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I'm Bipolar Journal

Series by Marcia Purse

In May of 1999 the author, who had considered herself a lifelong unipolar depressive, was diagnosed as bipolar. Suddenly a whole new truckload of medications - and their side effects - was thrown at her. Suddenly she had to reevaluate her own psychological history. Travel with Guide Marcia Purse as she and her doctor try to find the right combination of meds to control her symptoms without causing her to continue to gain weight, as had already begun from taking psychotropic drugs.

Year 1, Day 1 - 5/20/99 - "What? ME? I'm Bipolar?
A first-person account of being diagnosed as Bipolar - written on the day it happened. This article also demonstrates how About's Bipolar Disorder website can help.

Year 1 - 6/2/99 - "Oh, Those Meds!"
Two weeks after being diagnosed as Bipolar Type I, I am struggling with medications and their side effects, and fearful about the future.

Year 1 - 6/20/99 - "Emotionally Precarious"
A month after diagnosis, more medication changes have me teetering on the brink of tears and easily pushed over that edge.

Year 1 - 7/2/99 - "Mood Swings - and Swings - and Swings"
Six weeks after diagnosis, I am starting to feel like a yo-yo, held by a hand that is going lower and lower.

Year 1 - 7/18/99 - "Creativity Without Sociability"
Eight weeks after diagnosis, there is some mood stability - but is this a good place to be stabilized?

Year 1 - 8/12/99 - "Taking Stock"
At 12 weeks after diagnosis, my mood, though stable and even comfortable, is not acceptable, so more big medication changes. Also: A look backward.

Year 1 - 8/25/99 (Part 1) - "Down, Down, Down"
Year 1 - 8/25/99 (Part 2) - "Meds Made Me Fat"
The latest medication changes were disastrous emotionally, leading to an examination of one of the problems all-too-common to mental health patients: weight gain.

Year 1 - 9/10/99 - "Round and Round and Round She Goes"
Two more medication changes, not enough improvement, and worries about the immediate future.

Year 1 - 9/30/99 - "Hot, Hot, Hot"
The latest meds combination has me hot under the collar.

Year 1 - 10/20/99 - "Diagnosis in Doubt"
I'm in limbo, not sure whether Bipolar Disorder is the right diagnosis.

Year 1 - 11/21/99 - "On the Medication Carousel"
The trial-and-error process of finding the right combination of medications has resulted in little success, but some things have been learned.

Year 1 - 12/3/99 - Bah, Humbug!
Seasonal Affective Disorder now rears its ugly head, worsened in my case by the approaching Christmas holiday.

Year 2 - 2/25/00 (Part 1) - "Taking Action Toward Health"
Year 2 - 2/25/00 (Part 2) - "Setting Fitness Goals"
Since the last medication change, significant improvement in mood has occurred, leading to some startling lifestyle changes.

Year 2 - 6/14/00 (Part 1) - "Sidelined from Exercise"
Year 2 - 6/14/00 (Part 2) - "Is Serzone the Key?"
Year 2 - 6/14/00 (Part 3) - "Plugging Energy Drains"
After some setbacks, retrying a medication that failed before at a different dosage, and learning some new lifestyle skills, is making a dramatic improvement in my mood!

Year 2 - 8/16/00 - "Roller Coaster Ride"
Ride the med-induced roller coaster! I am still optimistic about the future as my doctor and I continue to work toward finding a combination of medications that will control my moods and allow me to lose weight - though there are new restrictions on exercising.

Year 2 - 10/00 - Part 1 - "Struggles Continue"
As we juggle the medications to try to find the right "drug cocktail" to promote mood stability and weight loss, now the insurance company starts to interfere.

Year 2 - 10/00 - Part 2 - "Don't Mess With Your Meds!"
Don't try this at home! Making your own changes to medication dosages can have devastating effects.

Year 4 - 8/18/02 - "Changes Without Change"
Recap of the two years that have passed since the last series entry. Many things have changed, yet the battles beneath still need to be fought as always.

Year 4 - 10/23/02 - "Lexapro and Go Go GO!"
Switching from Celexa to Lexapro has brought on a very uncomfortable mixed episode - so why don't I want to switch back?

Year 4 - 10/29/02 - "Half a Lexapro Is Better Than None"
A journal covering the week after Lexapro dosage was cut in half.

Year 4 - 12/29/02 - "Clutter, Christmas, and Mixed States"
A look at the last several months and the Christmas season in terms of bipolar depression - a mixed condition with some serious physical and behavioral consequences.

Year 5 - 1/1/03-3/15/03 - "Name That Episode!"
What do you call an episode that has elements of hypomania but is characterized by exhaustion at the end of each day?

Year 5 - 1/1/03-5/19/03 - "Overcommitment = Stress Squared"
Here's how the hypomania of a gardener's mixed episode can create stress and anxiety that last after the hypomania is gone.

Year 5 - 7/20/03 - "Lose Weight - That's an Order!"
All the medication-induced weight gain has led to other complications - high cholesterol, high blood pressure, low back problems and more. Exercise just has not helped. What now?

Year 5 - 8/3/03 - "The South Beach Diet"
After several years of trying to lose weight via exercise of various kinds, I'm on a diet - the South Beach Diet. I had good reasons for choosing this program, although implementing it has not been the easiest thing in the world. But I'm sticking with it, and here's why.

Year 5 - 8/13/03 - "Approaching Surgery"
In just a week I will be having surgery on my right lung. I will not know until I wake up whether part of the lung was removed because of cancer. Preparation has required stressful lifestyle changes, and medication adjustments are compounding the stress. Insights into the life of one "beeper" under pressure.

Year 5 - 10/2/03 - "Depression"
Documents specific symptoms and behaviors I have recognized in myself that indicate I am suffering from depression.

Year 5 - 11/13/03 - "Medicating Upward"
From bipolar depression upward toward positive stability via medications - five medication changes in eight weeks - here is the story week by week of the changes and their results.

Year 6 - 4/9/04 - "Brain Fog - A Letter to Joey"
About the worries of living with my elderly mother and how months of struggling to complete routine tasks and projects that should have been enjoyable led me to realize I was suffering from bad side effects from Topamax.

Year 6 - 7/16/04 - "Starting Over"
I've worked damned hard at losing weight over the last 12 weeks - and for what? I feel like I've been hit over the head, and I just want to go back to the days before I ever started gaining. Will dumping meds be the answer?

Year 6 - 7/22/04 - "Starting Over - Not Yet!"
Whoops! Things didn't work out exactly the way I'd hoped...

Year 6, to 10/31/04 - "As Different as Night and Day"
Normal during the work day, depressed at all other times - it doesn't make sense. Or does it? It took me a long, long time to figure it out. Having to help put on a large charity event didn't make it any easier. What a year it has been!

Year 6 - 11/04 - All Bent Out of Shape
When you care about something as passionately as I cared about the 2004 United States Presidential election, and it doesn't go the way you wanted it to - and you have a mental illness along with fibromyalgia - a lot more can go wrong that you might think.

Year 7 - March 2005 - Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hide
Imagine the opposite of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In our story, Dr. Grace Jekyll, a pharmacist, is cheerful, productive and pleasant at work, but by night she becomes a pathetic, depressed and miserable shadow of herself - Ms. Hide. What can be causing this terrible change to occur?

Year 7 - April 2005- What's Up, Doc?
In this installment, I take a sometimes pungent look at what's been going on in my life - physical, mental, medicinal and avocational - with the help of Bugs Bunny, Tom Lehrer and a mere fraction of the botanical names that will grace my garden this year.

Year 7 - End of April 2005 - Crying for the Birds
Not everything that hurts a lot is a life event. It can be something that seems small to others - when it is more important to you than anyone else realizes.

Year 7 - May 2005 - From the Storms, Cast Up On the Shore
A memory triggered led me through a brief retrospective of my bipolar life - most of it undiagnosed - from high school through multiple colleges and jobs - from therapists and lovers to withdrawal and finally to today.

Year 7 - June/July 2005 - Going Off Meds
Part 1: They aren't working anyway ...

From June to late August of 2005 I tapered off all of my bipolar disorder medications - Zyprexa, Topamax, Trazodone, Prozac / Celexa, Ativan, Gabitril and Wellbutrin. This is the first of three articles telling why I decided to do this and how the process unfolded through an episode of agitated depression coupled with serious back pain.

Year 7 - July/August 2005 - Going Off Meds
Part 2: "You need to feel needed ...

The second phase of dropping my bipolar medications was to taper off Celexa, an SSRI antidepressant. This can be problematic, but thanks to my friend Kim's timely suggestion, I spent the days of tapering thinking about something other than myself for a change, and loving it - or rather, them.

Year 7 - August 2005 - Going Off Meds
Part 3: Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

I had just 3 medications left to get out of my system - Wellbutrin, Gabitril and Ativan - generic name Lorazepam. So far the process hadn't been too difficult, but when I cut my Ativan dose down, it was like being run over by a truck.

Year 7 - 8/30/05 - Seroquel Research Study Screening Visit
After many weeks of tapering off a variety of bipolar disorder medications, I finally had my first visit with the Seroquel study coordinator. I'd hoped to get medication right away, but instead I had to read and sign long forms, fill out questionnaires, answer a lot of questions and have laboratory tests done.

Year 7 - 9/6-14/05 - Seroquel Clinical Study, Week 1
I received my first 8 days of medication for the Seroquel / Paxil / Placebo clinical study on September 6, 2005. The pills made a big difference right away. It doesn't seem possible that I'm taking nothing but placebos ... judge for yourself.

Year 7 - 9/14-20/05 - Seroquel Clinical Study, Week 2
From sleep to creativity to temper tantrums - the second week of the Seroquel / Paxil clinical study was filled with contrasts. These pills, whatever they are, are definitely making a difference!

Year 7 - 9/22-10/7/05 - Seroquel Clinical Study, Weeks 3 and 4
During the third and fourth weeks on the study medications, I didn't recognize what was going on while it was happening. I just enjoyed it ... until cracks started to show.

Year 7 - 10/8-14/05 - Mom's in the Hospital
During my fifth week of participation in the Seroquel clinical study for bipolar depression, my mother became seriously ill. Each doctor had a different opinion, depending on his area of expertise - the gastroenterologist, the cardiologist, the surgeon - we were bombarded with information but none of it told us what to DO.

Year 7 - 10/5-11/4/05 - Colon Surgery for Mom
Once it was apparent that my mother's large intestine was going to continue to twist over on itself even when she had not been eating, we were out of options. They scheduled her to have colostomy surgery on October 17th.

Year 7 - 11/25-12/8/05 - Seroquel Study Ends
At the end of the first eight weeks of the Seroquel clinical study for bipolar depression, participants may or may not start taking pills containing something different from what they took during the acute phase. It certainly seemed that this had happened in my case.

Year 7/8 - December 2005-January 2006 - Want Some Pain With Your Stress?
Medication changes. Mom got embolisms in her toes and required more surgery. Stress. Pain. Even though I was finally sleeping well on Seroquel, it wasn't enough to cope with the events of December 2005 and January 2006.

Year 8 - February to May 2006 - Alone in the House on New Meds
After living with my mother for almost 9 years, I found myself alone in the house while she recovered from surgery just at the time I had a major medication change. In addition to Seroquel I began taking Cymbalta, a new drug for me. The results were remarkable!

Year 8 - Mid-May to Mid-June 2006 - Medications Put to the Test
When my mother came home after four months in the hospital and rehabilitation center, it was quite an adjustment for me to have two other people in the house after being by myself for so long. I had to increase my dosage of both my medications, Cymbalta and Seroquel, to cope.

Year 8 - 6/20-7/5/06 - Mom Has Multiple Surgeries
My mother is a high-risk patient for major surgery, but when her colostomy began turning inside out several times a day, we weren't left with many options. After a minor surgical procedure failed to solve the problem, my family was faced with tough decisions. What would we need to do to give her the best chance of surviving long, invasive surgery?

Year 8 - 7/26-8/7/06 - Three Moods in One
My mother has come through six surgeries better than when she started, and I'm caring for her at home. Overall I'm doing well - yet in my behavior I see indications of hypomania, stability AND depression. I'm not sure whether I need to worry about this.

Year 8 - 8/26/06 - A Good Day
I've written a great deal about difficult times in my battle with bipolar disorder, so I thought readers might find it interesting to know what I consider a good day. In a nutshell, good days are days when I accomplish a lot.

Year 8 - 10/21/06 - But the Days Grow Short
After a summer that glowed with good mental health, my mood has darkened as the days have shortened. Some of it has to be Seasonal Affective Disorder, but there are other factors that have contributed to the growing depression. It's not serious yet, but the changes themselves are depressing when I compare my days now to what they were like not too long ago.

Year 8 - 11/8/06 - Time for a Change
Mood, behavior and weight changes all indicate that it's time for me to make some kind of change in my medications. My psychiatrist and I discussed Seroquel, Geodon and Lamictal in the treatment of bipolar depression and came up with a plan of action.

Year 8 - 12/12/06 - Call Me Irresponsible
You'd think after all these years of living with a mood disorder that I'd be able to put a label to my current mood easily at any given time. Yet right now, even though I can look at my behaviors and say yes, these definitely signify depression, I don't FEEL depressed.

Year 8 - 3/7/07 - Revelation
A radio program got me thinking about my behavior, playing computer games for hours on end while ignoring responsibilities like cleaning house and paying the bills. As I listened and thought, I came to an understanding of the cause of this behavior that was a real revelation to me.

Year 8 - 4/4/07 - Rock Bottom
My mother's anxiety level has shot up. I am exhausted. My patience is gone. My strength is gone. My psychiatrist is seriously ill. A friend is now staying with us to act as my mother's companion and caregiver, but it is not helping as much as I had hoped. Our household has hit rock bottom.

Year 8 - 4/26/07 - Terrors and Screams
My mother has been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She's declining rapidly, having bouts of terror where she screams, and a nursing home is definitely in the future. Meanwhile, my psychiatrist is more worried about me than her.

Year 8 - 5/9/07 - A Room of My Own
This chapter of my bipolar disorder journal tells about a conversation with my psychiatrist - what I told him about living with my mother's Alzheimer's disease, and what he advised to help me deal with it.

Year 8 - 6/11/07 - Fighting a Losing Battle - Part 1
Part 2

Alzheimer's is a killer disease - for the family. Is it harder on me because of my bipolar disorder? I'll probably never know. But recent events show just how much I am crumbling under the strain.

Year 8 - 7/1/07 - When Meds Meet Stress, Who Wins?
Everyone experiences stress. Stress can occur in situations ranging from noisy children, or problems on the job right on up to a death in the family. People who take medications for mental illnesses like bipolar disorder may find that they can cope better with small and even moderate stresses. But what happens when these medications come up against severe stress? I'm finding out.

Year 8 - 8/12/07 - Living in Mechanical Mode
When it is just too hard to face emotional issues, a person can go into a state where everything is on the surface. Practical. Mechanical. That's where I am now, as my family deals with the hard realities of my mother's condition.

Year 8 - 9/11/07 - Lessons from Dark Days
A four-day power outage sounds like pure hell - but for me, it wasn't at all, and out of it came lessons that have made a substantial difference in my daily life.

Year 8 - 10/17/07 - PTSD, Rage, Hypomania
Both my psychiatrist and the hospice social worker say that after caring for my mother for six months as she descended into Alzheimer's, I may have post-traumatic stress disorder -- PTSD.

Year 8 - 12/7 to 12/14/07 - My Stomach Hurts
After showing signs of what appeared to be stomach flu, my mother became gravely ill. Both the nursing home's doctor and the CNA from hospice told me Mom had at most a few days to live.

Year 9 - 3/11/08 - My Right Ear
A few weeks after my mother died, a chorus began humming in my right ear every time I wasn't already listening to music or talking to someone. This quickly became very irritating. I had enough to deal with in planning a memorial service, dealing with the complexities of my mother's estate, and cleaning out the house my parents bought more than 47 years ago to put it on the market. I didn't need a chorus that couldn't always sing the right notes constantly singing repetitive tunes in my ear!

Year 9 - 5/20/08 - Home, Past and Future
Nine years to the day after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my life is filled with stressors - but I am coping much better than in the past. I have to sell the home I live in and buy a new home. Difficult, exciting and stressful - but my new medication, Geodon, seems to be helping a LOT.

Year 9 - 6/20/08 - Mind and Body Overdrive
The pressure put on me to get my mother's house, where I still live, ready for sale became greater and greater as the date of our garage sale, a photo shoot and the broker open house approached. Both my brothers and their wives came to help over a ten-day period, and there was a great deal of friction. I found my body and mind too restless to sit still - or sleep.

Year 9 - 8/6/08 - 20 Down, 50 to Go
I've lost 20 pounds in 11 months while taking Seroquel, one of the drugs that is notorious for causing weight gain. My experience proves that it is possible to lose weight and still take Seroquel or a similar pound-packing drug. My weight loss program is completely individual. I hope reading what is working for me will inspire others to find their own weight loss solutions.

Year 9 - 9/5/08 - Flat Depressive Episode
I'm in the worst depressive episode I've had since 1994. Then, all I could do was sit in a chair and worry. Now, all I do is sit on the couch and crochet. I've gone from hypomanic in June to depressed in August, and the best word to describe it is flat. Nothing is getting done, and this is going to cause real problems if I don't get out of this depressive episode soon.

Year 9 - 10/08 - Frantic
Situational depression is especially hard on people with bipolar disorder, and that's what I'm dealing with now. Good things are happening, but until the bad things are resolved, my good moods can only last a few hours. The experiences of selling a house and of buying a house were polar opposites. My life was 10% euphoria and 90% black depression.

Year 9 - 10/08 to 04/09 - The Stresses and Joys of Moving
I had purchased my dream home. Now it remained to be seen whether the incredible stresses of moving would overwhelm the joy I felt about living in my new home and send me into bipolar mood swings.

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