In the years after I was first diagnosed with bipolar illness, I would have a break and go into the hospital about every six months. Eventually with the right meds I got to the place where I would have mini-breaks every six months and stay with my sister Jane and her family rather than go into the hospital. This was during the days of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol. I would leave my apartment and take the subway to my sister Jane’s house about 25 minutes away. Oftentimes this ride was a huge challenge. I would arrive at Jane’s house with an overnight bag and some meds and put my belongings in the basement where there was a guest room. I would spend between three and seven nights at Jane’s house where she would help me with administering meds. In those early days, the anxiety associated with waiting for the meds to kick-in was excruciating. I often requested to hold Jane’s hand as we lay in the bed until the medication had had time to sink in and sedate me.
At that time, the meds for bipolar illness were not very advanced. Meds seemed at that time to treat the symptoms of the illness rather than seeking to manage the illness before the break-through of mini or grand episodes. I am forever grateful to my sister for allowing me several years of staying with her and her family every six months or so and managing though those mini-episodes. When I was at her house and under the care of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol, it would take about an hour for the impact of the meds to sink in. During that hour of sheer hell I would sit and smoke cigarettes nonstop waiting for the meds to kick in.
Since those early days of a mini break every six months, I have been prone to high anxiety which is often at times consuming and sits sometimes in the background, as a nagging reminder that I continue to struggle with my moods every day. Managing the anxiety associated with bipolar illness has developed into my greatest challenge besides the reversal of stigma. Perhaps pairing the management of this anxiety with a willingness to explore potential abuse as a child will make an impact on this generalized anxiety – hopefully reducing it substantially.
I also have more recently added an additional medication Trileptal to help with the anxiety and this appears to be making a difference for me.
As an aside based on commonplace discussions, I have been told that family intervention for people with behavioral health diagnoses is much more common in Europe than in the US. Just like our propensity in the US is to care for the elderly in homes for the elderly, we tend in the US to care for people with psychiatric disorders in a hospital setting. Personally, I feel that the more care that can be provided in the context of the family and the family home the better.
Once again, my illness has developed in phases. Early in my diagnosis were “grand episodes” including hospitalizations. These ”grand episodes” gradually gave way to more “mini episodes” managed in the home with a few exceptions. In my postpartum period, I was back to having “grand episodes” and being in the hospital again for those first three to four years.
As I became more comfortable with managing my illness and being a Mom, I went back not to having “mini episodes” but to having a general level of anxiety to manage at all times. Goals but not necessarily accomplishments include daily meditation, daily exercise goals including walking and yoga and a daily commitment toward transparency in my faith and my diagnosis.