Saturday, July 5, 2008

Identity Theft

One of the most insidious effects of my bipolar diagnosis was the way it robbed me of my identity...

I was not suicidal, nor was I psychotic, or even a whole lot out of control. I initially went to my GP because I couldn't sleep. I hadn't slept more than a few hours for nearly a week, and wasn't feeling tired, and I figured that wasn't normal, I ought to be maybe I better get this checked out. I was also under an enormous amount of stress, and my anxiety levels were sky-high due to some extremely stressful Family Bullsh*t that was going on at the time. Did anyone ask about that? No. Instead, I was asked if I'd ever been depressed. And since I said yes (although I'd never been diagnosed or medicated for it), I was sent home with Zyprexa and Ambien, and told I should call a psychiatrist.

This led to an ever-descending spiral of self-doubt. In my reading, I learned that my writing highs--those times when I could just let go and write for hours on end--were actually "hypomania". And those times when I felt like I just loved life and really enjoyed everything I was doing--that was "hypomania", the last two or three years of my life, which had been wonderful, happy years in which I felt productive, and excited about my future, suddenly took on the sinister aspect of an "illness". Which must be "managed." I learned that if I ever felt that way again--exuberant and loving life--that I should talk to my psychiatrist immediately, because I urgently required a "medication adjustment." And that if I didn't have my medications adjusted, the hypomania could steamroll on into full blown "mania" in which I would be completely out of control and need to be hospitalized (even though I had never been close to being "out of control"). I also learned that if I felt just a little bit sad, I needed to consider that a "warning sign" and to talk to my doctor because I might be getting "depressed". Which would require that another medication or three be added to my "cocktail" in order to prevent me from becoming so ill that I might kill myself (even though I'd never really considered that seriously before). Overnight, my perception of myself went from creative, confident and happy to "very sick and in need of medication for the rest of my life."

For the next two years, I would be haunted by the question, "How much of my personality is me and how much is it?" The answer, according to my psychiatrist, was that a lot of my drive, my energy, my productivity, and my creative whirlwinds could be attributed to it. So I figured whatever was left over once the medications were working, that was probably the real me. And since I lost my ability to think, laugh, create, write and enjoy life once I was medicated, I began to think that the real me wasn't worth very much, was she? She was actually a hopeless, dull-witted, exhausted lump who couldn't even speak without stumbling over her words, and didn't want to do anything but sit on the couch.

Life was pretty dismal for those two years. I no longer had the capacity to enjoy life, and the medications I was taking actually made me more sick. My moods began to cycle, and within a year I'd had three "episodes" each requiring that my medications be adjusted (read "increased") and that new medications be added. My doctor pointed this out to me as proof of just how sick I was.

I am so glad that I retained enough clarity and sense of self to say Enough. Unfortunately, it took a near-tragedy to shake me back to my senses (my husband's heart attack and my inability to respond to it in any sort of normal way). But however it happened, I did finally see the light and realize that my misplaced trust in psychiatry was only making me sicker, and that there had probably been nothing wrong with me in the first place that a little therapy or education in stress management wouldn't have taken care of.

I stopped taking medications over a very short period, probably too short, but then I didn't have much in the way of medical support--my psychiatrist's view of stopping medications was that it would be "stupid" and that I would "ruin my life". He didn't say It would be a bad idea, but if you're hell bent on doing it, here's how to do it safely, no, he just said Don't.

When I came off of meds, I was a mess. I had no idea who I really was anymore. After being told that all the things I had loved about myself were due to my illness, my self-confidence had taken a serious hit. I was terribly overweight and out of shape and dreadfully ashamed of myself for having let myself get into that condition. It took a long time for the anger to fade, for me to accept what I'd allowed to be done to me. And in some ways, I think I am still working on that acceptance, because the anger is still smouldering away in there.

After I was off most of the drugs, my sense of self, my sense of humor, and my ability to enjoy life slowly returned over a period of a few months. It took a longer time for my creativity and my confidence in myself as an artist to return--after all, I'd been told that all of my artistic achievements were actually manifestations of my "illness". For a long time I wondered if my drive to create--to write and to "make stuff"--would ever come back, or if the medications had damaged my brain in some subtle way and I'd never be able to create again--or worse, even want to.

Thank goodness I took my life back into my own hands. I dread to think where I would be now if I hadn't. I certainly wouldn't be myself.

Writing Prompt: Has there ever been a time in your life when your identity, your sense of self, was threatened by a label, an event, or a person/group? How did you deal with it and in what ways did this experience change you? If you've never experienced a threat to your sense of self, what sort of event do you think it would take to do this? Where are your vulnerabilities?


Gianna said...

yay! here's to you being you and me becoming me!!

naturalgal said...

Hi Jazz,

I am glad you came of the medications. I can relate to a lot of what you say in this post.

Jazz said...

I think the loss of identity was one of the hardest things to deal with...apart from the medication side effects.

JohnDX1 said...

I guess I'm lucky. In all the years I've seen psychiatrists, I've never encountered anyone so irresponsible or obtuse. It may be that the drug co's have too great a grip on the profession these days or just that the pro's don't want to let anyone out of their grasp. Anyway, great for you that you could finally turn it around. When drugs make you feel stupid - I think that's a sign they're no good for you. You didn't need them!

John D

Jazz said...

You are lucky, John, if you've had good care!

The longer I go without any "episodes" (four years and counting!), the more I think that I didn't need those drugs at all in the first place.

colouredmind said...

Wow off medication, I wish I could do that but I am too scared of ending back up in hospital. The whole thing about illness and personality really interests me. I once tried to work out what was me and what was illness and I coouldnt do it. Hannah X

Jazz said...

For me, going off meds wasn't what I considered a huge risk since I'd never been hospitalized with it in the first place. I think whether or not I actually have bipolar is questionable at this point...I don't deny that I've had mood swings, and I've definitely had hypomania and depression, but I suspect that these symptoms may well have been caused by me ingesting way too much aspartame...a chemical toxicity rather than a mental illness...or perhaps a mental illness caused by a chemical toxicity. At any rate, since I've started taking better care of myself, I've not have any problems with mood swings, so we'll see how things go.

Coco said...

Thanks for sharing this Jazz, I can relate to a lot of it. ~coco

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
I was so moved by your story. It's really quite extraordinary that doctors can take "people like us," diagnose us and label creative behavior as part of an illness, give us medication that makes us really ill, destroy a lifetime of competence, make us forget who we are, and be totally unaware of the consequences of their behavior.

My experience was similar to yours except that I had suffered from so many undiagnosed depressions before the diagnosis, and I took medication for a decade.

I, too, am grateful that I finally said, "Enough" and began trusting that everything they had said was wrong.

Once I stopped taking all the medication (except for the two remaining drugs, which I stopped three weeks ago), it took four years for my brain to recover.

For the first time in 15 years, I finally feel like I'm back--truly back--to being myself. I'm just grateful I survived their treatment, which I consider a travesty. Others haven't been as lucky!


Jazz said...

I am grateful that I saw the light and got out before I lost too much of my life, too. I really believe that more care needs to be taken with these potentially life-altering diagnoses and treatments. There is way too much medicating going on, and not enough understanding. But with the system set up the way it is, I don't see any easy way out of it, either.

Wellness Writer said...

What astounds me is the people who are truly getting worse on medication and yet are true advocates for it.

They must not read their own blogs, because it's so obvious. Yes, the system is to blame, but there are a number of us who have spoken out and yet, the people who argue the loudest (at least to me) about how valuable their medication is--don't seem to see their own decline.

Ultimately, I believe we are providing a tremendous service by speaking out--and yet, they don't hear what we're saying.


Gianna said...

the people who are ready to hear do hear us...

and the others, well someday they may remember what we've said and it may save them...

it took us many years to figure it out...everyone has their path to follow...

but I share your frustration absolutely...I just can't read most mental health blogs...

Jazz said...

Susan & Gianna--

Agreed. I find many of these blogs painful to read. A lot of these people are so invested in their illnesses that they are blinded to the fact that the medications may well be making them worse.

True recovery requires more than just swallowing a pill...but a lot of people aren't ready to hear that. When they are, hopefully they will find us.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz and Gianna,
I feel like we're the Three Musketeers! LOL

P.S. Gianna,when I was doing research for all those years, if I had found one person who was off medication and doing as well as I am, I would have flown around to the world to meet with her.

Jazz said...

Well, gosh, Susan, I don't know if I've been around long enough to have earned Musketeer status...Musketeer-in-training, perhaps?

Gianna said...

you've been around've done your time!!

you are a full-fledged muskateer!!

Jazz said...

Woo hoo!
Do I get a T-shirt?
And one of those cool hats?
And...and...a sword?

Jazz said...

(It's the sword I really want, you know!)

Wellness Writer said...

You can have a sword, the hat, and a t-shirt as far as I'm concerned. (Actually, my son has a sword from his fencing lessons that he's no longer using! It's for foil, although you'd probably want a saber!)


Jazz said...

Hubby has a katana I could use...but what I really want is a decent +5 flaming longsword. They're so hard to come by these days! (Er...sorry...D&D was cancelled this week due to some national holiday or something...and I'm going through withdrawals...I need my weekly dose of monsters, mayhem and mirth!)

Tilting at Windmills said...

I'm late to this post, but I completely identify. The most severe damage I experienced from diagnosis and treatment was exactly the loss of confidence and identity that you describe. Now that the meds are long gone, this is where I still struggle. Wonderful post.

Jazz said...

Thanks, Tilting at Windmills! It's good to see you back here.

It's taken me a good long while to get that confidence and sense of self back, too. It certainly didn't happen overnight. I wish these doctors had a sense of all the collateral damage their meds and their diagnoses cause. Perhaps they'd be more careful about handing them out...or perhaps not. Something needs to change, though.