A New Mental Health Diagnosis

9/15/17

Hi guys! Happy Friday! Hope you all have something fun/relaxing planned for your Friday night. Whether it’s going out for drinks with friends, spending time with family or treating yourself to a pamper night of Netflix, facials and munchies, it is important to make time for yourself to recuperate after a hard week’s work.

This morning, I saw my psychiatrist for what was our last in-person appointment until I come back to the Bay Area in December. I told Olga of my recent extreme mood swings and my current “high” of intense motivation, increased goal-oriented behavior, heightened creativity and surge of ideas, restlessness, and inability to slow down my ever-active mind.

She expressed concern at such a mood pattern, and characterized such “highs” as manic episodes.

According to Psych Central, “a manic episode is a mood state characterized by period of at least one week where an elevated, expansive, or unusually irritable mood exists. A person experiencing a manic episode is usually engaged in significant goal-directed activity beyond their normal activities. People describe a manic mood as feeling very euphoric, “on top of the world,” and being able to do or accomplish anything. The feeling is like extreme optimism — but on steroids.”

While Olga does not believe I have full-on bipolar 1 disorder, she suspects that, should my pattern of highs and lows persist and become more extreme, my mental illness may fall into the category of bipolar 2 disorder– a lesser form of bipolar 1, characterized by hypomanic episodes, which are basically the “highs” I’m experiencing right now.

To stabilize my moods, Olga increased my current dosage of Lamictal, a mood stabilizer; lowered my Prozac intake (Prozac is an antidepressent, which serves to elevate moods– the opposite of what we want when treating mania); and placed me on another mood stabilizer/anti-psychotic drug, Abilify.

All these fancy medication names sound scary, but they’re really just resources to help me gain emotional stability and live more in the range of “normal”, rather than above or below the stable threshold.

Olga diagnosed me with manic depression– not quite as extreme as bipolar disorder, but along the same vein. She described it to me as the experience of lows, followed by intermittent “highs”, which can range from feeling absolutely euphoric, to simply not being bed-riddenly depressed.

The tricky thing about manic depression/bipolar disorder is, people may not necessarily want to stabilize their moods. Taking mood stabilizers and tranquilizers may lessen the magnitude of the emotional roller coaster and take away the dreadful lows, but it would also mean losing the highs. Living in the highs is exhilarating. I love the feeling of being unusually motivated, mind bursting with ideas, creative juices flowing. If life were a marathon, a high would be a sprint. Unfortunately, the sprinters tire quickest. The brightest burning candle diminishes the fastest. The manic depressive highs are never sustainable. No one can function at 1000% forever. Everything in life has a price. The higher you climb, the greater the chance of falling, and when you inevitably do fall, you will crash. And burn.

I know it is important to treat my manic depression to ensure my long-term well-being. Nonetheless, I just can’t accept becoming mentally healthy at the expense of my highs. My highs are the short periods of time in which I write my best pieces; get the most work done; learn brand new dance routines two weeks before a major competition, and winning the comp. During these times, I seem to be able to function with very little food and sleep. With this go-go-go mentality, all I think of are my goals and how I can accomplish them in the shortest amount of time. I become completely tunnel-visioned. I lose sight of life’s intrinsic meanings beyond achievement, which of course, is neither conducive to long-term happiness, nor a mindset worth adopting.

I need to make caring for my mental health a MUCH higher priority of mine, especially when school begins in a couple weeks. Last year, when caught in the circus act of balancing studying with dance and other extracurriculars, I neglected my mental health and suffered greatly as a result.  I cannot let myself become so tunnel-visioned in the pursuit of so many different goals at once, that going to therapy is shoved to the bottom of my never-ending to-do list. If I need to take fewer courses or cut back on extracurriculars to preserve my sanity, then do so I will. If I’m pushing myself to the point of mental collapse, I will not be able to perform to the best of my ability in my day-to-day. My grades will suffer. My relationships will suffer. My happiness will suffer. What’s the point of all this masochism, then? Where’s the quality of life?

In a way, I feel relieved at having received a medical diagnosis explaining all my crazy mood swings. I now know that my erratic moods and impulsive behaviors are attributed in large part to my mental illness, not just my own crazy, problem-child self. Having pathologized my illness, I feel a slight but significant vindication, of sorts– like I no longer have to bear the full weight of my unpredictable moods and roller-coaster behavior alone. The diagnosis tells me two things: 1) I have a mental illness that’s causing my depressive and manic episodes; 2) There is a cure for all of this.

This latter point is especially comforting, as I’m strongly reassured by the fact that others before me have gone through similar mental struggles, and have been successfully cured. If others can get better, then so can I.

 

 

 

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