I have been sick for a long time. A long, long time. So long that I didn’t even recognize it as sick. Every once in a while, my doctor would make a change in my medication, and I would feel better for a little bit, but it never lasted long. It always felt like a fluke.
Mood disorders are notoriously difficult to treat because there is no blood test or level check to determine the current severity of the illness. Diagnosis and treatment is limited by the ability of the patient to accurately communicate symptoms. And then, most symptoms can only be described in very subjective terms. “Tired.” “Sad.” “Unmotivated.” “Down.” Even “depressed” means different things to different people.
The biggest complication, however, is that the brain in charge of processing and communicating these symptoms doesn’t work correctly. That’s the whole issue. Due to chemical imbalances, the brain does not process information with a correct perspective. Reality is skewed.
I have seen my psychiatrist a minimum of every three months for the past two and a half years for the management of my medication to treat bipolar disorder. My doctor is excellent and is actually esteemed as one of the best in the field in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but it wasn’t until I started working with my mood disorder therapist that I began to get well – really well.
What did this magical therapist provide that my doctor in all of his pharmacological prowess could not? An understanding of “normal.”
My psychiatrist had to rely on my description of the severity of my symptoms, but the scale on which I measured them was faulty. My perception of “normal” was way off. My definition of normal had become, “I can get out of my bed and go about my day without wanting to run away.” That had become the goal I was working towards. It had been so long since I had consistently experienced a normal mood that I didn’t even know what it should feel like.
Well, after meeting with this mood disorder specialist for a few weeks, she started to see the error in my thinking. She helped me understand that living in a state of just barely keeping my head above water was not actually “well.” It was simply not drowning.
Once we discussed this, she called my doctor and suggested we tweak my medication and guess what? I’m well! Really well!
And guess what else? I experienced 6 straight weeks of being well!
IT IS AMAZING! TRULY AMAZING!
When the new dosage kicked in, first I noticed that my capacity was increasing. I could get up, get the kiddos ready, do Hope’s hair, go to the gym and then take everyone out to lunch. This was unheard of. The very thought of performing any one of those tasks would have previously been enough to make me want to hide in bed, but now I could accomplish them all in one day. I had a new found ability to get out during the day and take the kids along for errands, and it was startling.
The physical and cognitive symptoms of depression were fading, but the emotional symptoms were not yet gone. Emotionally during this time, I felt flat. I could do more, but I couldn’t feel more. I decided that if this was as good as it would get, that I could accept that. I could settle for an emotionless life if it meant that all of the other symptoms were gone. I could accomplish everything I needed to, and I was no longer experiencing morbid thoughts or feeling sad. But, I wasn’t feeling happy either. I was living in the in-between, but I decided it was better than the gutter.
Then a few days later, it was like the sun came out. I could feel again. Not the feelings of intense despair or frantic hypomania, but just a healthy degree of emotion. During the day, feelings of hope would wash over me. I would think about something planned for later in the day or week, and would actually look forward to it! And I had desires again! Desires to organize things and cook and get together with people and leave the house. It was just awesome! And it has continued!
I’m finding that I actually am that girl that I used to know – that extroverted one who liked to be involved, busy and productive. The one who was a member of countless organizations in college, holding offices in most, because she just had to be a part of everything. The one who enjoyed people and regularly struck up small talk with strangers at the store. (You know, that girl that causes introverts to desperately scan the room for the nearest exit.)
Now that I know what healthy feels like, I can see that it has been at least 6 years since I have experienced an extended period of health. Currently, it has been 7 weeks since my moods lifted, but I swung down for a week at week 6. I’m not cured from bipolar disorder (I’m just finally medicated correctly), so my moods will shift at times, but it should always be a short stint.
Depression stole my energy, peace, hope and joy for so many years. It masked the woman who God created me to be and kept me struggling to keep my head above water. I was not living. I was surviving. Now I realize there is a difference.
Praise the Lord for doctors, counselors, and medication! It is true that sometimes God reaches down and miraculously heals, but sometimes He provides the healing through doctors and medical treatment. Both are gifts from Him, and I feel blessed beyond measure to be experiencing life as He intended it.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
(For those of you who are curious, here is the cocktail that finally did the trick: Lamictal 150mg, Savella 200mg & Zoloft 50mg.)