Health Takes Many Forms: Here's A Bi-Polar Story


My experience both long-term with manic-depression and in recent years with this illness and other maladies as well as my personal circumstances at home in relation to my wifes illness should provide you with an adequate information base to evaluate my situation. This wider experience will place by bi-polar disorder in context and should provide others with what I hope is a helpful perspective on their own condition and situation.

1. Manic-Depression: Preamble

After half a dozen episodes, varying in length from several days to several months, and many experiences on the fringe of manic-depressive illness between 1955 and 1980, I was treated with lithium carbonate in Launceston by a psychiatrist, Dr. Glinka. I have been on lithium now for twenty five years. My mood swings, now in 2005, take place, for the most part, at night with the death wish still part of the experience. The symptoms that affect my daily working capacity are fatigue and psychological weariness after a night of light sleeping, tossing and turning and a feeling that I have not slept at all. Dryness of the mouth and short term memory loss also seem to affect my daily life as a result, perhaps, of the eight ECT treatments I had as far back as the late 1960s. Feel free to contact my psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Ratcliffe, at 155 George Street in Launceston(63312122), for more details and his professional assessment should you wish it. I have discussed my case with Dr. Ratcliffe for several years and he would both be happy to elaborate on my condition should you want any clarification and elaboration of the issues and medical assessments involved. His special field of expertise is the bi-polar disorder.

It seemed appropriate to provide some detailed statement since the issue of this bi-polar illness is a complex one, varies from person to person and has come up many times over the more than forty years that I have had to deal with its symptoms in my personal and working life. It is difficult to characterize my condition and it is for this reason that I have sent to you this somewhat long statement. I hope the account below, in both long and short term contexts, will explain adequately my reasons for not wanting to serve in any employment position.

2. Manic-Depression: Long-term 1955-2002

There seems to be a process, one that I experience on a daily basis now in which I cross from normal behaviour to an abnormal extreme, a tedium vitae attitude and behaviour as I have come to call it. Due to this "process" over the last forty years in a much more accentuated form, it has been difficult to define just where I was at any one time along that 'normal-abnormal' continuum. This was true at both the depressive end and the hypomanic end of the spectrum. It is difficult, therefore, to actually name the number of times when I have had major manic-depressive episodes, perhaps as many as eight, certainly as few as four, in my whole life, until the last brief episode in 1990 when I went off my lithium for between one and three months. Since the 1990s it has no longer been difficult to know where I am in this process.

At the hypomanic end there were experiences like the following: "violent emotional instability and oscillation", "abrupt changes" and "a sudden change in a large number of intellectual assumptions."1 Mental balance, a psychological coherence between intellect and emotion and a rational reaction to the outside world all seemed to blow away, over a few hours to a few days, as I was plunged in a sea of what could be variously described as: emotional heat, intense awareness, sensitivity, sleeplessness, voluble talking, racing mental activity, fear, excessive and clearly irrational paranoia--and in 1968 virtually total incoherence at times--at one end of the spectrum; or intense depression, melancholia, an inner sense of despair and a desire to commit suicide at the other end. The latter I experienced from 1963 to 1965, off and on; the former from 1964 to 1990, on several occasions.

The longest depression was in 1963 and 1964 with perhaps two six month periods from June to November and July to December, respectively. The longest episode of hypomania was from June to November 1968. The hypomania in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1990 were treated quickly with medication, although the 1978 episode, beginning in January, seemed to last for at least three or four months and had a mostly depressive component. I had no experience of this variously characterized illness in childhood although, beginning in 1955/6 at the age of 11/12, I manifested symptoms which, in retrospect seem to me examples of a lack of control of my emotions. It was not until I was 19 in 1963 that any characteristics of this illness became more clearly apparent in my day-to-day life. My episodes seemed to be quite separate tendencies; hypomania often lead to depression and vice versa. In the 1978 episode, elation and depression followed each other within a two to three month period. Clearly, in the episodes in the late '70s, fear, paranoia and the extremes of depression seemed to be much less than those of the 1960s.

The account above has none of the fine detail that I could include like: mental hallucinations, specific fears and paranoias, electroconvulsive therapy, psychiatric analysis and diagnosis, the many years of dealing with a death wish, experiences in and out of several hospitals with a great number of people, situations and, looking back, often humorous and absurd events.

There are a variety of manic-depressive profiles, different typicalities. It is bipolar because both ends of the spectrum, the mood swings, were experienced over the period 1955 to 1990, 35 years. Thanks to lithium the extremes were treated by the time I was 36 years of age. It took another ten years for me to fully accept the lithium treatment. From time to time I tried to live without the lithium. Such, in as brief a way as possible, is the summary of my experience over the years. I would like, now, to focus on my more recent experience of the last several years.

3. Manic-Depression: Short-term 2002-2005

In 2002 Dr. Eric Ratcliffe, my supervising psychiatrist in Launceston, suggested I go onto fluvoxamine in addition to the lithium treatment. Fluvoxamine is an anti-depressant. The fluvoxamine removed the blacknesses I experienced at night, from late in the evening to early morning. The death-wish has always been associated with these blacknesses. With the fluvoxamine, gradually the blacknesses, the depressions, disappeared. The death wish remained as did sleeping problems. Frequent urination, periodic nausea and memory problems related, in part, to the shock treatments I had back in the 1960s were new problems. But the dark and debilitating feelings, I had experienced for so many years, were at last removed. After forty years of bi-polar disorder with periodic debilitating episodes, most of the worst symptoms seemed at last to have been treated.

4. Other Physical Difficulties:

Three years ago I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema which gives me a shortage of breath. I also suffered from RSI which I treated with exercise, thus lessening the effects. These two conditions exacerbated the remaining bi-polar symptoms by making it difficult to engage in an activity for more than short periods of time. The memory problem also contributes, as you can appreciate, to many practical problems in day-to-day life. I mention these things because, although my bi-polar disorder is largely treated, there is a constellation of physical and psychological difficulties remaining. For the most part in community life I rarely talk about these things and most people who know me have no idea of my medical history or the difficulties I live under physically. I have for many years regarded these difficulties as part of my own spiritual battles that I must face.

In the last decade or so there has developed in psychiatry what has been called a Recovery Model for treatment and care. This model puts the onus on the person with the disorder to work out what is his or her best way to cope, to survive, in society given the conditions of their illness. Such an individual must work out the techniques and strategies for day-to-day living. With each individual the disorder is idiosyncratic; individual consumers of mental health services must work out what is best for them in terms of these services and in terms of what activities are appropriate for them within their coping capacity in life’s day-to-day spectrum.

5. My Wifes Illness:

My wife, Christine, has also not been well for many years since we moved north of Capricorn in 1982. The doctors do not know what the cause of her physical problems is, but they are problems that make life difficult for her and our life together. Her symptoms include: dizziness, nausea, back-ear-and-eye ache, headache, among some two dozen or more maladies. Sometimes, with the aid of steroids, she seems to recover for a time, but when she goes off the steroids her symptoms get worse.

Perhaps the one advantage my wifes ill-health has is that it allows me to focus on her problems, to talk about her problems, when the subject comes up in community life and thus take the focus off of my own disability. Consequently, people have little idea of the physical problems I face and much more of an idea of hers. I dont mind this for I am not particularly interested in talking about my disability, but it has the disadvantage of people having little idea of the battles I face in my personal life.

6. Concluding Statement:

This brief and general account summarizes both the long history of this illness and where I am at present in what has been a life-long battle. I think it is important to state, in conclusion, that I possess a clinical disorder, a bio-chemical, an electro-chemical, imbalance having to do with brain chemistry. The transmission of messages in my brain is simply overactive. One to two percent of the population suffer from this illness. The extremes of this illness are now largely treated by lithium carbonate and fluvoxamine but a residue of symptoms remains which I have described briefly above. The other factors that describe my personal situation I have also outlined and need to be taken into consideration as well.

I have gone into the detail I have above because I wanted to give you some idea of the extent of this illness and its subtle and not-so-subtle affects. I really feel quite exhausted from the battle with this illness and would prefer to continue to serve in everyday life in ways that my health allows.

I have had a radio program for more than three years in Launceston and have been involved in small writing and community tasks here in George Town. All these tasks involve only short bursts of energy and activity. I am also involved in various domestic activities here in George Town again involving short periods of time. These activities are all within my capacity for short time periods, periods also necessitated by my chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but that is a separate issue which I do not want to overemphasise.

In three years I will be 65 and will go on the Australian Pension. I have not worked in full time employment for seven years for reasons associated with this illness. I have been on a Disability Services Pension(DSP) for three years. Although I have been treated for the worst side-affects of manic-depressive illness, I have little energy, enthusiasm or capacity for full-time employment and it is for this reason I have been granted the DSP. My short-term memory loss often feels like the beginning of a dementia condition, although I had a memory test administered in 2001 at the Medical Services clinic in George Town and it did not indicate the beginnings of dementia. My wife, though, who knows me well and experiences the affects of this memory loss, has been very concerned and often frustrated by behaviour associated with my memory loss for several years now. All of this adds to my present incapacity.

I trust the above outline provides an adequate information base for you to evaluate my situation. I apologize for going on at such length, but I felt it was essential to put you in the picture, so to speak. I look forward to hearing from anyone in the weeks ahead should my experience be relevant to your own.

Ron Price
October 2005
Note: gramatical contractions do not transfer into properly speeled words at tis site.

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After 2 Years of Feedback on This 'Essay'

married for 37 years; living in Australia for 34 years; a Baha'i for 46 years; a teacher for 30 years.
My experience both long and short term with manic-depression, or bi-polar illness as it has come to be called in recent years, and with other maladies; as well as my personal circumstances at home in relation to my wife’s illness in recent years should provide mental health consumers, as they are often called these days and as I mention in the above, with an adequate information base to evaluate their situation, make relevant comparisons and contrasts to their own predicament whatever it may be and thereby gain some helpful knowledge or understandings which may be of use to them in personal terms. There are still many who do not feel comfortable seeking medical support and this account may help such people obtain appropriate treatment and, as a result, dramatically improve their quality of life. I think, too, that this essay is part of my own small part in reducing the damaging stigma associated with bi-polar disorder.

The wider context of my experience which I have outlined here is intended to place my bi-polar disorder in context and should provide others with what I hope is a helpful perspective on their own condition and situation. This essay of nearly 5000 words and more than six A-4 pages is primarily written for internet sites on mental health, especially as manifested in depression and the bi-polar disorder. I also write this essay, this reflection, for my own satisfaction, to put into words something that has influenced my life for over half a century. Originally written in 2003, this piece of writing has been revised many times after my own introspections and the feedback from various internet respondents.
---Readers interested in this story in a series of segments can go to the NAMI site, the National Alliance on Mental Illness>Consumers Section>Posting 18/7/06.

Younger, yet on the same wavelength here...

I have been fighting with depression most of my life, and I am only twenty-eight years old. In high school, my highs and lows were always so extreme, but it faded away after my junior year when I would play sports fanatically.

Depression would haunt me in small spurts, until I had my daughter January 2000. I had constant extreme mood swings on top of deep depression. There were times I didn't even want to be near what was supposed to be my bundle of joy. I should probably insert here that my daughter was conceived by date rape, but I wanted her! After therapy and seeing a pschiatrist, it was deeped I had a severe form of post-partum depression, which led into just depression after twelve months.

Things would ebb in and out again, until I had my son August 2005. Things have been extreme in moods and depression until January of this year when I saw a new psychiatrist. I was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Since being diagnosed and put on meds, I have been doing a lot better, but there are a few minor lapses.

I can only imagine what it would be like years of your wanderings through the depressions. I pray that they find out what could be ailing your wife, and possibly what can be the solution for both of you to be in a healthier position in life, both physically and mentally.

I have a form of

I have a form of schizophrenia (which is NOT the same as multiple personality disorder, despite the common misconception) and I know how hard the struggle can be. I work as a peer counselor, helping people with mental illnesses live independently in the community. I'm also heavily involved with my local NAMI group.

Educating the general public is so important...

Education is the key

Mental illness runs in my family. I will forever be on meds for my depression, just to keep it at bay, and my husband his on meds for anxiety. Also, I'm a recovering alcoholic. It is essential to be upfront about mental illness if only so that people finally realize that anyone can have a mental illness and that mental illness is that, an illness.

"It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy." -- Steve Jobs

Being out of the closet about it...

Last year I wrote an article for my local newspaper about living with a mental illness. Someone had written an editorial referring to people with brain diseases as "hopeless", and it pissed me off.

So my entire county knows I'm ill. *laugh* And when the article came out, I didn't get a single negative reaction to it. Made me happy, and hopefully educated some people.

That is generally me experience too

The only person who reacted badly to my implying I may a recovering alcoholic is my mother. Because it would not reflect well on her.