Poles Apart

Candice Nolan / Oct 7, 2017

Poles Apart

My psychiatrist seems to have diagnosed me with Bipolar II Mood Disorder. I say “seems to”, because I’m not sure – first, as to whether it’s her considered diagnosis and secondly because I fear the label.

Postpartum Depression, as a diagnosis, is more palatable. It’s easier to talk about and people seem to understand it better. But Bi-polar?! That sounds hectic. What will my bosses think? How would my colleagues relate to me now?

You see, it all started when the good doctor (my psychiatrist) asked me to write down my life story, from birth to present day. I mentioned, in passing, that during my varsity years and even into my working career, I could go for three days without sleep. I put it down to the craziness of youth. The doctor reckons that’s not normal.

We also know that I have suffered with depression (undiagnosed) before. I believe it was the reason I drank. Self-medication they call it.

I was a very anxious child. I grew up with an alcoholic father, and witnessed abuse in the home. But I excelled at school and, apart from a alcohol filled first year which almost lead to my being kicked out, I did pretty well in varsity too. I was slowly realising a dream I had since the age of 9: to be a journalist, to make a difference.

I put my all into my career. It became a huge part of my identity. I would obsess about a particular story. Procrastinate. Mull over a script or story plan. “Sleep on it” but not actually slumber. Cram to finish to deadline. Lose more sleep over it. And then revisit it, long after the airways had gone silent. There were times of great exuberance. Pride. Over confidence. Times when I would feel irritable for no reason. Pick fights in the office, mainly over stories. Have screaming matches. Fume. And then replay it all, with a touch of anxiety, at night.

And then there were lows. Many lows. I used to chalk it all down to my drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, after all. But the lows persisted long after I quit drinking. The latest bout of postpartum depression is testament to that. The anxiety. Racing thoughts. Inability to quiet my mind. The insomnia. I was constantly terrified that I would do something to harm baby. I was afraid of her.

Perhaps my psychiatrist is on to something. But maybe she misinterpreted my history. Everyone crams for exams. I loved my subjects, that’s why I excelled. And I did my job to the best of my ability, I cared, because journalism is a calling. I battled with my birthing as a mother, the identity shift. I wasn’t prepared. I could never have been prepared. Lots of women go through that. Nothing abnormal about it, right?!

But then there is the medical science. When I landed up in hospital, my psychiatrist put me on anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. They made me feel slow, my mind was in a fog, like a robot. So, she said she’d try something and tell me about it afterwards. 

She prescribed lithium (typical drug to treat bipolar), and everything changed. I began to feel more like myself but without the racing thoughts and the anxiety. I read up on Bi-polar II – it says if you respond to treatment, then the diagnosis is pretty much pinned down.

I wish there was some sort of blood test or other diagnostic tool to provide 100% certainty. But, as things stand, I don’t feel comfortable with the label. It’s like an albatross about my neck, weighing me down to some spectrum disorder, without a cure.

I’m scared about what you, my reader, might think of me now that a Psychiatrist maybe, perhaps, hypothetically, diagnosed me with soft bipolar. It’s also important that you understand that it’s not Bipolar I – which is more severe and may include psychotic breaks with reality. I am not bipolar. I am not crazy. I am afraid. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing. To me you’re just candy girl. Journalist, wife and now mother. Take it in your stride sister.

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