Editor’s note: The monthly mental health guest post on No wriggling for March has been written by Mark K. Social networks provide great support to those with mental health issues and it is via twitter that I ‘met’ Mark. Writing has long been a release for him during bouts of deep depression, but only recently, after changes to his diagnosis & treatment, he has started writing when not under the cloud of depression. He is using this new found freedom to write on mental health issues, to help raise awareness & to fight the stigma associated with mental illness. He blogs at http://nudirection.blogspot.com.au/
Just 12 months ago I was diagnosed as bipolar. I was told I suffered from social phobia, had anxiety issues, suffered from PTSD & was mildly obsessive-compulsive. Yet the year that has just passed is the best I’ve had in probably 15 years or more. How can it be that despite this alarming list of mental illnesses, I’m so much better today than I was?
The answer is quite simple. Before this diagnosis I was being treated based on an eleven year old diagnosis, a diagnosis I had believed was incorrect for most of that time. In early 2000 I was diagnosed with major depression – a label that I would live with for the next eleven years. I never realised it at the time, but once you’re labelled by a doctor as having a certain illness, it can be very, very hard to get it changed, even if you know it’s incorrect.
Having the diagnosis allowed me to do my own research on the subject and it wasn’t too long before I realised that I didn’t have just depression, I was probably bipolar instead. But getting this across to those treating me didn’t seem to work. I can’t blame them really, my periods of depression where very long, months at a time, compared to a week or so of highs every now & then. So when I saw them I was always down & probably didn’t get the details across fully.
So I lived the label. Many different treatments & medications were tried, none that ever seemed to get me ‘right’. Some worked to a degree, allowing me a little freedom to actually get out of the house occasionally. But generally, things stagnated. The long periods of darkness were still there, as were the uncontrollable mood swings & rages. Sadly, it was my family who suffered most during this period & in the end it was too much and the family broke up. I became a virtual hermit.
Finally I had enough of city living – too many people, too much noise. I just couldn’t take it anymore. So a few years ago I moved back to the area I was born, a large country town. Things didn’t change much. I still didn’t go out unless I had to and my new GP kept up the treatments for major depression. I had the label & that’s what I was – majorly depressed.
Towards the end of 2010 I started doing things out of character even for me. I became obsessed with something & just couldn’t let it go, no matter how I tried. I kept doing what I was doing, saying to myself the whole time that it has to stop, it’s going too far. But I couldn’t stop and eventually things got out of hand. My world collapsed around me again. What I had been doing hurt people around me badly, people I truly cared about. It was too much for me. I had to do something to change what was happening to me.
I booked an extra long session with my GP; I was going to tell him everything I could, make him understand I was not JUST depressed. So I talked and talked. I told him everything, even things that I had been too ashamed to tell anyone – how bad the lows were, thoughts of death & suicide, feeling I was a waste of time & space. How the highs were too high, days without sleep, mind going a million miles an hour, unable to sit still, spending all my money & more without a care in the world. How I seemed to get something started & becoming obsessed with it, no matter how bad things got I just had to keep going.
And he listened, he really listened. He agreed that I was bipolar, but then shocked me by adding a few more things. The anxiety I understood. I would go shopping & within a couple of minutes I would be sweating & shaking. Anytime I went out the thought was always how quickly I could get home. I never realised that my not wanting to go anywhere was more than just the depression – on the few occasions I did go out to things like a relatives birthday, I would always hide in a dark corner, just staying long enough to be polite. And no matter how far away I was, I would still drive home as soon as I left. I never felt safe until I was back in my own place.
The big surprise for me was being labelled mildly OCD. Me? Isn’t OCD those people who wash their hands every 5 minutes, or have to have everything arranged exactly so? Apparently not, there appears to be a lot of different ways to display OCD. He pointed out a number of areas in my past where I had behaved in ways that indicated OCD. This included what I did that led to me coming to see him this time. For me, the OCD is not being able to let something go, no matter what. I get something in my head and will just keep at it until it’s done or it blows up in my face.
But at least the bad way I had been over in the previous few months had one good outcome – I finally got what appears to have been a full & correct diagnosis. Which means my treatment was changed there and then. My new medications included anti-psychotics for the first time. And sessions with a new counsellor, who now has the correct diagnosis, meaning what we talk about is relevant to my current situation. All which seem to be helping.
And this is why the last year has been so much better than the past. I can now go out more, even socialise. I’ve even taken up ten-pin bowling several times a week – though that almost became another costly obsession. One of my brothers recently commented on how different I am now. He had stopped visiting me because he just didn’t know what to say to me, I was so unresponsive. But now he feels like I’m at least in the same country.
I am starting to recognise when a period of depression or mania is starting, something I’ve never been able to do. And, for the last few months at least, the highs & lows haven’t been to the extremes that they once were. I am much more social when I go out, I actually talk to people. I don’t know how but I’ve even managed to get a wonderful woman in my life who is helping me more than she could ever know. She gets me thinking, challenging labels placed on me by others & myself.
My life is still far removed from what many would consider a ‘normal’ life, but it has been much better than the one I lived since being diagnosed with depression 12 years ago. Things aren’t perfect, they never can be. But at least I have the strength & will to face each day as it comes. It took a major upheaval in my life to again stand up and say ‘HEY, things aren’t right. I need more help’. But it was enough to get me on the road to looking at myself differently & come to terms with my condition. I think it was the first time I really accepted me, accepted that I had an illness & needed to do what needs to be done to get some control over it.
There are still periods I struggle, and getting out of bed some mornings is still a great effort. But things are better, and most days I can face the world. Well, some of it anyway. I’ve gone from thinking I deserve nothing in this life to realising everyone is entitled to a little happiness. And I’m grabbing mine with both hands & not letting go.