Interview: An Experience with Bipolar Disorder

AnonymityToday, I’m finally introducing a new (and hopefully recurring) feature: interviews. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but haven’t been able to make it work. After tossing around a few topic ideas, I ended up picking psychology which is one of my passions, and has been for a long time. I wanted to hear someone else’s experiences. I could easily talk about what my life is like, but it’s boring. I have an attachment disorder and all that means is that it’s almost impossible for me to feel close to people.

I also feel like I should add a disclaimer. Neither my guest nor myself are medical professionals. This interview shouldn’t be used to give advice. This is just one person’s experiences. For instance, he talks about tapering off his meds. This can be dangerous, and should be done with a doctor’s approval. There. Now no one can sue me.

Someone agreed to do my interview and talk about mental health from their perspective. Since most of my rants are based on religion, and this is my first interview, we’re going to call him, “Adam”.

 

ChrisDantes.com
So first, thanks for being my first interview! Could you explain your diagnosis?

Adam
I was diagnosed as bipolar 2 when I was 22. I have exhibited symptoms of depression and hypomania since I was 6 years old.

ChrisDantes.com
For those who aren’t familiar, what is the difference between bipolar 1 and bipolar 2?

Adam
Bipolar 1 is characterized by full manic episodes, while bipolar 2 is diagnosed in the case of a severely depressed individual who has had at least one instance of hypomanic, or near manic behavior. These episodes are characterized by compulsive spending, addictive behavior and an inability to restrict one’s speech.

ChrisDantes.com
So someone is bipolar 2, until they have a full manic episode, at which point the diagnosis changes to bipolar 1?

Adam
It’s a continuum but essentially yes, though someone who is bipolar 1 may have little or no depressive behavior and still be bipolar 1

ChrisDantes.com
Ah. Ok. So what are your experiences with bipolar? What’s the world like to you? What are the symptoms you usually have?

Adam
That question is a bit general. However, on a generalized level for me, it is regularly difficult for me to regulate my behavior as far as social norms are concerned. For example, I often will answer rhetorical questions in a compulsive type manner or make jokes that are grossly inappropriate. It may feel extremely difficult to wait for the end of a person’s sentence before speaking. Also for me it may become difficult for me to restrict the activity of my thought or even incoming sounds. The sounds may become unreasonably magnified, such that sleep or even an even heartbeat is difficult or unlikely.

ChrisDantes.com
Is it sometimes hard for you to focus on things?

Adam
Often. Discipline and self control are essential for basic day to day normalcy.

ChrisDantes.com
So what got you to see the doctor in the first place?

Adam
It was not voluntary. I saw one when I was 12 at the hospital and was able to smile my way through and avoid any sort of treatment. When I was 22 I was hospitalized for a near fatal overdose. At this point it became clear to me that if I wanted to live, medication would prove useful. I took fluoxetine and lithium* for about 5 years before I tapered them off and found balance through diet and exercise.

NOTE: Fluoxetine (Prozac) is an SSRI antidepresent. Lithium is a mood stabilizer, used to control manic like symptoms. They are often used together to address both the depression (lows) and the mania or hypomania (highs) to maintain a happy medium, pardon the pun.

ChrisDantes.com
Are you in any treatment right now?

Adam
No.

ChrisDantes.com
Why not?

Adam
I self medicate for anxiety with thc, provide serotonin and dopamine through sex and exercise. I regulate my top end through a near zero tolerance policy on simple sugars and simple carbs.
I do not want to be chemically dependent for my whole life. Also in many cases med levels increase as resistance increases I wished to avoid that.

ChrisDantes.com
Plus it takes a long time to find the right balance with the meds, and most patients give up when it doesn’t work right away. How has this healthy lifestyle affected your bipolar symptoms?

Adam
My upper end has had some spikes that manifested in some borderline behavior, but my depressive side has been much elevated. Near absence of suicidal thoughts and no suicide attempts or plans in the last 8 years. I am more aware of myself and how I effect others. I often have to apologize for being rude or socially inappropriate, but less often than when I was younger.

ChrisDantes.com
You mentioned seeing a doctor when you were 12 and smiling your way through it. Why didn’t you want treatment back then?

Adam
Fear of being over-medicated. I have received a lot of positive attention for my creative and intellectual abilities over the years; even then I was worried that medication would rob me of me unique advantages.

ChrisDantes.com
Yeah. There is a pantheon of highly creative people who have had bipolar throughout history.
Did you fear being labeled as “broken” for having a mental illness?

Adam
Yes, I even take exception to the term “mental illness”.

ChrisDantes.com
What term do you prefer?

Adam
I am not sick. I live in a social arena that requires a certain level of uniformity, for political and economic reasons. I and many others feel the pressures to be “normal” and hit our most extreme lows as a response to that pressure. I would call myself no more sick than a man who is hungry and then eats. A person who takes supplements or the like.

ChrisDantes.com
But don’t you think there’s a range of healthy behavior, and while you may remain in that range, things like schizophrenia are outside?

Adam
… This is a difficult topic for me.

ChrisDantes.com
We can stop or move on if you want.

Adam
I am loathe to create healthy and unhealthy distinctions. It feels very judgmental, but for practical purposes yes, there are people who can not blend with or without medication.

ChrisDantes.com
Ok. I see your point.

Adam
A Schizophrenic person in another time may have been seen as having some sort of connection with the supernatural. I’m not a big supernatural kind of guy but it is another valid diagnostic perspective.

ChrisDantes.com
Yeah. I’m very much interested in the advances we are going to make in brain scans to help us understand the underlying causes of these symptoms. Do you have a family history of bipolar?

Adam
Yes. My paternal grandfather and grandmother both. My grandfather hung himself when my father was 6 years old

ChrisDantes.com
Wow. Tragic. What about any other “disorders” in your family?

Adam
Alcoholism on my mother’s side. Both of her brothers struggled with it, often an indicator of low “happy chem” levels.

ChrisDantes.com
Heh. Addiction was going to be my next question. There’s such a strong correlation between substance abuse and mental health issues.

Adam
Yup. Substance abuse is in my opinion very difficult to avoid when one has a baseline depressive chemistry. Even over eating and manic exercise are symptoms.

ChrisDantes.com
I often wonder if the gene for addiction is related to the gene(s) for mental illnesses, or if having a mental disorder makes you more prone to self medication.

Adam
I too am curious. I would bet on the latter.

ChrisDantes.com
Me too. I come from a long line of both mental illness and addiction. Anyway, do people treat you differently when they find out you are bipolar?

Adam
I try to tell myself otherwise but, yes. Yes they do.

ChrisDantes.com
Any idea how we can remove that stigma?

Adam
Not likely. However, one can at least combat it personally, by being open about one’s challenges and expressing reliability and competency on a daily basis.

ChrisDantes.com
Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview. Having a mental health issue is no different to having any other health issue. You don’t look at someone with diabetes and think there’s something wrong with them.

Adam
Precisely.

ChrisDantes.com
Have you always been interested in psychology, or was it the result of wanting to learn about yourself?

Adam
What is psychology if not a desire to understand one’s own mind? If it were purely externally focused, psychology would be even more hypocritically minded than it already is.

ChrisDantes.com
Do you find comfort knowing that so many people are going through the same thing you are?

Adam
No.

ChrisDantes.com
Do you have any advice for people who have just found out they are bipolar?

Adam
Trust in yourself. Believe in the excellence inherent to your imbalance. Be patient with yourself.

ChrisDantes.com
Words to live by. Thank you so much for doing this interview.

Adam
No problem.

Well that does it for my first interview. I hope you enjoyed it.

2 comments

    • Julie on December 11, 2013 at 6:43 am
    • Reply

    Good interview. Good questions. Good guest. One good point your guest makes is that behavior is judged relative to societal norms.

    • Lauren on December 11, 2013 at 7:45 am
    • Reply

    Great Job.
    Very cool on ponits in life of being bipolar…and. what it takes to live day to day life.
    I give a Bow to you Addam, for staying strong and with yourself.

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