Hello, My Name is Shamika and I Have Bipolar

According to mentalwellness.com:
“Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a severe mental illness involving episodes of serious mania and depression. A person suffering from bipolar disorder experiences wide mood swings with periods of normal mood in between. Manic episodes are characterized by heightened energy, sharpened and unusually creative thinking, irritability and self-confidence – alternated with depressive episodes, characterized by low energy, sadness, and hopelessness.

Patients suffering from manic episodes of bipolar disorder occasionally experience psychotic symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, agitation, lack of drive or initiative, social withdrawal and apathy. It is estimated that the suicide rate among untreated individuals with bipolar disorders is 15 percent.

An estimated 2 million Americans suffer from manic depressive illness, which typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout a person’s life. Often not recognized as an illness, bipolar disorder tends to run in families. If left untreated, manic depressive illness tends to worsen and the person may experience episodes of full-fledged mania and clinical depression.”

I have been in the psych ward of a hospital, committed, for 2 weeks. That was in 2007 when I was first diagnosed. And gained 40 lbs from the medication that kept the proselytizing and spirit of discernment at bay. In 2008, going to the emergency room when I was convinced my mother’s boyfriend was a demon did not help either. The tests they gave me proved I was not inebriated or doped up. And in spite of the fact that I answered all the questions on the psychological evaluation correctly, I was not fooled by the rabbit wearing people skin trying to process my soul for purgatory.

These are just a few examples of when I have been completely off the farm with my illness. Delusions, hallucinations, grandiosity, and more now come annually and seem to be paschal events. Each year, I have learned from the mistakes and successes of the year before. This year, so far, I still have a part time job at Cracker Barrel. I am not surrounded by my family, which has actually been a good thing. Though my mother took me to my doctor appointments and slept downstairs with me so that the television could stop talking to me and the annoying leprechaun wouldn’t bother me during a visit to the restroom, I still did not feel safe in her home.

Last week, I noticed that my quirky and sometimes embarrassing manic symptoms like pressured speech or an urge to do something, usually unmitigated and without target, were also being coupled with a slack in my body’s need for sleep. Also, the peripheral visions, things I see out of the corner of my eye like someone seeming to lift an arm or an expression coming off as slightly exaggerated, began to appear more frequently and became harder to slight.

So, my preemptive and proactive attempts to take advantage of community resources as soon as I got out of my winter depression and found employment nearly proved to be nugatory. I called into work, believing I was minutes away from committing myself or going to the nearest emergency room, and told the manager working that I would not be able to make my Wednesday and possibly Friday shift. My manager was not there, but she would leave a note for her.

The friend that I am staying with has four young children, 1, 3, 7, and 12, 3 young girls and the boy is the oldest, opposite of my family, but anyway, she knew I was calling around to find out what the best treatment option was for being on the verge of psychosis and when I determined that I would need to go to the emergency room, somehow it didn’t get conveyed as much of an emergency because she asked me to make dinner while she ran an errand and when she got back wanted to know if I was going to bible study with her. I mean, don’t get her wrong, she understood that I was trying to find out what to do, but I guess she didn’t consider it as an emergency emergency. And I didn’t know the proper and polite way to ask her to drive me to the nearest hospital, which is about 10 minutes away walking, so instead of saying, “No, I think I’m going to go to the emergency room. I’ll walk, yall go ahead and I will call you and let you know what they say.” I said, “Uh, yeah. I will.” Her church was having communion and I figured it may be the last opportunity I have to go to church if I am admitted or committed.

Of course, my manager is fantastic friends with my friend and sat right next to us during the service.

I didn’t know what to say. I was already dealing with having to go through the mental anguish that is crazy all over again, in a new city, without my husband or mother there to stay by my side, had to take off work knowing I barely have enough money to cover a bus ticket home let alone a whole new set of medical bills, and now my manager is going to think less of me before my first evaluation because I called in to “get out of” my shift only to pop up at church.

Now, earlier that day, I just about lost an eye walking into a low branch while looking in my purse. The fact that I was on the phone is irrelevant. Irrelevant! I would have had to look down to pull out the item in my purse whether or not I was engaged in conversation about a payment plan for one of my many debts. So, thankfully, the branch scratched only the top and bottom of my eye area and missed my eye lid and actual eye ball. I gracefully asked the caller to hold while I succeeded in collecting the pen and paper, quickly got the dates and terms of the payment plan down, then ended the call. I always have band aids in my bag, so I put one on and completed the last 5 minutes of my journey home.

I said that to say this: My manger saw the bandage below my eye and heard me say something about an emergency room during a brief lull in the service, but I don’t think she understood that I hadn’t gone yet and rather determined that it had something to do with my eye. The friend that I am living with caught her up sometime after the service because when I went into Cracker Barrel the next day to talk to her, and pick up my check, she and I were on the same page. I never got to an emergency room or psych ward. Instead, my therapist worked with me to get a crisis stabilization appointment at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County Friday morning. The consultation resulted in an immediate assignment to one of their psychiatrist for Monday afternoon (yesterday). Last month, I took a rather lengthy assessment to begin the process of getting connected with one of their psychiatrists and I was told it would take several weeks before I would be able to begin treatment with a doctor. Thankfully, I was able to find a way around that, made it sanely and safely through the holiday weekend, and started a new drug this morning: Invega.

Unfortunately, the medications I have taken in the past for manic or psychotic symptoms cause weight gain and an increase in prolactin hormone (no need to go into details there…) but this drug may actually give me diabetes. GIVE ME DIABETES!!! So, as a person with bipolar, I have to decide if I want to see angels and demons, or be sane, fat, lactating, and diabetic?

I say, se la vie. I would rather use the potential side effects as motivation to eat healthier and incorporate more exercise into my daily life and that will help alleviate the possibility of developing high blood sugar levels as well as how much weight I gain purely from the medication. Its worth it, I have to remind myself, to be mentally healthy and take back control of my life. I want to go back and finish Stanford, sooner rather than later. I want to be able to join the peace corps, or teach English in Japan with the JET program, or both! I would like to consider seriously graduate school programs and a Ph.D. and even look into seminary or divinity school and obtain a formal education in the Holy Bible and Christianity. Of all the professions and careers I have entertained, the top contenders remain as Christian author and Inspirational speaker or professor of “Black Hair”.

Lots of people, when they hear about what I want to do with my life, or what kinds of things I see in my future, they say, “Well, just remember to take it one day at a time” or “Okay, just don’t put too much on your plate” or “I see, but you might have to let go of some of those things because you never know what might happen” and I am like, “I am bipolar, not an invalid.” I want to point to all the wonderfully successful people in the world and throughout history that were able to contribute so much to our lives as a direct result of their mental illness. Now, had they been given today’s latest treatments, who knows if we would still have Van Gogh, Virginia Wolfe, Winston Churchill, Beethoven, and countless others to turn to as examples of creatively gifted artisans and leaders in their fields? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that there is more in store for me and my life than simply working a menial job and scraping by speaking forlornly of aspirations cast away in my later years, “You know, I spent three years at Stanford University, out in Northern California, back in my early adult years. Yeah, I was only a year from graduating, but you know, the bipolar, I had to take care of that so…yeah.”

And, as pumped as I am about heaven and how indescribably amazing it will be, I don’t believe my God would want me to have to wait to enjoy my existence! A higher education, a career I am passionate about, the love of my life as my husband and father of my children, needs met and wants blessed with, something to always hope for, and a space to unequivocally call my own….that is the life I strive for. I do believe that I can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens me and that by His stripes, I can be healed (with of course medications, therapy, and support groups as treatment) of a life dictated and annually torn down by my bipolar disorder. I have to believe that, because I wouldn’t want my life any other way.

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