Aaron J. Smith is a wonderful father
who lives with bipolar disorder.
I was diagnosed bipolar in August of 2008.
The diagnoses made so much sense out of the life I was living, out of the lows and highs I kept jumping between. It made sense out of the crazy stories from my early 20’s, out of the jobs I quit over and over, out of the manic days I kept chasing and the drinking I did to keep the depression at bay.
I remember the day I was diagnosed. My therapist and I had been talking for a few weeks about the depression I was in the middle of. I was in such a numb fog that I couldn’t remember much prior to this round of depression. She sat across from me in those leather chairs, pulled out the DSM IV, and rattled off the list of symptoms I had. Then she said, “These are all the qualifications for the bipolar II mood disorder.”
At last I knew what the hell was wrong with me.
I got on some medication within the next week or so, and lucky me the first medication I tried worked. It pulled back the darkness of the depression and at the same time kept my mood from swinging into the mania that was equally as dangerous. It just worked, and I felt good for the first time in so, so long.
I eventually had to stop taking my medicine. When I lost insurance with the loss of a job I simply couldn’t afford it. The one thing that was helping me live a normal life I had to stop taking because of money. It sucked. The actual process of my body going off this medication cold turkey was its own little hell. Not something I recommend to anyone, but it’s what I had to do at the time.
So, there I was; bipolar and off my medications. And the depression came back. And when that finally let up, my mania was there to fill in the gap. Then, finally, the day came and my little miracle drug came as a generic version and I could afford it. Only this time, it didn’t work. This sent me into the long game of “Let’s try some medicine and see how you react.” My doctor and I played this game for several months, and then several more. Nothing seemed to just work. It was always needing something else.
Finally, we found a drug combination that worked well enough. I could survive the depression, avoid the mania, and the side effects weren’t too bad. Even then, I had good days and bad days. I had days I couldn’t go to work, days I couldn’t quite shake the something. Depression wasn’t the right word, but it was the only word I had for what I was feeling.
Around this time, after a particularly rough Sunday afternoon, I entered into a partial hospitalization program. It was an intensive three weeks of group therapy and weekly psychiatric visits. This psychiatric stuff was new to me. Up until then, I had just been working with my general practitioner. I came to realize that while he was a good doctor, this was out of his league. Simply put, I hadn’t gotten the care I needed from him. This program proved that.
I was diagnosed as having a bipolar mood disorder and having a generalized anxiety disorder.
My medications were changed and adjusted. After the three weeks, I was released into follow up care with my current therapist and psychiatrist. I went back to work, and have been living with the good and bad days since.
I still can’t go to work some days. This is one of the hardest things about my illness right now. I’m the sole breadwinner for our family. When I can’t work, we feel it. Honestly, it makes me feel like a loser, worthless and unable to live a normal life. I have to remind myself that I am still ill, I still have a sickness, a disease, and that means that I have limitations in my life at times.
These days, it’s the panic that gets me. My bipolar seems to be under control, or at least manageable for now. But the anxiety and panic that erupt out of nowhere: that is what just lays me low these days. It’s made it so I can’t work, so I can’t go places with friends, so that some days I can’t leave the house. This panic is the symptom of my illness that right now I am wrestling hard with.
I guess that’s the point of all this: I wrestle with my illness and I always will.
As much as I want a magic pill to take away my symptoms, it’s not there. I have ways that I am treating my illness, ways I am fighting it and wrestling through it, but it’s a condition I have to live with. Just like someone with diabetes has to live with their condition. The wrestling is hard, but it also means that I am still here, still alive and that my sickness hasn’t killed me yet.
It also means that I can live. I am not any of my diagnoses. I have a life and dreams and desires that I want to chase. I can do that. This is why I am getting treatment for my disorders: so that I can live my life my way despite having bipolar and anxiety disorders. My life is not destined to be abnormal just because of my diagnosis, because of my illness.
This is why I remain in treatment, why I try to live healthy, and why I want to keep fighting. I have a life left to live. I want my sons to see that. That is the legacy I want to leave them with, not my illness. So I will fight this, remain in treatment, and continue to learn to live with this illness. I will continue to live.
Photo: Aaron Smith
This article was originally featured on Stigma Fighters.