My Bipolar Origin Story Because We Should All Have At Least One

Most of us have an origin story. The first time we heard a diagnosis that made sense, that explained and even justified our behaviour, that gave us something to fight against. Something that just made sense.

Mine came when I was nineteen.

I saw my first psychiatrist when I was much younger — he diagnosed me as being clinically depressed, and prescribed me some sort of medication, but my mother freaked when I told her in the car afterwards. She took the prescription and went back into his office to complain. Something about not wanting me medicated, or that he was prescribing me meds without her knowledge. Or something. The next time I saw him I didn’t say a word for the thirty minute visit. That was also the last time I saw him.

Then there was a therapist who I really liked, he gave me little cars every time I opened up. But I only saw him twice before he closed up his little office and moved on. I think I was ten. Maybe eleven-years old. I remember being devastated.

…I might have that backwards. It’s possible the therapist came first.

I do know it wasn’t until many years later that I saw another doctor, or talked to anyone, about my depressions or about the many times I wanted to be dead.

I first met the doctor who would diagnose me when I was eighteen. I was almost completely off the rails by then. It started gradually when I was seventeen, but by the next year I had stopped going to high school full time — skipping days in a row, never being on time, missing tests, not showering, and drinking heavily on weekends.

It was my mother who arranged the meeting. I didn’t know it at the time but she had been seeing the psychiatrist for a few months, maybe longer, and now she was stepping aside and giving me her appointments.

He was young, definitely younger than my mother. Maybe only ten years older than me. I saw him six times over November and December. It felt good to have someone to talk to… someone who took me seriously, and someone who asked the right questions. He ordered blood tests for Thyroid Disease, and Diabetes, because it turned out both can cause depression. I tested negative for both, but it was revelatory… something could be causing me to be depressed that I had no control over.

It was February of the next year, soon after my nineteenth birthday, that I finally got a diagnosis… Bipolar II, which means I go down more than I go up. It fit. The crazy depressions, the suicidal thoughts, the manics, all of it just fit.

Even though I knew classes were over after my appointment, I still had my mom* drop me off in the parking lot of my high school. There were no students left in the building, just a few of my teachers. I was bouncing. I was so happy I might as well have been manic. I told each and every one of my teachers, the ones I could find, that I finally had a reason. An excuse for my behaviour for the past two years

I wasn’t lazy, it wasn’t that I was a poor student, there was something wrong with my brain that prevented me from being a good student. I wasn’t sleeping in and missing classes on purpose, this Thing I had kept me up at night running through the lists of disappointments and failures until I fell into a coma every morning at 5am. Not only that but now I had a medicine, a wonder drug called Lithium, that would cure me.

“See?” I asked Mr. Byers. “How can I be expected to wake up and be in school for a 9am class, when this disease won’t let me get to sleep until five frigging o’clock in the morning?”

As I was talking I remember the poor man slowly backed up until there was a desk between us, and asking “don’t they put Lithium into batteries?”.

I knew nothing about the disease… I didn’t even really understand that it was a disease. I knew nothing of the stigma of mental illness at that point. I knew nothing about the treatments. I didn’t even know the proper term for the medication. I wasn’t handed any pamphlets, I was just given three words: manic depression and Lithium. All I knew was that I finally had an excuse for my behaviour. A reason for why I was the way I was: suicidal, depressed, manic, a failure at school.

By the end of my first week as an official member of the mentally ill, every single one of my friends knew. Not that any of them understood… how could they, when I had no idea what anything meant?

…this was long before schools made accommodations for students in distress, there were no ‘coloured shirt’ days for diseases. There were no wrist bands telling us to Fight The Stigma. We were lucky to have a school counsellor in my high school, but she was there to help with school admissions, not to listen about how much I wanted to put a gun against my head.

But Lithium takes weeks, if not months, to take effect and the initial euphoria of having a Reason couldn’t last forever. So I crashed. And I did crash hard. I was as suicidal as I had ever been. But this time I had a Doctor who understood. Who could see that I needed to be hospitalized.

…when I approached my principal with a plan for my final exams, that maybe I could take them after my stay in the hospital, or even take them while I was in the hospital — not a good plan, but at least it was something — he turned me down flat. I had missed too much school, my marks were too poor… he flat out told me there was no point in continuing either my schooling or the conversation.

No talk of maybe next year, or repeating a grade. Just blah blah you’re a failure please get out of my office. Which just made everything worse…

But this time I had a Doctor that could see that I needed help. So off I went to the local psych ward… it was a disaster. I spent two weeks screwing around like I was at Summer Camp.

I didn’t know how good I had it… surrounded by Doctor’s and Therapists who wanted to help, but I was mostly worried about where my next cigarette was going to come from. I really knew nothing about anything. When I got out there was no high school to go back to, I was still seeing my Doctor but the Lithium was hit and miss. I moved out of home, I came back, I moved out again for good. I tried to do Adult School and work at the local newspaper, but I was showing up to work and school stoned and hungover. So I quit those as well. I picked up a job as a bartender / bouncer at the local drug hangout. That lasted a few months, but I was always late and I was using the job primarily to find dates.

And finally, a few months after turning twenty, a woman who I thought I had a future with broke up with me, and I got fired from my job, so I quit everything and moved to the Big City, stopped seeing my Doctor and started using the Lithium like it was Tylenol… basically whenever I started feeling Dark, I’d take a handful and hope for the best.

…but that’s the Thing about having a diagnosis and being handed medications that will probably save your life, you have to be ready to accept the help. You have to understand that Things can be better, that there is an alternative universe where you’re not suicidal everyday.

It took me the next fourteen years of living the best I could — unmedicated and untreated, sometimes homeless, sometimes a successful citizen, and with the help of a lot of people I found along the way, to understand that.

*…I honestly do not remember what my mother’s reaction was to me being diagnosed the second time.

Posted in Baby Quintin, Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Health, Manic Depression, Memories | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Bonding Part One: Two Choices She Made That Made Me

Even though I lived with her, I didn’t know who my Mother was until I was eight-years old. That was one of the main rules of the Commune / Collective / Cult I grew up in: the kids are everyone’s responsibility equally.

Which, in practice, meant we were no one’s responsibility — so in a house full of adults, with two young children, there were no parents. At least there were no parental responsibilities or connections allowed.

A few years after I was born — while my Mother was in the hospital*, my aunt had her first child. The Collective — led by my Father (whom I also had no relationship with), sat her down and for five hours argued that breastfeeding would create a bond with the child that no one else could have. Children, they argued, were property of the Collective, and would be raised as such. Then the eleven members of the Collective who were there — including her husband, stood up, handed her a breast pump and told her she couldn’t breastfeed her daughter… end of story.

*…my Mother was very sick during the first few years of my life. After I was born, she spent several months recovering in the hospital. Eighteen months after having me, she gave birth to my little brother, and she spent another six to eight weeks in the hospital recovering from complications. There was a third pregnancy soon after, that had to be terminated because her life was at risk. So when she was finally healthy enough and came back to the Collective, it was a very different place.

But she stayed, my aunt didn’t. My aunt chose to leave the Collective and move in with her sister, several towns over. Eventually she returned, but on her terms. She would live separately from the Collective (just down the street actually), but she would look after her own kids. She chose to bond with them in her own way.

The Collective took form while my Mother was in the hospital for the third pregnancy. She had very little to do with its formation, but made the choice to accept its rules during her recovery. She chose to stay. Chose to have her two kids raised by a group… chose to have us as a chore on a group ‘To-Do’ list. My brother and I were even sent to live with my exiled aunt for a time. All of which is insane. How does someone choose that path?

The Collective, under the leadership of my Father, lasted from when I was 2.5-years old, until I was eight. It finally broke down when my parents marriage broke down. There were too many affairs, too much abuse, and my Mother had enough, and had a plan, and one day she just walked me down to the train station and we escaped.

We took the train to Kingston, where we met my aunt who had been looking after my Brother. Then our little family continued on to Ottawa. All the while I, as an eight-year old, was questioning my Mother about how she wasn’t supposed to be alone with me. About how much trouble we were going to be in for breaking the rules — for the first four years of my life my mother was too sick to bond, then when she was better the Collective had changed the rules then, four years later, we’re alone on a train and I’m trying to figure out who she is.

My Mother called a childhood friend from the Kingston train station who, after hearing some of the insanity we had been through — and that we were in the middle of an escape, agreed to let us stay with her in Ottawa for as long as we needed.

After arriving in Ottawa my Mother and her friend stayed up all night talking about the escape and a lot of the stuff that preceded it… I stayed up as late as I could listening in from upstairs. The next step my Mother took was to contact her father. One of the other ‘rules of the Collective’ was no one was to discuss Collective business with outsiders. That especially meant family. So this moment was the first time my grandfather had heard the insanity that was the previous eight years.

His first reaction was to offer to have my Father’s legs broken. When he calmed down, he offered my Mother a deal… we’d live with him and my grandmother in Montreal, and he’d pay for whatever College or University programs my Mother wanted to take.

My Mother, knowing he was very serious about both offers, turned him down. Her mother had been extremely abusive… when my Mother first met my Father she left one abusive relationship for another. No matter how attractive her father’s offer was, she couldn’t go back.

So she made another choice. This time she chose to make her own way. She rented an apartment over a garage in a small town where she had some childhood connections, and found work doing bookkeeping.

For the next six years we lived in what became a pattern… moving around the region every six to eight months to find something moderately better or cheaper, my Mother finding and leaving new jobs, working night shifts at some, coming home after our bedtimes, leaving us with babysitters, sometimes leaving us on our own.

So for the first few years of my life my Mother wasn’t there, for the next five years of my life I was a group chore, with little to no idea who she was to me. Then, for the next six to eight years, I was a latchkey kid while she tried to make a life for us.

So the question is… when did my Mother and I have time to bond? How much of the yelling and screaming and threats that we went through for my early-to-mid teens had to do with the lack of understanding who we were as individuals? How many of the misunderstandings and frustrations we have with each other today are linked to those two choices?

Is there enough time left for us to work through the decades of those misunderstandings, is it possible for the two of us to have a relationship not based on assumptions and the preconceived expectation that every conversation we have about the past has to end in anger and resentment?

I really don’t know. I do know we’re running out of time, and We haven’t even started yet….

Posted in Appointment Day, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Family, Health, Living With Depression, Memories, Mother, Salted Truths | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Even More Mental Health Studies & News: Vol.7

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This issue: fMRI study into understanding why depression meds don’t work for everyone; new texting support for suicidal teens in Canada; Normal Person problems vs. the Mentally Ill; soldier-suicides recognized by Canadian government as equal to deployment deaths; 15-year old Autistic artist selling works for thousands of dollars; childhood spanking leads to aggressive children with higher risks of mental illnesses, and; oh no, another ‘anti-vaccine’ doctor is facing discipline.

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Posted in Autism, Bipolar, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, fMRI, Health, Mental Health, Mental Health News, Suicide, Vaccines | Tagged | 3 Comments

The First Quintin Update: Un Deux Trois Four

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I woke up one morning not too long ago to my youngest son singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ in his room.

Quintin just turned four-years old, and there he was, laying in his bed, barely awake with the blankets bunched up in his little arms, staring at the wall, and whispering the words to himself.

That was the first time I have heard him sing. Now I see him mouthing the words to songs all the time.

And there he was earlier tonight, dancing in the living room and trying to sing along to ‘Old MacDonald’.

Quintin can also count to thirty in both English and French. Sometimes he’ll start in one language and finish in the other. I’m sure other kids can do this but, to me anyway, it’s still remarkable.

Quintin just turned four… but we’re still trying to get to know each other.

I was sick and unable to look after him for almost a full year of his life. That’s the problem. My recovery from the ‘severe uremic neuropathy’ (SUN) and the kidney transplant meant I missed a full calendar year of his life. And you just can’t do that without consequences. Especially the year when your baby is turning into a toddler.

Everything seemed to change during that year. Before my time in the hospital we had been together every day of his life. From the time he was 8-months old I changed every diaper, I fed him every meal, I taught him to stand, I taught him to walk.

While I was in the hospital, my parents became Quintin’s primary caregivers (when my wife and I separated in 2015, I got full custody of Baby Quintin and Little Victor. My wife had twice-weekly visits supervised by the Children’s Aid Society).

But the hospital was 70km from my home, which made it very difficult for my mother to bring him for visits. In fact she only brought him twice during the four months I was recuperating from the SUN… the first one I couldn’t get out of bed, and the second one I was in a wheelchair — during that visit he didn’t seem to recognize me at all.

Whether that was because his Daddy was in a wheelchair, or because of the time spent apart, I don’t know. All I know is it took me holding a bottle with chocolate milk in it for him to get close to me.

When I went into the hospital in April of 2016, he was only 20-months old. When I got out, he was about to turn two, but I was on dialysis and too weak from the neuropathy to be able to look after him. Between January and May, 2016, I had lost 80lbs, then I had spent three months in a wheelchair, and told I’d never walk again. In August, when I was discharged from the hospital, I was using canes to get around. I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t care for him properly. So he continued to stay with my parents.

I would visit with him daily, but between a new medication being slow to take effect, and the symptoms of the kidney failure, and then that thing and the other thing… I fell into a depression. And the once daily visits became twice a week, then once a week, and then it was January, 2017, and time for my kidney transplant.

And that meant another month in hospital and a recovery centre, and another month without access to my baby. When I finally got home, I was not allowed to lift anything heavier than a bag of sugar… for four months. That meant another four months of not being able to live with Quintin.

I was also on high doses of Prednisone, and that was screwing with my head. And that led to more prolonged, and deeper depressions. And further isolation from Quintin. From February 2017, until June we were together only 2-4 hours a week.

In August my wife and I finally went to mediation to sort out custody of the kids. The CAS felt she was… better, and capable of looking after her children. So after a day of back-and-forth negotiations, it was decided, with some drama, that we would share custody of Little Victor and Baby Quintin.

Starting at the end of that week.

I was terrified. Quintin was weeks away from his third birthday, and I hadn’t been around him as a full time father since he was 20-months old.

The second night was the hardest. After reading to him, I would sit next to him while he fell to sleep. On the first night he fell asleep right away. On the second night he cried for his mom every time I left the room.

That was hard for a lot of reasons.

Raising two young children was never meant to be easy. But most of the last year has been hard for a lot of reasons…

He still takes off on me when we’re out together… which has me worried enough that we rarely go anywhere alone. He listens to my parents before he’ll listen to me, which I find hard. He listens to his mom before me as well, which I find harder.

But I love him, and I think he loves being with me, and we’re getting better.

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Some things about Quintin:

Quintin was born the day we buried my grandfather.

Quintin was born prematurely… he and I spent his first night in the NICU together.

Quintin’s favourite movie is ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’.

His favourite TV show is ‘Peppa Pig’.

His favourite food group is Pringle’s Chips.

He’ll only eat stuff that comes out of a can for dinner.

His favourite game is ‘lets hide stuff’… thankfully he’s not very good at it.

Quintin is now in Junior Kindergarten at a French speaking school.

He can count to thirty in French and English.

Quintin rarely stops talking. He’s nothing like Little Victor at that age. Victor was a quiet kid who could play by himself until you forgot he was there. Quintin has a very hard time being alone.

We picked his name while watching Jaws… Capt. Quint:

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...thanks.

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Posted in Baby Quintin, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, CSG, Depression, Disability, Health, Lithium Overdose, Living With Manic Depression, Memories | 2 Comments

Even More Mental Health Studies & News: Vol.6

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This issue: More fMRI studies proving distinct brain differences in people with Bipolar and/or Schizophrenia and those without; using genetics to improve diagnoses and personalize treatments for manic depression; raising children who have a mental illness; Virtual Reality and autism; 80,000 Americans died from the flu in 2017; another study connecting vaccines to autism retracted, and; Andrew Wakefield finally wins an award for his research.

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Posted in Autism, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, crazy people with no pants, Health, Manic Depression, Mental Health News, Schizophrenia, Vaccines | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Evaluating My Mental Health Evaluation

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The signs I’ve slid into a depression should be obvious to me by now. After almost two decades I should at least have a check list by my door, or beside my bed.
Dressing in black for days on end is generally a dead giveaway, especially if it’s always the same shirt, socks, underwear and pants.
I’ve been sleeping for twelve hours at a shot, then never feeling fully awake for the next twelve. Over the past two weeks I’ve been outside for more than fifteen minutes in a day maybe four times… I’ve been outside every day, but only a quick walk to the store for supplies, then home again.
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Salted Lithium “The True Nature Of My Being”;
October 10, 2010

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I had a phone interview with a representative from the local Centre for Addiction and Mental Health yesterday (not its real name, but essentially that’s what it is).

She was evaluating me to find out if I need a referral to a new psychiatrist, or just a therapist, or if I needed help at all.

She asked the usual questions:

Do you smoke? Not since 2006.

Do you drink? A few Guinness (Guinnesses? Guinnessi?) this year. Nothing for eight years before that.

Do you use drugs? I have in the past. How recently? Not since I was a kid.

Do you hallucinate? I wish.

Can you read thoughts/or can others read your thoughts? Blah blah blah… the intake interview was supposed to take between 20-40 minutes, I think we got through the whole thing in fifteen.

She didn’t ask me if I talked with Satan. The intake people always asked me that one in the past. They did ask me about my ability to concentrate, which I don’t have, and my patience levels… they asked me if I had self-harmed in the past — I told them I used to burn my arms with lit cigarettes, but not since I was a kid… and a few years ago I dropped a red-hot knife on my arm a few times. And they asked how likely was I to harm myself recently… not at all.

Then she got into the fun stuff… is there any history of mental illness in the family? Heh. Were you ever abused? Fuck yeah. Sexual, physical, or psychological? Yes; not really; fuck yeah.

I told the woman I’ve been depressed for the past year, not suicidal, but depressed. I’ve been taking my medications regularly but I can go a week without showering. Right now, I’ve been wearing the same change of clothes for as long as I can remember. Once I get the kids to school in the morning I go back to bed and sleep until I have to pick them up in the afternoon.

This has been my “normal” for the past year. Maybe two. I’ve been depressed without being depressed. I scroll for hours on Facebook with the TV on in the background to avoid writing. I haven’t taken a decent photo in a year, probably a lot longer than that.

I eat once or twice a day, but I think I’m actually gaining weight, so maybe I’m eating more… or just eating more crap than I should. I can’t seem to keep track. I do go to the gym 4-6 times a month, but I should be going a lot more often because I pay a trainer for more sessions than that. But I just can’t wake up for an afternoon session.

Whatever routine I had, especially the one I used to beat back the depressions, is gone. I’m in bed at midnight, up at 8am; I get the kids to school; I crawl back into bed, sleep for another 4-5 hours; get up, take my medications, go for a drive to the grocery store to pick up supper; pick up the kids from school; we eat supper, and I entertain them until bedtime. Then I turn into a vegetable in front of CNN or SportsNet for four hours, take my meds and go to bed.

I do make sure the kids are clean, that their homework is done, that they eat and we play together, and that Victor practices his guitar. But then I don’t take my insulin when I eat. I’ll eat four cookies as a late night snack. I’ll eat a chocolate bar, or a bag of chips. I won’t check my blood sugar for a month… actually, I haven’t checked it in more than two months now.

She asked me if I was suicidal, and I told her no. I am not at risk of dying anytime soon. But that’s not entirely true.

The depression will kill me through the diabetes. Or at least take years off my life. Untreated it’ll definitely interfere with the kidney transplant.

It’s like I’m trying to abuse myself in the least noticeable way possible.

I didn’t tell her that. But I was honest with her. I spoke more openly with her in fifteen minutes than I had with my psychiatrist in the year before he retired in July.

…so now I’m on a list. She wants me to see a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, she told me, the average waiting time to get an appointment with one in this region is eight months. In between then and now I’ll be seeing a psychiatric nurse. Which is something I’ve never heard of before. But apparently they can help me with my meds. But that will take a few months as well.

In the meantime they suggested I try writing about how I’m feeling and to get involved with something called ‘The Big White Wall’ (bigwhitewall.ca), it’s an online anonymous peer support community dedicated to helping people with mental health issues. It has a lot of smiling people on the splashpage, so I guess it works.

…I’ll give it a shot.

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...thanks.

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Posted in Appointment Day, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Health, Intervention, Psychiatry, The Big White Wall | 4 Comments