Yay for Chemical Imbalance! (No not really)

I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. My neurotransmitters are jacked up, specifically serontonin, nor epinephrine, and dopamine. I really don’t know how these things work, but this is the havoc they wreak:

I am one in five who has mental illness. I won’t pretend it’s okay and I am fine because it’s not and I’m not. It sucks to have your own brain, thoughts and emotions lie to you, betray you. And that is what my brain, and the brains of millions of others like me do. I don’t know for sure since I’m not “normal”, but I suspect normal people don’t have to try to gauge if their feelings and thoughts are reality or not. I don’t have that luxury. When I get sad, I have to try and figure out if there’s a reason I feel that way and if it’s valid or not. Am I sad or am I depressed? When I get angry, I have to figure out am I angry about something specific or am I hypomanic. All of this can be anxiety producing, which I have in addition to bipolar disorder.

So let me delve deeper into my brand of bipolar disorder. I call it my brand because bipolar is different for everyone. It varies in symptoms, severity, duration of phases, etc. For me, there is no happy place in bipolar. I have no euphoria, as some people do with mania or hypomania. I am just agitated, irritable, and prone to outbursts of temper. The insomnia that goes along with hypomania intensifies the agitation. It can, and has gotten bad enough that I have hallucinations, most likely from prolonged insomnia. I really hate my version of hypomania, and so does everyone else. I try very hard not to go there.

Depression isn’t much better, but it is my comfort zone. I’m an Eeyore at heart. My mood tends towards depression. I am very sensitive and cry easily. My heart is big and big hearts get hurt easily. When I get depressed, I just want to crawl into my bed and never come out.

I also have the added bonus of anxiety disorder. It seems as though it can go hand in hand with bipolar disorder for many of us. Panic attacks are unbelievably frightening. If you’ve ever had one, you know what I mean. Imagine having them at random, for no reason. I can’t begin to tell you how traumatizing they are. I can tell you many stories of my having public panic attacks that sent me running out of stores, buildings, etc.

Another component to this swirling mess, at least for me, are anniversaries. I have a syndrome of sorts when it comes to anniversaries of certain traumatic events. I may not remember that the event occurred on a particular day, but will just become inexplicably sad, then later realize why I am crying. I also have difficulties with holidays and certain months as well as seasons.

So I think it’s clear that my brain hates me and generally sucks, but how do I deal with all of this? I take medications and sometimes engage in psychotherapy when in crisis. Medications for bipolar disorder suck. If you normal people wonder why bipolar people have a hard time taking their meds, it’s partly because some like the euphoria they get without meds. For the rest of us, the side effects really blow. I used to be of average size. Then I started a mood stabilizer and promptly gained 50lbs in a matter of a few months. I’ve spent the last several years since my diagnosis on the weight fluctuation roller coaster. Being fat affects a person’s self esteem. I’m fat and I hate it. Yes I am actively trying to lose weight and have managed to lose some weight, but it comes off much more slowly than it goes on. Other meds have other side effects, like dry mouth, which can cause teeth to disintegrate. Some meds cause apathy. Others cause headaches.

Despite all of this, I am still plugging away at this thing called life. I’m working full time, though what I really want to be is a mental health advocate and not just a nurse, as I am now. I am married to my best friend, who also happens to have his own brand of bipolar disorder and anxiety. We have a blended family of four kids and two dogs and are fairly happy, though our children have their own challenges.

I started writing this post as a way of explaining what goes on in my head, but maybe I attached some hope at the end. It’s really way past time to end the stigma of mental illness, so maybe if those of us dealing with it can write about it, others might gain more understanding for us. Thanks for reading.