink and drink and drink, work a little bit, then drink some more. My doctor had told me earlier that many people with Bipolar Disorder "self-medicate" with alcohol, which is a very polite way of saying you drink too much, so I blew that off completely. My drinking moved from the weekends to the weekdays and increased steadily. As the days passed, I paid more attention to my moods and told myself that if I didn't drink I couldn't get to sleep and wouldn't have as much energy the next day. So to keep up with a hectic world, I was drinking all the time.

My marriage was in shambles, with me coming home at three or four in the morning if I came home at all. My children hated me and with just cause. They continually said I was mean to them and that I never spent any time with them. I made excuses to myself and told them that "Mommy's just tired," or "Mommy has to work a lot so that we can survive."

Hitting Rock Bottom

During my worst depression, I nearly lost my job because I began discussing cases outside of work. I was a litigation paralegal, and during episodes I couldn't control myself enough to be trusted not to "talk too much" about things that were forbidden. I went home crying and snapped at my daughter, who was only four at the time.

She shouted back at me, "You're mean! Why don't you go live somewhere else?" It was heartbreaking. I had lost control of my family and they couldn't stand me anymore.

I locked myself in my bedroom (again, with beer) and sat in the dark for hours and thought about how much I wanted to die. My husband came in later and I poured out my grief to him, including how devastating my life had become. He listened to everything I had to say until I told him that I wanted to die. At that point he yelled at me that, "If being here for our children isn't enough to make you want to live, and then something is seriously wrong with you!"

Deep down I knew what I was doing was wrong and hurtful, but I couldn't stop it, and I didn't know why. There had never been a day when I wasn't in control of my life. Now it appeared that some monster had a hold of me and just wouldn't let go. Months and months of passed while I refused treatment or medications. I was on the verge of divorce, my children wanted nothing to do with me and I was about to lose my job. Finally, my father (who also has Bipolar) told me that the medication really does help, and what did I have to lose at this point? So I went to a psychiatrist for treatment.

The Medication Juggling Act

Since June of 2002 I have tried approximately twenty-five different medications attempting to find the right one or combination of ones that will work for me. As many of you know, there are a host of side effects to contend with. I went through Lithium toxicity, which caused a temporary shut-down of my kidneys; 23% liver function while on Depakote; sky-high prolactin levels on Risperdal which was misdiagnosed as a brain tumor; and permanent memory loss from long-term use of Klonopin.

During this "experimental" medication phase, I began telling people that I had Bipolar Disorder. Unfortunately, it cost me my job - I was fired from the prestigious law firm where I worked! I spiraled into a depressive episode, swore off the medications because of the side effects, vowed to never tell another soul about my mood disorder, and began drinking again. I became an alcoholic, like 80% of people with Bipolar Disorder.

Four months later, I found myself in my bathroom with a razor blade, cutting my wrists while two of my children were in the next room. My seven year old knocked on the door and brought me back to reality. I realized, thank God, why I needed to take those horrible medications - for the people I love. I WANTED MY LIFE BACK! I decided then and there that I would do whatever it took to make myself happy, but most importantly, to be a good mother to the precious babies that God so blessed me with.

Taking Control of My Life

I quit drinking and returned to my doctor, but this time I was the one in control. I insisted that we go through EVERY medication for Bipolar Disorder one at a time that I had not already tried, along with the known side effects for each. He was none to happy about having to spend more than twenty minutes reviewing the information with me instead of the usual quick "med check," but he did it. After all, I was pissed off, demanded help, and wasn't leaving until I got it.

After we reviewed everything, I (not the doctor) chose which medication I would try next. Previously, I had never voiced an opinion as to what I was taking and always done whatever he said. Well, those days were over. I chose two of the older medications whose side effects had been well studied and were well established. If I'm going to suffer side effects, I'd rather know what they are than be some drug company's guinea pig.

I've played around with dosages in order to adjust them to my routine and schedule, and chosen medications that I can take at night, when drowsiness isn't a problem and my family can remind me to take them.

My job situation is back on track thanks to a great new boss. I was afraid when I was fired that they would broadcast my condition all over town, but they were very discreet. I was unemployed for only TWO DAYS. And working in the legal field, I've done a bit of research - the law does not require that you tell a potential employer that you have bipolar disorder. I have been with the same firm for seven months now and no one has a clue. I make more money than I did at my old job, and it is less stressful, with more flexibility.

I do giggle a bit when I hear others in the firm talking about "that crazy person with bipolar" that lives across the street from them and then tell somebody what an asset I have become to the firm. You have to laugh a little bit at other people's ignorance. It gets me through the day sometimes. Society still labels us as "crazy," but I take pride in myself every day because I didn't give up or give in to Bipolar and I never will.

Accepting Bipolar

I have accepted at this point that there is currently no cure for Bipolar Disorder. But there is also no cure for diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer! People with these ailments have to take medication to cope, Diabetics don't take insulin to be cured; they take it to survive longer. And that's what we "bipolars" have to do. Find whatever it is in your life that gives you the will to survive, and once you find the right medication, you can take your life back, too.

After all, isn't that why we're all mad? We're pissed off that this "monster" called bipolar has taken over our lives, and unfortunately we take our anger out on the ones that we love. Why? Because we can, and we know that they're going to love us anyway. Does that make it right? Of course not. But it does help those around us understand a little bit better, and understanding and knowing is bliss.

Finding What Works (and Finding Work!)

I believe that the most important key to living a successful life with Bipolar Disorder is a positive attitude. I know that there is no cure for Bipolar and that I will have to live with it my entire life. I was (and still am) so disgusted by the "statistics" that are given about those with Bipolar. The more I researched and learned about Bipolar Disorder, the more frightened I became of ending up a statistic; with no job, no money, no family, no health insurance, but most importantly no one that cares about me, but I refused to let those statistics determine my life. Instead, I set my own goals in life to continue to be successful, to stay employed, to show love to my family and friends, to live a happy life.

A big stress on most people with Bipolar is employment. People may hesitate to hire you because you have a mood disorder, or may think you can't keep a job because you have Bipolar. I would say to ANYONE with Bipolar Disorder that you should make it a top priority in your life to keep a job. It does not matter what kind of job, whether it be a corporate job or a job working at McDonald's. If you promise yourself to stay employed, not only does it give you the money you need to survive but it also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you can keep a job (which for anyone with Bipolar is an accomplishment in itself). Having a job and refusing to lose it will keep you moving even when you're depressed. When depression hits those with Bipolar, all you want to do is stay in the bed. However, the longer you stay in the bed and cooped up in the house the more depressed you become. It is a vicious cycle which takes a hold on some of us and we can never get out of it. Whether you are manic and have not slept in days, or you are depressed and don't want to move - you tell yourself that you HAVE to go to work. And I have proven to myself numerous times that when I return home from work that day, I feel sooo much better about myself than I ever have calling in "sick" and staying in the bed all day.

Enlisting Family and Friends

Keep your family and loved ones involved!!!!! I have learned that you can "lean" on different people for different needs. Of course my husband is always up to date with my progress and especially my medications so that he can help me watch out for adverse side effects. I also turn to my husband when I am manic and can't sleep (I make him take me for a ride on the Harley; the cool night air is very calming).

I turn to my best friend when I am depressed and just want some girl talk. I now have memory problems (thanks to Klonopin). My husband and I have another friend who is great remembering dates, so he calls to remind me to go to the doctor when I am scheduled to go. My teenage son reminds me to take my medication at night when it's his bedtime. It works!

As I learned about Bipolar Disorder, I was terrified that it would fright my children if they knew what was wrong with me. So I sat them down and put it in simple terms. Mommy has a chemical imbalance in my brain, that is why I get so depressed sometimes and that is why I get mad all the time. Therefore, Mommy's going to take this medication every day so that I can feel better and be a better mom. I did explain to my teenager that society labels Bipolar Disorder as a mental illness and that he does not have to tell his friends about it and I will never bring it up when his friends are in our home. And as I learn new things about Bipolar Disorder, we talk about it. And I do my best to explain it to them so that they understand what is happening and why it is happening. They are so comfortable with it now, that it's the "house goal" to see who can come up with the best Bipolar Disorder joke. Both my kids know that Bipolar Disorder is serious and it requires medication, but if we can make jokes about it, then that tells me that they are comfortable with it.

Of course, I still see my psychiatrist when I need to. I have learned that you can never have enough people on your staff!

If you are in a crisis please call:
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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